NHL Power Rankings: Vegas Remains the Gold Standard of the League

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Vegas Remains the Gold Standard of the League

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Teams are clinching playoff berths. Teams are being mathematically eliminated.

    But the Vegas Golden Knights continue to be elite.

    Thanks to nine straight wins heading into Wednesday night, Peter DeBoer's team became the first to put in a solo claim to the top spot in B/R's weekly power rankings for a third time this season.

    All voting precincts that reported gave Vegas the top spot for the second straight week and the third overall, with the first having come in early going way back on Jan. 25.

    Three other teams have been alone atop the mountain twice, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who have also shared the No. 1 position two other times.

    "The fact that we've done what we've done over the last month in order to put ourselves in this spot is a testament to our group," DeBoer told reporters. "And now we've just got to make sure our game's in a good place."

    The Golden Knights' prolonged dominance notwithstanding, the rankings were also home to their usual share of weekly upheaval from spots two to 31.

    Click through to see where your favorites landed, and drop us a word or two in the comments.

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

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 30th)

    Given where the Sabres sit in the standings, injuries to the two goalies in Buffalo's regular rotation—Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark—have rendered them most likely done for the 2020-21 season. That means the net is probably the domain of journeyman Dustin Tokarski and 22-year-old rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen for the final six games.


    30. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 28th)

    High-profile prospect Trevor Zegras was sent to San Diego of the AHL to get some playing time at center. The experiment has been a smashing success, with the 20-year-old amassing six goals and 12 points in his first nine games. On the flip side, veteran forward David Backes seems likely to retire at the close of his 15th NHL season.


    29. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 31st)

    The achievement bar is set low for the mathematically eliminated Devils these days, so the celebration threshold is perpetually within range. That's why there may be a parade through East Rutherford after New Jersey ended a 10-game losing skid with Tuesday's defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers. Anyone have Bon Jovi on speed dial?


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

    Though the Stanley Cup probably was never in play, it's somewhat surprising the season has been reduced to draft positioning chatter for the Blue Jackets. Columbus is fifth from the bottom in points percentage following a 1-0 defeat of Detroit on Tuesday. That victory ended a nine-game losing skid stretching back to early April.


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

    Recent first-round pick Joe Veleno, plucked 30th overall in 2018, became the latest Detroit youngster to reach the NHL in Tuesday's game with Columbus. The 21-year-old saw a second less than 15 minutes of ice time in his debut, had two shots on goal and won four faceoffs. He had 20 points in 46 games while on loan to the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League earlier this season.


    26. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 27th)

    There's goaltending upheaval in Canada's capital, too, where veteran free-agent signee Matt Murray may be done for the season after suffering a lower-body injury on Saturday. Backup Anton Forsberg hasn't played since April 12 and had his own ankle problem, leaving Ottawa to turn to Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson.

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

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

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

    The Sharks weren't officially eliminated from the playoffs heading into Wednesday's games, but the organization's focus has turned elsewhere—namely debating parking concerns that are swirling amid proposals for a Google transit village in downtown San Jose. The city council could make a decision at its meeting on May 25.


    24. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 22nd)

    The Kings were among the league's feel-good stories for much of the season and stayed in the playoff discussion, but a 4-8 run in April hasn't prolonged that narrative. They entered Wednesday night just six points away from fourth place but with two other teams ahead of them and just 10 games to play.


    23. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 24th)

    Consecutive wins over Montreal renewed the Flames' hopes of catching the Canadiens for fourth place in the North Division, but a 2-1 loss to the Habs on Monday put Calgary six points back heading into Wednesday's games. "I feel like we've been on the wrong end, but the belief is there," goalie Jacob Markstrom said. "The guys want it."


    22. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 19th)

    The Canucks sidestepped some possible recurring goaltender trouble when Thatcher Demko was cleared to return Wednesday night after missing Monday's game with Ottawa with a lower-body injury. Demko had played just once in April after the team was affected by a COVID-19 outbreak. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension earlier this season.


    21. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 21st)

    It's a similar story in Chicago, where a 9-15 record since early March doomed any real chance the Blackhawks had at repeating their playoff performance of last season. A three-goal loss to Tampa Bay ended the season series at 7-1 in favor of the Lightning, which didn't help matters. Defenseman Adam Boqvist suffered a broken right wrist in that game and is done for 2020-21.

Nos. 20-16: Flyers, Coyotes, Canadiens, Blues, Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    20. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 23rd) 

    It's an abundance of caution for the Flyers when it comes to goaltender Carter Hart, who's not played since April 15 and not practiced since a day later thanks to a mild knee sprain. Elsewhere, recent first-round pick Morgan Frost (2017) worked out Monday as he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder and surgery. He's not played since Jan. 19.


    19. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 20th) 

    There's only a one-point deficit to a postseason spot for the Coyotes heading into Wednesday night's games, but if they fall short, they will have a 2-8 stretch over the previous 10 games to blame. Fourth-place St. Louis also has three games in hand, which means Arizona will need loads of extra help considering they don't play the Blues again the rest of the way.


    18. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 17th) 

    The 15th overall pick in 2019, winger Cole Caufield, reached the NHL in Montreal's 2-1 victory over the hotly pursuing Calgary Flames on Monday. He didn't reach the scoresheet, but he did take 18 shifts, played nearly 16 minutes and had four shots on goal. Elsewhere, forward Jonathan Drouin is taking a leave of absence for personal reasons.


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

    The fourth-place Blues are looking at Saturday's 5-3 defeat of the Colorado Avalanche as the spark for a late-season playoff push. St. Louis trailed 2-0 but rallied with five of the next six goals and then beat the Avs again, 4-1, on Monday. "We can play against any team when we do the right things like we did," said David Perron, who's tied for the team scoring lead.


    16. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 15th) 

    Goaltender Juuse Saros was on the short end of a 7-4 decision on Tuesday against Florida, but he still made a career-high 49 saves while facing a career-high 55 shots and received rave reviews from coach John Hynes, who said: "Our goaltender played fantastic. We weren't good enough to win the game." Saros has 13 wins since March 18, more than any other NHL goalie.

Nos. 15-11: Jets, Stars, Rangers, Oilers, Islanders

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    Scott Kane/Associated Press

    15. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 13th) 

    The Jets limped through the week with three losses, had dropped four in a row overall and a minus-13 goal differential heading into Wednesday night's home game with Edmonton. Forward Mark Scheifele, the team's leading scorer, was benched during a loss to Toronto and another forward, Nikolaj Ehlers, is out for the rest of the regular season with an upper-body injury.


    14. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 14th) 

    The Stars will finish the regular season with seven straight games on the road, including five against teams ahead of them in the Central Division. A 5-1 loss to Carolina on Tuesday was their final scheduled game at American Airlines Arena and kept them two points behind fourth-place Nashville with two games in hand.


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

    The streaking Rangers have won 12 of their past 16 to reach the fringes of playoff conversation. In fact, they are just five points behind the skidding third-place New York Islanders heading into a home-and-home series that will begin Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Goalie Alex Georgiev is 2-0 against the Isles this year, allowing one goal on 55 shots.


    12. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 12th) 

    Edmonton completed its season series with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, two days after Connor McDavid scored three times in a 6-1 win. The Jets and the Oilers appear destined for a first-round playoff matchup given the gap between the teams and first-place Toronto and the advantage they have over fourth-place Montreal.


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

    Losing three straight to Washington was bad for a lot of reasons. Losing three straight to Washington while not scoring a single five-on-five goal was particularly difficult to fathom. New York was outscored 8-3 in the trio of losses and has scored one or zero goals in five of its past seven games. "We've got another level," coach Barry Trotz said

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

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    10. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 9th) 

    The Bruins were fourth in the East heading into Wednesday, but they could make some jumps in the next week thanks to two games apiece against lowly Buffalo and New Jersey. From there, it's two against the fifth-place New York Rangers and one each with the Islanders and Washington. Nine points in those games will clinch a postseason berth.


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

    Workhorse goalie Frederik Andersen was back on the ice for practice Monday and could soon work his way into a game for the first time since suffering a knee injury. The 31-year-old hasn't played since March 19, leaving the Toronto net under the control of Jack Campbell and recent trade acquisition David Rittich. Andersen is 13-8-2 with an .897 save percentage in 22 starts this season.


    8. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 11th) 

    Veteran forward Evgeni Malkin returned to practice on Wednesday and will accompany the team on a four-game road trip that begins Thursday in Washington. The 34-year-old hasn't played since March 16 because of a lower-body injury, but the Penguins are 14-5-2 in his absence. He had 24 points in 29 games before going on the shelf.


    7. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 4th) 

    Speaking of clinching, the Panthers also scored seven goals Tuesday, against Nashville, to secure a playoff berth. The postseason spot is just the seventh in franchise history, and the team has not won a playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. "Everybody in our division thinks we're ready to play," coach Joel Quenneville said.


    6. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 6th) 

    What the Islanders giveth, the Capitals happily taketh away. Missing superstar Alex Ovechkin for the second straight game, Washington nevertheless completed a three-game sweep of New York in which five Capitals scored. On Tuesday, Zdeno Chara (44 years, 40 days) became the oldest player in NHL history to pick up a fighting major. 

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

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    5. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 7th) 

    Speaking of other levels, the Wild have found theirs. They have won eight of 10 games, got a point in a ninth game and reached Wednesday just one point out of second place and five from first. Two games with Vegas, now occupying the top spot, come on Monday and Wednesday. "It's still within reach," winger Marcus Foligno said. "That has to be our mindset."


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

    Shaking off a desultory stretch in which they toppled from first to third in the Central, the Lightning scored a season-best seven goals to beat Chicago and clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday. Tampa Bay was three points out of the top spot heading into Wednesday night. "There's high expectation in this organization: It's to make the playoffs every single year," coach Jon Cooper said.


    3. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 2nd) 

    The Avalanche played West leader Vegas on Wednesday night, but they will finish the regular season with eight of nine games against also-rans San Jose and Los Angeles. Colorado will play the Golden Knights once more, on May 10. Goalie Philipp Grubauer exited COVID-19 protocol and could return to games later this week. He's not played since defeating Arizona on April 12.


    2. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 3rd) 

    The Canes locked up their postseason berth in an OT loss at Dallas on Monday and followed that with a 5-1 win over the Stars on Tuesday. Carolina held a narrow two-point edge over second-place Florida heading into Wednesday's games and could meet the Stars in the playoffs. The Hurricanes won six of eight meetings between the teams in the regular season.


    1. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 1st) 

    The Golden Knights entered Wednesday within a point of the top overall spot in the league and the Presidents' Trophy that would come with that placement. Ominously, however, only eight teams who have finished first overall since 1985-86 have gone on to win the Stanley Cup—and no team has done it since Chicago in 2012-13.