NHL Power Rankings: Lightning Reign at Top, Sabres Stay at the Bottom

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Lightning Reign at Top, Sabres Stay at the Bottom

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Ahhh, spring.

    A time when it's becoming increasingly apparent that the Tampa Bay Lightning have no intention of ceding their position as champions of the NHL.

    Lest anyone forget, the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup at the end of last season's pandemic-prompted playoff restart and have enjoyed stretches of dominance through 2020-21 while dueling atop the Central Division with the in-state rival Florida Panthers.

    That contest morphed into all-out assault this week as the reigning kings won four straight games—including one apiece against both the Panthers and the Cup runner-up Dallas Stars—scored eight more goals than they allowed and opened a four-point gap on the league's next-best team in the overall standings.

    The pristine week earned Tampa Bay unanimous acclaim from B/R's four-person voting panel as it reconvened Wednesday to rank the league from bottom to top, just seven days after the Panthers and Lightning shared the top spot with two first-place votes apiece from the panel.

    Take a look at our 31-to-1 placements this time around and let us know how you see it in the comments section.

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

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 31st)

    Two more losses stretched the Sabres' skid to 14 games—dating back to Feb. 23—heading into Wednesday night, longest in the NHL since the then-Phoenix Coyotes were beaten 15 straight times in 2004. Buffalo's 16 points through 30 games are second-fewest in franchise history.


    30. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 28th)

    The goal-scoring anemia continued through three more games for these particularly non-mighty Ducks, who lit the lamp just five times before Wednesday and have a per-game clip of 2.15 goals that's only better than Buffalo's 2.07. Elsewhere, four players were added to COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday.


    29. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 29th)

    It was one-down to Vancouver and one-up against Calgary in a back-and-forth week for the Senators, who had a scheduled return with the Flames on Wednesday. The win was particularly memorable for the performance of rookie goalie Filip Gustavsson, who stopped 35 saves and earned a 2-1 decision in his NHL debut.


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

    It's only seven days, but it sure feels longer since the Red Wings scored a goal. Detroit opened the rankings week with a 3-2 defeat of Dallas but was on the paltry end of subsequent shutouts against the Stars (3-0) and Nashville (2-0). "We all know in there that we have to be better," captain Dylan Larkin said.


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

    The Sharks have settled into seventh in the West and are more than likely to miss the playoffs, which moves the curiosity needle on the 41-year-old Patrick Marleau. He's on pace to break Gordie Howe's all-time record for games played in April and could be moved prior to the trade deadline.


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

    Go ahead and call it a comeback if you're a fan of the Devils, who followed a desultory 1-3 week with a 3-1 rebound that included two wins over Pittsburgh and another in Philadelphia. The line Travis Zajac-Janne Kuokkanen-Yegor Sharangovich line finished with six points in the defeat of the Flyers.

Nos. 25-21: Predators, Stars, Coyotes, Canucks, Flames

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    25. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 26th)

    Three wins in four games and four total goals allowed were nice weekly nuggets for the Predators, but more news was made regarding their role in a drama surrounding referee Tim Peel. Audio caught Peel saying "I wanted to get a f---ing penalty against Nashville early" during Tuesday's game with Detroit.


    24. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 24th)

    Another week of frustration is in the books for last season's beaten Stanley Cup finalists, who logged a shutout over Detroit but lost three one-goal games as well. Still, the Stars entered Wednesday just seven points out of the Central's final playoff spot and with four games in hand over fourth-place Chicago.


    23. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 20th)

    It was feast or famine for the Coyotes in a four-game week that featured two losses in which they scored just a combined three goals and two wins in which they netted a combined 10. The finale came in a shootout with the Colorado Avalanche, who had entered on a seven-game win streak but left on the short end of a 5-4 loss.


    22. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 23rd)

    The extra-mile vibe was strong for the Canucks as they began the week with a shootout win in Ottawa and an OT nod in Montreal, but a shootout loss against the Canadiens preceded a 4-0 home loss to Winnipeg. Vancouver entered Wednesday two points back of Montreal for fourth place in the North.


    21. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 17th)

    Another team with a lousy finish to the week, Calgary split its first two games with Edmonton (L) and Toronto (W) before losing the back end to the Maple Leafs and two in a row at Ottawa. The Flames scored just twice in those final three games and entered Wednesday ranked 23rd in goals per game.

Nos. 20-16: Blue Jackets, Kings, Rangers, Blackhawks, Flyers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    20. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 21st)

    The Blue Jackets took on one of the league's best teams this week and came out little worse for wear, beating the Hurricanes twice in Carolina before losing the opener of a series in Columbus on Monday. Among the positives, forward Max Domi has five points in 10 games after scoring just seven in his first 23.


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

    A home split with Vegas provided the core of a .500 week for the Kings, who continue to drift away from a playoff spot—five points behind St. Louis entering Wednesday—but continued to get stellar play from young goalie Cal Petersen. The Iowa native stopped 41 shots in the 3-1 defeat of the Golden Knights.


