NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche Alone at the Top of the NHL Mountain
And now it gets interesting.
As if the waning schedule and tightening playoff races aren't enough, NHL fans are pumped for the in-earnest arrival of trade season in advance of the transactional deadline on April 12.
The New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils swung the first deal of note Wednesday, with the Devils sending Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to Long Island for two depth forwards and two draft picks, including New York's first-round choice at the 2021 draft in July.
It was a welcome boost for the Islanders, who lost captain Anders Lee to a knee injury in mid-March but have still managed to keep pace with the Washington Capitals atop the contentious East Division.
It was also welcome fodder for B/R's hockey team to consider in compiling this week's Power Rankings, which saw the Colorado Avalanche move from a tie atop last week's list to full-on possession of the top spot thanks to a four-win week from March 31 through April 5.
The Avs were a unanimous choice of the four-person voting panel this time around, though there were plenty of schisms in the balloting across the remaining spots. Take a look at our final tallies and drop an opinion or two of your own in the comments section.
Nos. 31-26: Sabres, Senators, Red Wings, Ducks, Devils, Kings
31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 31st)
No, it's not an Internet hoax. The Sabres did win more games (3) in a week's time at the end of March and into April than they had won since the beginning of February (2). Recent first-round picks Rasmus Dahlin (2018) and Casey Mittelstadt (2017) had their first two-point games of the season Tuesday.
30. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 28th)
A season's worth of suspect goaltending took its first casualty when the Senators reassigned goalie coach Pierre Groulx to a scouting/development role and promoted Zac Bierk, who'd been a goalie development coach with Arizona and has history with Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith from their days in the OHL.
29. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 29th)
A crash course on execution and discipline was on tap from coach Jeff Blashill after repeated, avoidable mistakes—a too-many-men penalty and a bad line change among them—were glaring in a loss to Nashville on Tuesday. In goal, though, Thomas Greiss has a .940 save percentage in his past five games.
28. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 30th)
Rumors suggest trade inquiries may be made about 6'3" defenseman Josh Manson, a former college star in Boston who's got another year remaining on a deal paying him $4.1 million annually. Elsewhere, the Ducks sent Trevor Zegras back to the AHL after 17 games to provide more playing time at center.
27. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 26th)
Another week done means another week closer to the return of captain Nico Hischier, who was at practice Wednesday for the first since surgery followed a sinus fracture and concussion in late February. Hischier played just five games prior to the injury after missing the season's first 11 games while in the COVID-19 protocol.
26. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 24th)
It's been a difficult slog into April for the Kings, who had dropped six of seven heading into Wednesday night. The skid has coach Todd McLellan questioning his team's mettle. "We have a pipe dream of making the playoffs with the type of commitment and intensity we brought to the rink [Monday]," he said.
Nos. 25-21: Blue Jackets, Flames, Stars, Canucks, Sharks
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 23rd)
The Blue Jackets took a blow when center Boone Jenner was hit by a shot from Patrik Laine and had surgery Wednesday for a broken finger. The team leader in faceoff percentage (55.1 percent) and its third-best shot-blocker is expected to miss the remainder of the season. He had 17 points in 41 games.
24. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 21st)
Three more losses this week stretched the overall skid to four and presumably drove another series of nails into Calgary's playoff coffin. The Flames entered Wednesday eight points behind fourth-place Montreal with 16 games to play, while the Canadiens still have 21 remaining on their schedule.
23. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 25th)
Coach Rick Bowness was cleared to rejoin the team after a false positive COVID-19 test prompted his removal from the bench two periods into Sunday's contest. Goalie Anton Khudobin walked the same testing path, missing a scheduled Saturday start and entering the protocol before being cleared.
22. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 22nd)
The Canucks haven't played since March 24, and their return is in doubt now that 21 players and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. A team statement said the cluster was traced back to a single person, though it wasn't clear whether the individual is with the organization or a close contact.
21. San Jose Sharks (Last Week: 27th)
It's go-hard-or-go-home time for the Sharks, who won three of four and entered Wednesday five points back of the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes with a game in hand. Every team they play after facing Anaheim and Los Angeles this week is in a playoff position, including four games with the Coyotes.
Nos. 20-16: Blues, Blackhawks, Flyers, Rangers, Predators
20. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 17th)
The Blues entered April in the same tailspin that plagued them throughout March, having lost seven straight heading into Wednesday. St. Louis was second in the West Division on March 6 but is now five points out of a playoff berth with 18 games left—including 14 against the West's top three teams.
19. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 18th)
Rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen made 25 saves in a 4-2 win over Dallas on Tuesday and called it the "biggest game of the season" for a team just two points out of a Central Division playoff position. Center Kirby Dach scored his first goal of 2020-21 in his sixth game back after missing time with a broken wrist.
18. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 20th)
Well, someone had to lose to the Sabres, right? Philadelphia drew the short straw that ended Buffalo's 18-game winless skid, and the Flyers won just once in four games while surrendering 15 goals. A 4-2 loss to Boston on Tuesday came with the Bruins handing No. 4 goaltender Jeremy Swayman in his NHL debut.
