NHL Power Rankings: B/R Experts' Week 15 Poll
It's been a streaky season in the NHL, and the Washington Capitals are the latest team to find themselves in one, all to the good.
We almost saw the Columbus Blue Jackets tie the NHL's all-time win streak of 17 recently, before they were shut out by the Caps in what would have been their 17th straight victory. The Capitals are more than halfway to equaling the mark, which was set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington has won nine in a row. Not only did the Caps finally cool off the Blue Jackets, but they also beat some other good teams, including a 6-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night and Pittsburgh the game before that, in which Alex Ovechkin posted his 1,000th career point. Sunday, they waxed the Philadelphia Flyers 5-0.
The Capitals thus made a move in the latest Bleacher Report NHL Power Rankings, though there wasn't much higher they could go than last week's No. 2 spot. We'll leave it to you to find out just where they and the 29 other teams are this week.
Our panel of voters was yours truly, Carol Schram, Jonathan Willis, Allan Mitchell and Lyle Richardson.
Have a problem with any of the picks? Hit the comments section and have at it.
30-26: Colorado Avalanche-New York Islanders
30. Colorado Avalanche (last week: 30)
As the Colorado Avalanche continue to plummet, the dismantling of the roster has begun. The Avs traded the player with the most tenure on the team, Cody McLeod, to the Nashville Predators on Friday. Then, they watched McLeod, who had one goal in 28 games as an Av this season, score against them in his first game as a Pred, Saturday at the Pepsi Center. It's been that kind of season.
Pretty much everyone not named Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and 2016 first-round draftee Tyson Jost is available at the right price. General manager Joe Sakic has made it clear he's open for business before the March 1 trade deadline.
29. Arizona Coyotes (last week: 29)
In their first game after a five-day layoff, the Arizona Coyotes got a nice home win over the Winnipeg Jets. Veteran goalie Mike Smith earned his first win since Dec. 15 in the 4-3 victory.
The Coyotes got four goals in the first period, the first time they'd done that since the second period of a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 1, 2014. The win was Arizona's second straight, after nine straight losses. So maybe there's some hope for the second half.
28. Buffalo Sabres (last week: 28)
The Buffalo Sabres faced the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night and were soundly beaten 5-2. It was the second straight loss and put them 4-5-1 over the previous 10 games.
Things are better than they were from the dark times of two to three years ago, but it seems there is still a feeling of disappointment lingering around the fanbase. This team can never seem to string together more than a couple wins in a row. The offensive output (97 goals, last in the East), is a major reason why.
27. Detroit Red Wings (last week: 27)
Twenty-five years and...well, it's looking more and more like the counting will stop on the Detroit Red Wings long playoff streak in 2017.
Detroit entered Saturday in last place in the Eastern Conference. But then they went out and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins after spotting them a couple two-goal leads. It would be foolish to write the Wings off completely, as they still have lots of veterans who know how to win. Not wanting to be the first Detroit team in more than a quarter of a century to miss the postseason will no doubt increase the desperation level as the second half grinds on. But time is getting shorter.
26. New York Islanders (last week: 25)
Captain John Tavares got his 500th career point in a nice 5-2 win at the Florida Panthers on Friday night. Then the New York Islanders went into Carolina the next night and gave up seven goals in a blowout loss. The Islanders just kind of keep spinning their wheels, near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Tavares, who scored a hat trick in the game, is the first player from the 2009 NHL draft to reach that many points. He'll need to keep it up if the Islanders are to have any hope of making the playoffs.
25-21: New Jersey Devils-Dallas Stars
25. New Jersey Devils (last week: 26)
The New Jersey Devils are out West on a road trip, and they got a 2-1 win Friday at the Calgary Flames and another 2-1 win Sunday at the Vancouver Canucks. That's the good news. That's to the credit of goalie Cory Schneider, who can steal a game on any given night. Still, the Devils just have too hard a time scoring goals (99 entering Sunday, second-fewest in the conference), and the defense isn't strong enough to make up for it.
Their minus-29 goal differential entering Sunday (99-128) was one of the worst in the league. But Schneider always gives hope.
24. Winnipeg Jets (last week: 24)
The Winnipeg Jets had a good shot at two points Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings after Dustin Byfuglien scored to give them a 2-1 lead midway through the third period. But as has been too often the case this season, Winnipeg found a way to lose late—in this case 3-2 in overtime.
The Jets, who continue to be without rookie sensation Patrik Laine because of a concussion, have played 46 games so far, among the highest in the league to this point. They entered Sunday only four points behind the Kings for the eighth playoff spot, but the problem is the Kings, among many other teams, have multiple games in hand.
