NHL Power Rankings: Florida Is the Center of the Hockey World

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Florida Is the Center of the Hockey World

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Yes, Jimmy Buffett, you read the headline correctly.

    Though fans tend to attend games (when permitted) in shorts and the only ice within a 10-mile radius of arenas is found in margarita glasses, the Sunshine State is leading the way in today's NHL.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers entered Wednesday's play atop the league standings—each with 42 points through 28 games—and in their own duel at the head of the Central Division, though the Carolina Hurricanes sat just a point behind the pair after Tuesday's games.

    They are also tied atop B/R's weekly power rankings thanks to competing blocs on a four-person panel.

    Ironically, the recent fortunes of the league's two southernmost teams couldn't be more different.

    The Lightning won the Stanley Cup last season and sit atop many lists of favorites for the 2020-21 playoff tournament, while the Panthers haven't won a postseason series since losing the Cup final in 1996.

    But optimism abounds in suburban Miami.

    "It kind of reminds me of those days [in Chicago]," said Florida coach Joel Quenneville, who won three Cups in 10 seasons with the Blackhawks after arriving there in 2008, per the Associated Press (h/t NBC Sports). "And I came here with the thinking that it'd be a fun place to win."

    The B/R hockey team took a look at the red-hot Panthers, Lightning and each of the league's other 29 teams to conduct its weekly business of ranking the NHL from 31st to first.

    Take a look at what we came up with, and leave a viewpoint or two in the comments section.

Nos. 31-26: Sabres, Red Wings, Senators, Ducks, Devils, Predators

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 31st)

    Things are getting real in Buffalo. Real ugly, that is. Coach Ralph Krueger was shown the door along with assistant Steve Smith on Wednesday morning after the team's losing skid reached 12 with a loss at New Jersey on Tuesday. Assistant Don Granato takes over as the interim boss amid a 2-14-2 run.

                 

    30. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 30th)

    Two wins in three games were a good sign for the Red Wings, who scored twice on the power play to beat one of the league's elite teams—the Carolina Hurricanes—on Tuesday. It should boost morale for the Detroit man-advantage unit, which sat 29th in the league (12.2 percent) through Tuesday's games.

                    

    29. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 28th)

    The Senators returned home after a ghastly stretch wherein they were bludgeoned 16-5 while losing three in Edmonton. A back-to-back with two North visitors yielded a victory over Toronto and a loss to Vancouver. Goalie Anton Forsberg was claimed on waivers after Matt Murray was scratched Sunday.

               

    28. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 29th)

    It was a bad week on all fronts for the Ducks, who lost four times and were outscored 22-6 in doing so. That included an 8-4 defeat by the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in which Anaheim led 4-2 after 20 minutes. Goalie John Gibson is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after being pulled Friday night.

                         

    27. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 26th)

    The Devils' week began with three losses before they welcomed the Sabres in from Buffalo and promptly ended an 11-game home winless streak. In fact, three of New Jersey's nine victories in 2020-21 have come against the Sabres. Captain Nico Hischier is out three weeks after surgery to repair a sinus fracture.

                    

    26. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 25th)

    Another mediocre week of one up and two down prompted another wave of trade rumors swirling around the Predators, mostly concerning defenseman Mattias Ekholm. On the flip side, GM David Poile said goalie Pekka Rinne will not be dealt even though he's 38 and on an expiring contract.

Nos. 25-21: Sharks, Stars, Canucks, Rangers, Blue Jackets

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    25. San Jose Sharks (Last Week: 27th)

    Sound goalie play was the recurring theme in San Jose, where the Sharks won two out of three while surrendering just three goals. Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones stopped 34 and 26 shots, respectively, while beating Anaheim twice, and Dubnyk stopped 34 more in a one-goal loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

                      

    24. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 23rd)

    A loss to Tampa Bay is nothing new for Dallas, particularly after 2020's Stanley Cup final duel, but the Stars got a morale-boosting point when they scored twice in the final three minutes of a 4-3 shootout defeat on Tuesday. Rookie goalie Jake Oettinger continued his sound play and has a 2.16 goals-against average.

                     

    23. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 24th)

    A four-goal loss to Montreal wasn't the ideal start, but the Canucks rebounded for a successful week thanks largely to the play of goalie Thatcher Demko, who stopped 78 of 81 shots in subsequent wins over Edmonton and Ottawa. The 25-year-old has a .920 save percentage and 10 wins in 21 starts.

                  

    22. New York Rangers (Last Week: 21st)

    Three games yielded three points for the Rangers, who lost a shutout, won a shutout and were beaten in a shootout. An interesting note going forward is 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov's arrival in the U.S. The right wing had 28 points in 54 KHL games across the regular season and playoffs this season before his team was bumped from the postseason.

                       

    21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 22nd)

    The Blue Jackets have won 11 of 30 games this season, and a shootout loss to Dallas got coach John Tortorella thinking about giving time to younger players down the stretch. Center Mikhail Grigorenko, 26, drafted 12th overall by Buffalo in 2012, was waived Tuesday after scoring twice in 18 games.

Nos. 20-16: Coyotes, Kings, Blackhawks, Flames, Flyers

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    20. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 19th)

    The week's lowliest performance award probably goes to the Coyotes, who lost four straight games and managed to score just twice while conceding 13. Arizona goalies have given up 2.97 goals per game—tied for 18th in the league—but the offense's rate of 2.34 per is 28th.

                  

    19. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 18th)

    Two losses to end the week didn't help the Kings in terms of this season's playoff race—they were five points out of fourth place in the West Division through Tuesday—but the future remains the focus of a team that plucked the 18-year-old Quinton Byfield at No. 2 in the 2020 draft. He has 10 points in 17 AHL games.