    18. New York Rangers (Last Week: 22nd)

    A 3-1 week was another chapter in a tumultuous March for the Rangers, who won their first three of the month and then lost four of five before the latest resurgence. In other good news, goalie Igor Shesterkin is expected back Thursday after missing 10 games with a groin injury. He's 6-7 with a .921 save percentage in 13 starts this season.


    17. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 18th)

    The Blackhawks couldn't depart Florida fast enough after two losses at Tampa Bay plunged them to 0-4 on a Sunshine State trip. Chicago was outscored 18-8 by the Lightning and Panthers before returning home to top the latter 3-2 on Tuesday. Winger MacKenzie Entwistle made his NHL debut in that game, playing 12 shifts.


    16. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 16th)

    When the Flyers have a bad week, they really have a bad week. Four losses in five games—including a 9-0 debacle against the Rangers—and a minus-15 goal differential were just some of the lowlights. "I think the makeup of our group is not right," GM Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday. "... I think we have to address that to get the right mix."

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

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    15. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 25th)

    A two-game skid was ended and a pivotal series with Edmonton loomed before the Canadiens were brought down by COVID-19 concerns, scrubbing three games with the Oilers and another with Ottawa. Montreal forwards Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were added to the league's protocol list.


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

    Consecutive wins over the Sharks in San Jose were the highlights of a four-game West Coast trip for the Blues, who opened with a loss at Los Angeles and closed with a blowout defeat at Vegas.


    13. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 9th)

    Three games with New Jersey yielded three points for the Penguins, who sat four points out of second and four points up on fourth in the East Division heading into Wednesday's games. Forward Brandon Tanev was placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury prior to a meeting with Buffalo.


    12. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 11th)

    Another team in the midst of a topsy-turvy month, the Jets lost a pair to Edmonton at home to fall into third in the North Division, and fourth-place Montreal are gaining ground too. Center Paul Stastny played the 977th NHL game on Monday against Vancouver, tying his the career total of his father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny.


    11. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 14th)

    The Oilers prepped for a significant eastern swing with three straight victories over Calgary and Winnipeg but saw three games in Montreal postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. They will now head to Toronto for a pair with the Maple Leafs on Saturday and Monday. The teams were tied atop the North entering Wednesday.

Nos. 10-6: Bruins, Maple Leafs, Wild, Capitals, Panthers

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    10. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 12th)

    The show will go on, finally, for the Bruins on Thursday against the visiting New York Islanders. Boston returned to practice on Wednesday after five players had been placed in COVID-19 protocol, prompting the scrubbing of two games. Jake DeBrusk and Sean Kuraly, though, remained on the list for a seventh day.


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

    It's put up-or-shut up time for the Maple Leafs, who have seen a sizable edge in the North melt into a tie with Edmonton, whom they embarrassed in three games out West a few weeks back. Toronto does have two games in hand, however, and will play one Thursday in Ottawa before the Oilers arrive Saturday.


    8. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 7th)

    A five-game win streak was put to bed in ugly fashion in Colorado by the Avalanche, who outscored the Wild 11-1 in consecutive routs. The bounce back was quick, however, as Minnesota returned home for two wins over visiting Anaheim. The Wild have won 10 straight games at the Xcel Energy Center.


    7. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 4th)

    The Capitals enjoyed a seven-game win streak before finally dropping a 3-1 decision to the visiting New York Rangers on Saturday. Two home games with New Jersey are next before a home-and-home with the Rangers. Alex Ovechkin missed Tuesday's practice with a lower-body injury.


    6. Florida Panthers (Last Week: T-1st)

    The Panthers had won four straight but saw the momentum evaporate with three losses in four games, including two straight to Tampa Bay and Chicago to end the week. Captain Aleksander Barkov is day-to-day with a lower-body issue after being a late scratch from Tuesday's loss. He has 37 points in 31 games.

Nos. 5-1: Islanders, Avalanche, Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Lightning

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

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

    The Islanders provided Philadelphia's lone bright spot on Thursday before pushing the Flyers deeper into the abyss with 6-1 and 2-1 wins on Saturday and Monday. Rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin started both victories and allowed just two goals on 59 shots, improving to 8-2-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average.


    4. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 8th)

    It wasn't hard to find preseason forecasters who were all-in on the Avalanche for 2020-21. Those same folks reemerged when Colorado reeled off seven straight wins before finally falling in a shootout at Arizona on Tuesday. Goalie Jonas Johansson allowed four goals on 32 shots in his Avs debut.


    3. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 3rd)

    Will the real Carolina Hurricanes please stand up? A red-hot stretch yielded eight victories in a row and pulled the Canes to within reach of first in the Central before three consecutive losses snuffed the mojo. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 19 shots while shutting out Columbus on Monday in the first of a two-game set.


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

    Though they sometimes fly under East Coast radar, the Golden Knights—along with Colorado and Minnesota—are setting up for quite the stretch drive in the West. Vegas won three of four this week to take a two-point edge on the Avs, with the Wild just four off the pace after Wednesday.


    1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: T-1st)

    Have we mentioned how good the Lightning are? They have lost just six times in regulation across 32 games, have the top goal differential at plus-43 and have accomplished all this without 2019-20 scoring leader Nikita Kucherov, who's out after hip surgery. Fear not, though—he's set to return for the playoffs.