23. Vancouver Canucks (last week: 17)
Overall, it's bordering on something of surprise that the Vancouver Canucks are as much in the playoff mix as they are.
After looking thoroughly mediocre or a bit worse for so long, Vancouver has settled into nicely winning ways of late and is 6-2-2 in its previous 10 entering Sunday. The Canucks blew a winnable two points Thursday night in Philadelphia, however, losing 5-4 in overtime. A win would have placed them in a tie for eighth in the West, so they remain just on the outside looking in. You get the feeling that it can't last, though.
22. Tampa Bay Lightning (last week: 21)
Things are starting to get worrisome for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their 3-1 loss at home to Columbus Friday night was their fifth loss in six games, and the Bolts begin a six-game road trip, starting Monday in Los Angeles.
Tampa Bay is just 8-12-2 away from Amalie Arena this season, so this figures to be a make-or-break period of their campaign.
21. Dallas Stars (last week: 23)
The Dallas Stars had American Airlines Arena rocking again Saturday night, having overcome a 4-0 deficit to the Minnesota Wild to tie it in the third period.
And then Jason Zucker scored the tiebreaker late in the game, and the Stars lost 5-4. It's been that kind of season for Dallas. Just when you think they're on the their way back, they find a way foul it up. They are showing a fighting spirit at least. They have a lot of pride, and it says here that they'll find a way to slip into the playoffs.
20-16: Nashville Predators-Calgary Flames
20. Nashville Predators (last week: 20)
The Nashville Predators have won three in a row, including a gutsy, come-from-behind 3-2 win at Colorado on Saturday afternoon. Newcomer McLeod made an auspicious impression with a goal against his former team.
The Preds are getting better production from star forward Filip Forsberg (a goal in two straight games), which they need as long as offensive defenseman P.K. Subban remains out with back problems.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (last week: 16)
After a blowout 5-0 loss to Washington Sunday, the Philadelphia Flyers fell to 2-6-2 in the last 10 games and are in danger of falling out of the top eight in the East.
Their 148 goals against are the most in the league. Goalie Steve Mason simply has to be better than this. His save percentage of .897 is terrible. As has often been the case for the franchise over the last 30 years, the Flyers have goaltender issues.
18. Florida Panthers (last week: 19)
One night after getting blown out on home ice by the Islanders, the Florida Panthers rebounded with a win over the league-leading Blue Jackets. It's been that kind of season for the Panthers.
Florida is still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot, though, which seems like something of a surprise after its tumultuous period in late November, when coach Gerard Gallant was shown the door. The Panthers will have to keep trying to win without two top forwards, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Both remain out with injuries that should keep them sidelined into February.
17. Ottawa Senators (last week: 18)
Mike Condon has done an admirable job for the Ottawa Senators in place of Craig Anderson, who continues to be on indefinite leave to be with his wife, who is undergoing treatment for throat cancer. But Condon may be wearing down some, having played 18 consecutive games.
Condon was in net for Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. The netminder could use more offensive support, especially from his team's power play. At 17.1 percent, Ottawa ranked 20th in the league entering Sunday. For a team with Erik Karlsson on the back end, that's not good enough.
16. Calgary Flames (last week: 13)
The Calgary Flames continue to be something of a surprise, still within the top eight in the Western Conference after a slow start. Though they lost 2-1 in a shootout Saturday night to the archrival Edmonton Oilers, they played a strong game in terms of possession.
Rookie Matthew Tkachuk continues to have a fine season. In 42 games, Tkachuk has eight goals and 27 points and is plus-10. Not bad. The 19-year-old doesn't get a lot of publicity, however, playing in the Canadian Prairies.
15-11: St. Louis Blues-San Jose Sharks
15. St. Louis Blues (last week: 11)
The St. Louis Blues got a strong 4-0 win Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks—just the kind of road victory they'll need more of in what figures to be a tough second half. Including Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Blues have 25 of their 41 final contests on the road. The Blues pulled out a 2-1 overtime win against the Ducks.
The Blues' road record is just 7-11-1. Defenseman Colton Parayko went 100 shots before scoring his first goal of the season but entered Sunday with two in his previous three games.
14. Los Angeles Kings (last week: 14)
Despite a lousy year from captain Anze Kopitar (four goals in 38 games) and the continued long-term absence of No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings continue to hang in there for a playoff spot.