                    

    18. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 16th)

    The first half of a trip to Florida didn't go so well for the Blackhawks, who were outscored 10-5 in a pair of losses to the Panthers. They will play two at Tampa Bay before returning home. In positive news, center Kirby Dach could return from a wrist injury within the next month.

                  

    17. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 20th)

    Coach Darryl Sutter has been just what the doctor ordered for the Flames, who were moribund under Geoff Ward but won three straight with their new-old boss behind the bench. If you're looking for wildly optimistic precedent, the Kings hired Sutter during the 2011-12 season and finished with a Stanley Cup.

                        

    16. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 14th)

    The Flyers continued to live and die by offense, scoring five times in an OT defeat of the Rangers and allowing five in consecutive losses to Washington. Philadelphia surrendered three or more goals in each of its eight games in March through Tuesday, and its clip of 3.27 allowed per game is 25th in the league.

Nos. 15-11: Canadiens, Oilers, Blues, Bruins, Jets

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    15. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 17th)

    Two wins in four games heading into Wednesday night gave the Canadiens a tenuous two-point hold on fourth place in the North ahead of the surging Flames. Calgary accounted for both of Montreal's losses during the week. Elsewhere, defenseman Ben Chiarot will miss significant time after fracturing his right hand.

                

    14. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 15th)

    The Oilers looked like world-beaters with a pair of routs against Ottawa to begin the week but then lost consecutive one-goal decisions to Vancouver and Calgary heading into Wednesday's Battle of Alberta. Center Jujhar Khaira was knocked unconscious in a fight against Calgary's Brett Ritchie.

                   

    13. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 11th)

    The Blues missed a Monday date in Los Angeles after the Kings were unable to get out of the snow in Colorado, but it provided some extra practice time after a winless week in which they allowed five more goals than they scored. St. Louis is 24th in the league with a per-game goals-against average of 3.21.

                    

    12. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 8th)

    Rookie Dan Vladar put a positive spin on a meh week for the Bruins on Tuesday when he made 34 saves in his first NHL start, delivering a 2-1 defeat of Pittsburgh. It was his first game of the regular season and first appearance since relieving Jaroslav Halak in a second-round playoff series against Tampa Bay last summer.

                     

    11. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 9th)

    A split with first-place Toronto and a loss in the first of two with Montreal left the Jets tied for second with the Oilers heading into Wednesday night's return bout with the Canadiens. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that Winnipeg is interested in a deal for Nashville's Ekholm (h/t theScore).

Nos. 10-6: Maple Leafs, Penguins, Avalanche, Wild, Islanders

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    10. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 4th)

    The first-place margin shrank to four points through Tuesday for the front-running Maple Leafs, who dropped a 4-3 decision to the lowly Senators on Sunday. GM Kyle Dubas said Tuesday that the team is in the trade market for a rental player down the stretch, meaning ex-MVP Taylor Hall may be a possibility.

                 

    9. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 12th)

    The Penguins beat up the Sabres and split with the Bruins to pick up six points and solidify their hold on third in the East, five points in back of the Capitals and New York Islanders through Tuesday. Speaking of Tuesday, center Evgeni Malkin left the game with Boston after a hit by defenseman Jarred Tinordi.

                    

    8. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 10th)

    The week they have been waiting for all season finally arrived for the Avalanche, who won four times and allowed just six goals while scoring 16. Philipp Grubauer earned all four wins, three as a starter and once in relief, while stopping 73 of 75 shots against him and lowering his GAA to 1.85 in 23 appearances.

                

    7. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 13th)

    There was no team in the league more dominant over the past seven days than the Wild, who built an 11-goal differential, allowing just four, while winning all four of their games. Minnesota has won eight in a row on home ice stretching back to Jan. 30, outscoring foes 27-11 in regulation time and 1-0 in OT.

                    

    6. New York Islanders (Last Week: 6th)

    Three straight victories over the Devils stretched a win streak to nine games before the Islanders finally fell 3-1 to Washington on Tuesday night. Of greater concern, though, is the long-term absence of captain Anders Lee, who's done for the season after tearing his right ACL on Thursday against New Jersey.

Nos. 5-1: Golden Knights, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    5. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 2nd)

    Two wins over St. Louis and another against San Jose turned the week around for the Golden Knights after it started with a one-goal loss to streaking Minnesota. Goalie Robin Lehner, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal in the offseason, returned to practice after sitting since mid-February with a concussion.

               

    4. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 7th)

    Perhaps the only team that could contest Minnesota's status for the week would be the Capitals, who scored 19 goals while winning four straight and moving into a first-place tie in the East. Record-setting winger Alex Ovechkin netted goal No. 718 to pass Phil Esposito and move into sixth in NHL history.

                 

    3. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 3rd)

    The Hurricanes finished a two-game sweep of Nashville and won the opener of a two-gamer with Detroit before falling to the Red Wings on Tuesday. Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic has won four straight starts and is 6-2-1 in nine appearances since Petr Mrazek went down with a thumb injury in late January.

                  

    1. (tie) Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 1st)'

    The big event of the week occurred Saturday night, when the Lightning raised their 2019-20 Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at Amalie Arena, where fans were allowed in for the first time this season. Tampa Bay has lost just six of 28 games in regulation as it aims for the league's first repeat title since 2016-17.

                     

    1. (tie) Florida Panthers (Last Week: 5th)

    The team with the fewest regulation losses in the league (five), Florida kept rolling with three victories against Columbus and Chicago (twice). The 19-5-4 start through 28 games is the best in franchise history in both points and win percentage. Still, it won't matter unless the Panthers win a series for the first time since 1996.

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