NHL Power Rankings: Red-Hot Golden Knights on Top; Sabres Out of the Basement

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Red-Hot Golden Knights on Top; Sabres Out of the Basement

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Another week. Another stalwart.

    Though the Colorado Avalanche have done nothing on the ice to compromise their status as one of the NHL's elite teams, one of their rivals out west—the Vegas Golden Knights—have spent the better part of April making a case for themselves as the best of the 31-team bunch.

    Vegas won each of its four games this week heading into Wednesday night, outscored its opponents by an 18-6 margin and in doing so found itself atop B/R's NHL Power Rankings for the first time in 2020-21.

    The Golden Knights were third last week and pushed past the Washington Capitals and Colorado to reach the top spot after a unanimous vote by the site's ice hockey writing crew. The Avalanche, who have not played since April 14 because of COVID-19 restrictions, dropped a single place to second while the Carolina Hurricanes took third.

    There's also news at the bottom of the list, where the Buffalo Sabres emerged from the 31st position for the first time in several weeks.

    Take a look at the 31-to-1 compilation to see where your favorites wound up, and feel free to drop a line or two with your own thoughts in the comments section.

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

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    31. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 28th)

    Well, at least Tuesday was entertaining. The Devils trailed Pittsburgh 6-0 after two periods before rallying to lose 7-6. It was the sixth time in franchise history they scored six times in a period. P.K. Subban was added to the COVID-19 list and goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood missed the game with an upper-body injury.

               

    30. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 31st)

    The Sabres were officially eliminated from playoff contention for an NHL-record-tying 10th straight year. It's symbolic of an awful season that the elimination was settled the same week as both captain Jack Eichel (neck) and veteran leader Kyle Okposo (cheek) were ruled out for the rest of 2020-21.

               

    29. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 26th)

    The aftermath of the trade deadline in Columbus is, in a word, unsightly. The Blue Jackets dealt away three full-timers and have several others out with injuries, leaving games looking like auditions for 2021-22. Four losses and a minus-13 goal differential for the week don't make the future look much better.

               

    28. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 30th)

    A spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario prompted league officials to nix the OHL season, meaning the Ducks won't be sending first-round picks Jamie Drysdale and Jacob Perreault back to their junior teams. Drysdale has five points in 15 NHL games, and Perreault will likely remain with the AHL's San Diego Gulls.

                

    27. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 29th)

    Lanky 6'2" center Shane Pinto scratched "make NHL debut" off his bucket list on Saturday, playing a bit more than nine minutes and getting an assist in Ottawa's 4-0 defeat of Montreal. Picked 32nd overall in 2019, he won four of six faceoffs and centered a line with wingers Alex Formenton and Connor Brown.

                   

    26. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 27th)

    Like many others, the Red Wings are evaluating what they have in the final few weeks with the playoffs out of the question. Among the players under the microscope is 25-year-old winger Jakub Vrana, a 2014 first-round pick acquired from Washington, who's got a goal and an assist in three games with Detroit.

Nos. 25-21: Sharks, Flames, Flyers, Kings, Blackhawks

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    25. San Jose Sharks (Last Week: 22nd)

    There's not been a lot to celebrate for the Sharks lately, but Patrick Marleau created some positivity on Monday night at Vegas when he played in his 1,768th career game—breaking a tie for the NHL record with Gordie Howe. Now 41, Marleau entered the league with San Jose in the 1997-98 season.

               

    24. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 19th)

    If the Flames miss the playoffs—they are six points back of fourth-place Montreal in the North Division entering Wednesday night—they'll surely look back at missed opportunities against the Senators. Calgary has lost six of eight against Ottawa this season, while Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg are a combined 20-2 against the Sens.

               

    23. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 23rd)

    It's mettle-testing time in Philly as the Flyers enter the final 11 games of the season with an 11-point gap between them and the fourth-place Boston Bruins in the East. "You see the character in guys in tougher moments," center Sean Couturier said. "It's not easy right now, and we'll see how guys respond."

             

    22. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 25th)

    The Kings welcomed back fans to Staples Center in victorious fashion on Tuesday night, running out to a four-goal lead in a 4-1 win over Anaheim. About 2,000 fans were allowed inside the building for the first time since last spring. Blake Lizotte had the first three-point game of his NHL career.

               

    21. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 21st)

    The Blackhawks entered Wednesday just four points behind Nashville for fourth place in the Central, but the Predators have dominated the season series to the tune of six straight wins and a plus-11 goal differential. Winger Brett Connolly is pointless in three games after scoring in his debut following a trade with Florida.

Nos. 20-16: Coyotes, Canucks, Blues, Canadiens, Rangers

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    Peter Power/Associated Press

    20. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 18th)

    A five-game skid ended with a timely win over St. Louis on Saturday, but the Coyotes fell again on Monday when Minnesota beat them 5-2. Still, Arizona arrived at Wednesday with a one-point edge on the Blues for fourth in the West. The teams will not play each other during the season's final two-plus weeks.

                 

    19. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 24th)

    The Canucks hadn't played in better than 20 days, but you would have never known it based on the way they handled the North Division-leading Maple Leafs by a 9-5 count across two wins. It's a long shot, but Vancouver trails fourth-place Montreal by eight points with four games in hand entering Wednesday.