Goalie Peter Budaj has been spotty at times, but for the most part he's played well above expectations. The 34-year-old has a .917 save percentage and 2.09 goals-against average. If Kopitar can start putting the puck in the net a bit more in the second half of the campaign, the Kings could slip into the postseason.
13. Carolina Hurricanes (last week: 22)
This week's big mover in the rankings, the Carolina Hurricanes have won four in a row and entered Sunday in the eighth spot in the East.
Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Lee Stempniak all scored three points apiece in that fourth straight win, a 7-4 triumph over the Islanders. How about the veteran Stempniak? This is a guy who has played for 10 NHL teams, yet he still puts up points everywhere he goes.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (last week: 12)
The Toronto Maple Leafs had another strong week and probably deserved to move up some in our rankings, but a lot of teams had good weeks, and nobody said life was fair. Toronto, though, is 8-1-1 in the last 10 games.
Maybe we want to see the Leafs do it one more week before buying in, but we're getting ready to pony up. Things are going better than expected for a team with so many young players. When two of those players are Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, however, maybe it shouldn't be a shock the Leafs are nearly in the top eight of the conference.
11. San Jose Sharks (last week: 7)
After a shutout loss at home to St. Louis with backup goalie Carter Hutton in net on Saturday, the San Jose Sharks closed out the week with two losses in a row. Something has been missing all season, though not enough for the team to be out of the playoff picture.
One bright note from last week, though: Mikkel Boedker, who signed a big free-agent contract in the summer but had been dreadful to that point, broke out with a hat trick in a win over Edmonton. Those three goals doubled his total for the season.
10. Boston Bruins
Record: 23-18-5, 51 points
Last week: 15
The up-and-down Boston Bruins are up again, closing out the week with a strong 6-3 win Saturday over the Flyers. Earlier in the week, they went on the road and got a big win over the Blues. Brad Marchand had five points in the win over Philly.
Some recent trade rumors don't seem to have gotten the Bruins down. Sometimes, those can be good for a team. Early last season, the Avalanche were rife with rumors before going on a midseason tear. That hasn't helped the Avs this year, though Colorado is one team rumored to have had talks with the B's.
By the Numbers
After scuffling for a bit, Marchand is heating up again. He's got 12 points in the last six games and leads Boston in scoring, with 43 points. That total is just seven off the league leader, Connor McDavid. He was deservedly named to the NHL All-Star Game too.
9. Edmonton Oilers
Record: 23-15-7, 53 points
Last week: 10
The collapse that some might have expected the Edmonton Oilers to have? It still hasn't happened.
Edmonton won its final two games of the week, including a victory over Calgary Saturday night, and entered Sunday fourth overall in the Western Conference. A playoff spot is looking more and more likely.
Captain McDavid continues to lead the league in points, with 50, through 46 games. He will be in Los Angeles at the end of January for the NHL All-Star Game.
By the Numbers
One area that continues to bedevil McDavid: faceoffs. His success rate of 44.1 is among the lowest in the league for full-time centers.
8. New York Rangers
Record: 28-15-1, 57 points
Last week: 5
The overall numbers continue to be positive for the New York Rangers. A playoff spot seems relatively secure, and they still have one of the league's best goal differentials (152-116). However, the losses are coming more frequently than they were during the first few glorious weeks of the season, including two straight to close out last week.
The Rangers need top center Mika Zibanejad to come back. The good news is that Zibanejad is skating again after suffering a broken leg and could be back soon, according to the New York Daily News (h/t CBSSports.com).
By the Numbers
For the first time in team history, the Rangers have five American-born players with at least 10 goals: Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller.
7. Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 27-14-5, 59 points
Last week: 8
The Chicago Blackhawks were blown out Friday night in Washington, but so have a lot of teams lately. Then they came home and lost a Central Division showdown to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. Cause for alarm? Maybe a little.
The fact is, though, that they continue to win two of every three games and are headed for yet another playoff berth. But they've been a bit too average of late, entering Sunday just 5-4-1 in the previous 10. More scoring from captain Jonathan Toews would probably help. He has just seven goals and 21 points in his first 37 games and is a minus player (minus-2) for the first time in his career.
By the Numbers
Nobody expected a lot of scoring from veteran Jordin Tootoo after he signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks over the summer. Then again, management probably expected at least one point after his first 34 games. Tootoo still has zero goals and zero assists for Chicago.
6. Anaheim Ducks
Record: 24-13-9, 57 points
Last week: 9
Things are looking good again for the Anaheim Ducks, who got captain Ryan Getzlaf back last week after a brief injury absence. As long as the 26-year-old Jakob Silfverberg keeps playing like he has of late, Getzlaf won't have as much pressure on him to carry a big offensive load.