17. New York Rangers (Last Week: 19th)
You know a goaltender is playing well when his 41 saves are the main takeaway of a game in which his team scored eight goals. Such is the case for Igor Shesterkin, who is 4-1-1 in six starts since returning from a groin strain and has allowed just 15 goals on 210 shots—good for a .929 save percentage.
16. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 14th)
The Predators are an impressive 10-2 since March 15 and had climbed back to fourth in the Central before Wednesday night's games, largely without the services of several key players. Neither Ryan Ellis nor Matt Duchene has played during the run, and Filip Forsberg appeared in only six of the 12 games.
Nos. 15-11: Coyotes, Canadiens, Oilers, Bruins, Jets
15. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 16th)
It's been nearly seven years since he was a fourth-round pick of the Coyotes in 2014, but it took left winger Michael Bunting just nine NHL games to record his first hat trick, which came Monday night against Los Angeles. "After that first one I calmed down a bit and let my game take over," he said.
14. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 15th)
Eric Staal didn't hide his happiness when he was dealt to Montreal from the Buffalo Sabres, and the veteran center made his Canadiens debut memorable by scoring an overtime winner to beat the Edmonton Oilers. In not-so-good news, forward Brendan Gallagher will miss six weeks with a broken thumb.
13. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 13th)
Could the Oilers be in the market for Taylor Hall, whom they picked first overall in 2010 and dealt away in 2016? Maybe, according to ex-NHL general manager Doug MacLean, who said a source claimed Edmonton was eyeing a scenario in which Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would make $12 million combined next season.
12. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 12th)
An already dinged-up Bruins roster took another hit Tuesday when defenseman Charlie McAvoy was scratched with an upper-body injury. The Boston blue line is already without regulars Brandon Carlo, who's played just four games since March 1, and John Moore, who's been out since late February.
11. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 11th)
The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun pondered the idea that the Jets would pursue some defensive help at the trade deadline, and the most frequently mentioned target is Nashville's Mattias Ekholm, who's signed through 2021-22. However, the Predators' recent return to the playoff race could change his future.
Nos. 10-6: Penguins, Wild, Golden Knights, Islanders, Lightning
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 7th)
The Penguins allowed 24 total goals during a 12-2-1 stretch before surrendering an ugly 15 across back-to-back losses to Boston (7-5) and the New York Rangers (8-4). Starter Tristan Jarry was back after missing two games but was pulled after allowing four goals on 11 shots in one period against New York.
9. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 8th)
A sweep of a two-gamer with Vegas moved the Wild a little closer to the top of the West Division before they dropped the opener of a series with Colorado on Monday. That loss to the Avalanche ended an 11-game home win streak in the first 2020-21 game in which fans were allowed in the Xcel Energy Center.
8. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 4th)
The Golden Knights have been particularly active at the trade deadline each of the past two seasons, but coach Peter DeBoer is fine with the cards he's holding this time around. "If we go into the playoffs with this group, I'm comfortable that we'll be able to compete with anybody," he said.
7. New York Islanders (Last Week: 10th)
It's official: The Islanders are all-in for 2020-21. Acquiring the aforementioned Palmieri and Zajac from their nearby rivals in New Jersey shows general manager Lou Lamoriello is keen on improving an offense that's averaging just 2.95 goals per game—good for 14th-best in the league.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 5th)
Having a Stanley Cup banner in the rafters goes a long way toward reducing panic, but the Lightning do warrant concern following another desultory week in which they scored just eight times in four games. The good news: Injured forward Nikita Kucherov remains on track to return for the start of this year's playoffs.
Nos. 5-1: Maple Leafs, Capitals, Panthers, Hurricanes, Avalanche
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 9th)
The Maple Leafs appear to have found themselves a goalie in journeyman Jack Campbell, a first-round pick by Dallas in 2010 who had made just 56 starts prior to this season. Now 29, Campbell headed into Wednesday night with a 9-0 record, including six wins and a .941 save percentage since March 20.
4. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 1st)
Ageless Washington sniper Alex Ovechkin moved into a second-place tie for most power-play goals in league history (265, Brett Hull) on Sunday in New Jersey, where the Capitals completed a season sweep of the Devils. He's also six overall goals away from tying Marcel Dionne for fifth place in NHL history.
3. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 6th)
The Panthers continued to thrive in the absence of injured blueliner Aaron Ekblad, winning three of four during the week and taking sole possession of first in the Central. Fellow defenseman MacKenzie Weegar has five points in five games since Ekblad was hurt and has averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 3rd)
It was a successful return to action for goaltender Petr Mrazek, who allowed two goals on 64 shots in defeats of Dallas and Florida—his first two games since Jan. 30 thanks to a thumb injury and consequent surgery. In six starts this season, he's allowed five goals on 130 shots for a .962 save percentage.
1. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1st)
The Avalanche rolled into Wednesday night having picked up points in 15 straight games dating back to March 10, a stretch that included 13 wins and single losses in a shootout and overtime. Their plus-50 goal differential was also best in the league, 18 goals better than No. 2 Toronto.