                          

    18. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 15th)

    The Blues face the aforementioned one-point deficit behind Arizona in the West, but they do have three games in hand on the Coyotes. It won't be an easy push, though, with nine of their 12 remaining games against divisional powers Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota. St. Louis is 5-9 against the trio in 2020-21.

                   

    17. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 14th)

    It was the wrong week for a production blackout, as the Canadiens scored just four times in four games, resulting in three losses. Suddenly, fourth place in the North is up for grabs. It won't help that ace goaltender Carey Price is in concussion protocol after taking a bump in Monday's loss to Edmonton.

                       

    16. New York Rangers (Last Week: 17th)

    The Rangers flexed offensive muscles with four straight wins over New Jersey—outscoring the Devils 18-6—before regressing Tuesday with a 6-1 loss to the Islanders. Two each with the Sabres and Flyers are next before a grueling finish with pairs against the Islanders, Capitals and Bruins.

Nos. 15-11: Predators, Stars, Jets, Oilers, Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    15. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 16th)

    The Predators were red-hot entering the week, but their pace was slowed a bit by two straight losses to Carolina. They faced sixth-place pursuer Chicago on Wednesday night in the first of two more to wrap their season series. Four of their final seven are against the Hurricanes or Florida Panthers.

                 

    14. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 20th)

    Four wins and a plus-11 goal margin indicate the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final last fall may have found itself at last. The Stars were a point behind Nashville entering Wednesday night. "We're back in the hunt," coach Rick Bowness said. "And now we've got to manage it as best as we can."

                 

    13. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 11th)

    The Jets find themselves as hunters and hunted as they try to close a four-point gap between them and the front-running Maple Leafs while also holding a one-point edge over the Oilers in third. Captain Blake Wheeler returned to practice Tuesday after missing six games with a concussion.

                 

    12. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 13th)

    Remember Mike Smith's awful start in Game 1 of last summer's qualifying-round series with Chicago? That's OK, Oilers fans are forgetting it, too. The veteran continued a bounce-back season in crucial victories over second-place Winnipeg and fourth-place Montreal, allowing one goal on 49 total shots.

                

    11. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 9th)

    Veteran Jeff Carter has been a solid statistical contributor since arriving from Los Angeles at the trade deadline. The 36-year-old winger scored Tuesday against New Jersey for the first time as a Penguin but has won 57 percent of his faceoffs and also has an assist while racking up 11 shots on goal.

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

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    10. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 6th)

    There's no good time for a five-game losing streak, but this is an especially bad time. Goalie David Rittich is 0-3 since arriving in a trade from Calgary, and the netminders as a group have an .858 save percentage and a 3.69 goals-against average during the skid. Two games at Winnipeg await on Thursday and Saturday.

               

    9. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 12th)

    How many teams are wishing they had bellied up to the Taylor Hall trade bar? The 2017-18 MVP has two goals and an assist and is a plus-four in five games—all victories— with the Bruins. He scored just twice in 37 games with Buffalo and was a minus-21. Also, Tuukka Rask is 3-0 in goal since returning from injury.

                  

    8. New York Islanders (Last Week: 8th)

    The Islanders were a statistical anomaly this week. They were outscored 7-1 while dropping two games at Boston. They then outscored the Flyers and the Rangers by the same margin while recording two bounce-back wins. Goalie Ilya Sorokin is 10-2-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .926 save percentage since March 1.

              

    7. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 10th)

    There aren't many teams that can go 7-2-1 and lose ground in a division, but that's the tale out West for the Wild, who nonetheless blazed through the week with four wins and a plus-10 goal differential. Kirill Kaprizov set a team record for points in a season by a rookie when he registered his 37th.

               

    6. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 2nd)

    Allowing 14 goals in three games—two of them losses—wasn't the ideal look for the Capitals, who arrived to Wednesday in a flat-footed tie with the Islanders atop the East. Washington is 19th in the league in goals-per-game allowed (3.02) but remains second in goals scored per game at 3.50.

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

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    5. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 5th)

    To panic or not to panic? That's the question in Tampa after the Lightning split two-gamers with both Carolina and Florida and now find themselves third in the Central with eight losses in 14 games. "We're going to look in the mirror," forward Blake Coleman said. "We've got some reflecting to do here."

               

    4. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 7th)

    Precocious goalie Spencer Knight made his NHL debut with a veteran's air on Tuesday, stopping 33 shots in a 5-1 defeat of Columbus. Knight, 20, signed an entry-level deal after Boston College was eliminated from the NCAA tourney. "He looked very cool and calm in the net," coach Joel Quenneville said.

                  

    3. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 4th)

    Three wins in four games kept the Hurricanes in a tie with Florida atop the Central with two games in hand. Carolina's winning recipe once again involved stellar goaltending. The Hurricanes surrendered just six goals and are fourth in the league with an average of 2.36 allowed per game, alongside a .921 team save percentage.

                 

    2. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1st)

    Only a week on the shelf because of COVID-19 has been enough to slow the Avalanche, who have precisely one regulation loss since March 8. Colorado returned to practice Wednesday and is scheduled to play in St. Louis on Thursday for the first of an adjusted four-game trip—three with the Blues and one in Vegas.

                     

    1. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 3rd)

    Four more wins made it eight of nine for the surging Golden Knights, who established a two-point lead over Colorado in the West heading into Wednesday's games. Off the ice, goalie Robin Lehner said the league lied to players about easing COVID-19 restrictions when a vaccination threshold was met.

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