Silfverberg entered Sunday with five goals in his previous 11 games. Skating on a line with Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano, he adds lots of speed and skill to two others who are more muckers and grinders.
By the Numbers
With five goals in his first 38 games, Getzlaf is in danger of failing to reach double figures in scoring for the first time since entering the league in 2005. He did have 27 assists, though.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
Record: 26-11-5, 57 points
Last week: 1
The Pittsburgh Penguins did not have a great week, finishing it with three straight losses. That was enough to drop them out of the top spot.
But this feels just like a hiccup. The Penguins did blow a game Saturday in Detroit, however, uncharacteristically losing two two-goal leads in a 6-3 defeat. Coach Mike Sullivan do doubt will use this bump in the road to his advantage. He is constantly preaching the value of not getting a big head, and this losing streak will reinforce that. Look for the Pens to go on a winning run.
By the Numbers
The Penguins need to be better on the road. The defending Stanley Cup champions are 18-2-2 at home but only 8-9-3 away from PPG Paints Arena.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Record: 27-11-6, 60 points
Last week: 4
The Montreal Canadiens allowed 19 goals in four games last week. In the first 10 games of the season, the Habs allowed a total of 14.
Yet Montreal had a 2-2-0 week thanks to some heavy scoring of its own. They scored seven goals in one win over Winnipeg and five in another against the Rangers. The one true stinker of the week came in Minnesota, where the Wild laid a 7-1 whipping on the Canadiens. Goalie Carey Price insisted on staying in the net throughout the lopsided loss, and he gutted out a 5-4 win over the Rangers his next start.
Montreal needs to be better in its own end moving forward.
By the Numbers
Michel Therrien coached his 800th NHL regular-season game in the win over the Rangers Saturday. This is his fifth season at the helm of the Canadiens, the second stint with the club of his career. He also coached the Habs from 2000 to 2003.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 29-9-4, 62 points
Last week: 3
So, after that amazing 16-game winning streak, during which the Columbus Blue Jackets were the talk of hockey, things have come back down to earth some.
Columbus enters its next game, Tuesday at home against Carolina, 2-4-0 in the last six. In three of the six losses, the Blue Jackets allowed five goals—they shipped four in the other loss. The defense and goaltending, therefore, have slipped after a tremendous run of excellence. Overall, though, things are positive moving forward. A playoff spot seems assured already. Well, maybe it's still a bit premature to say that, but this team doesn't seem like it will stay in a slump for too long.
By the Numbers
One area where the Blue Jackets are lacking: faceoffs. Columbus' success rate in the dot, 47.7 percent, is in the bottom three of the league.
2. Minnesota Wild
Record: 28-9-5, 61 points
Last week: 6
They still have to prove it in the playoffs, but it does seem as if the Minnesota Wild have finally come together as a team.
The Wild are playing terrific hockey, and they capped off another excellent week with a road win in Chicago in a Central Division battle for first place. Maybe the most impressive part of the Wild's season is that they are getting it done no matter where they play. Minnesota entered Sunday with a 14-4-0 home record and at 13-5-5 away from Xcel Energy Center. That's the kind of consistency that translates well to the playoffs. The Wild has at least a point in its last 12 road games (10-0-2).
By the Numbers
Another reason for real optimism with this team moving forward: balance.
Case in point came in the Sunday win over Chicago. Chris Stewart, who is only averaging between eight and 12 minutes per night, scored his ninth goal of the season. Depth forward Nino Niederreiter scored his 12th of the year. When the third- and fourth-liners are scoring goals, you know you have a good thing going.
1. Washington Capitals
Record: 29-9-5, 63 points
Last week: 2
The Washington Capitals, who won the Presidents' Trophy last season, occupied the top spot in our rankings for much of the campaign. They are back again, entering mid-January with a nine-game winning streak and the most points in the league.
Goalie Braden Holtby is probably the biggest reason for Washington's success of late, though this has been a team effort. Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has a shutout in three of his last five starts. He didn't play Sunday, and the Caps still won by another shutout, over Philadelphia. That's how well this team is playing.
Washington's excellent netminding continues to be a tribute to goalie coach Mitch Korn, profiled here last season by Bleacher Report.
By the Numbers
At 31, veteran forward Jay Beagle is having something of a career year offensively. Beagle's career high in points is 20, coming in 2014-15. In 43 games this season, he has 18 (eight goals and 10 assists).
Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @.