NHL Power Rankings: Storm Warning for the League as Hurricanes Rise to the Top

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Storm Warning for the League as Hurricanes Rise to the Top

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    "It's a wide-open field."

    A one-size-fits-all description for sporting events where an odds-on favorite is not clear?

    Yes.

    But as cliched as it might be, there have rarely been years when it's more NHL-applicable.

    Particularly when viewed the lens of the B/R hockey power rankings, where yet another team has climbed to the top spot to put in its claim as the best that the 31-team league can offer.

    Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the Carolina Hurricanes.

    The modern incarnation of the Hartford Whalers is in Season 3 of a renaissance that followed a nine-year playoff exile. The Canes were placed in a particularly competitive Central Division alongside both teams that reached the Stanley Cup Final last summer but have remained consistently elite across an oft-chaotic 2020-21 schedule—losing a league-low 10 regulation games entering Wednesday.

    They are the ninth team to at least share possession of the No. 1 rankings position this season, ending the Vegas Golden Knights' most recent two-week stay in the penthouse and also following occupancies by their southernmost Central rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.

    Click through to see how the list came together from Nos. 31 to 2 as well, and drop a thought or two in the comments section to let us know how we did.

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

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 31st)

    The Sabres are still the Sabres. They're last in the East Division and probably won't escape that spot before the end of the season. That said, they've reached a level of respectability since the Taylor Hall trade in April and have produced some headlines too. One came Monday when 28-year-old goalie Michael Houser made, and won, his NHL debut against the New York Islanders.

           

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

    The best thing about April in Columbus was that it ended. The Blue Jackets were an inglorious 2-10-2 in the first full month of spring amid a flurry of departures from central Ohio. And, odd stat alert, they managed a first in the franchise's 20-year run in that they played an entire season—albeit shortened—without a single three-game win streak.

            

    29. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 30th)

    When the Ducks scored this week, they won. And when they didn't, they lost. Anaheim netted nine goals while winning 3-2 and 6-2 decisions over the Los Angeles Kings but were held to a single tally apiece in losses to the Kings (2-1) and St. Louis Blues (3-1). That's not been helped by a consistently anemic power play, which had converted just 9.2 percent all season entering Wednesday.

             

    28. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 29th)

    Three wins this week made it four of five overall since a prolonged skid that saw the Devils lose 10 in a row from April 9-25. A 4-3 OT decision over the Boston Bruins marked the team's final home appearance of the 2020-21 season and ended the run at the Prudential Center with a 7-18-3 slate. An encouraging note, the win was goalie Mackenzie Blackwood's fourth straight.

                 

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

    Score three goals in three games against the NHL's best, and it's no surprise you only win one of them. That was the story of the week for the Red Wings, who lost a 3-1 nod to the Carolina Hurricanes while splitting a pair (1-0 win, 2-1 loss) with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Looking ahead, forward Tyler Bertuzzi had successful back surgery and should be a full-go for 2021-22.

            

    26. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 22nd)

    The Canucks had one of the worst weeks, if not the worst, that any team has managed this season. Fully immersed in a post-COVID-19 outbreak flurry of rescheduled games, Vancouver lost five times in seven days while being outscored 24-9 by Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton. Off the ice, winger Jake Virtanen was placed on leave after allegations of sexual misconduct

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

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    25. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 26th)

    The pseudo-renaissance in Ottawa continued with the Senators rising another spot in the rankings to as lofty a position as they have held all season. They scored six times in blowing out Vancouver and passed the Canucks in the North Division standings. Then they beat third-place Winnipeg in a 2-1 nail-biter. In personnel news, journeyman goalie Anton Forsberg signed a one-year contract extension.

                 

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

    Two wins over the sliding Arizona Coyotes were quickly scuttled by three straight losses to the front-running Colorado Avalanche, during which the Sharks were outscored by a 12-7 clip. Meantime, in the latest chapter of a running off-ice story, winger Evander Kane is facing a $15 million lawsuit from Professional Bank, which claims he defrauded the company.

              

    23. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 21st)

    It's getting difficult to remember the optimism of Chicago's early season given a week when the Blackhawks lost four in a row and allowed 20 goals along the way. A Monday loss to Carolina ended any lingering playoff conversation, but defenseman Riley Stillman contends motivation isn't a problem. "It's the NHL, right?” he said. "Everyone's coming for your job every day."

                 

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

    The Kings have all but reached playing-out-the-string mode, but veteran forward Anze Kopitar provided a memorable highlight with his 1,000th career point. Now 33 and the first Slovenian to reach the NHL, Kopitar played the 1,124th game of his career on Wednesday at Arizona and has been a King since 2006-07.

                 

    21. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 20th)

    Another sieve-like week in the City of Brotherly Love, where the Flyers allowed 16 goals across three losses and 18 in four games overall. The 3.60 goals-against average with which the team entered Wednesday's games was worst in the league by better than a tenth of a goal. Last season, Philadelphia's 2.77 rate was seventh-best in the NHL.

Nos. 20-16: Flames, Coyotes, Stars, Jets, Rangers

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    Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

    20. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 23rd)

    The Flames probably won't be hoisting the Stanley Cup to end this season, so the focus naturally turns to future personnel matters. Toward that end, veteran winger Milan Lucic waived the no-movement clause in his contract, which allows the team to expose him—rather than a younger player or prospect—to the Seattle Kraken in this summer's NHL expansion draft.

                 

    19. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 19th)

    This just in: A 1-3 week was precisely what the Coyotes did not need while doggedly pursuing the St. Louis Blues for the final West Division playoff berth. But that's what Arizona got thanks to scoring just six goals in losses to San Jose, Vegas and Los Angeles. The team entered Wednesday's games five points behind St. Louis with three games (including Wednesday) on its schedule.

                   

    18. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 14th)

    Speaking of ill-timed skids, the Stars had one of their own as well, running an L streak to four with defeats by Tampa Bay, Nashville and Florida in which they scored four goals (all in one game). That said, it was nice to see Tyler Seguin return from a 51-game absence with a goal in his first appearance. His previous goal had come in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

                    

    17. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 15th)

    Just where do the Jets want to finish? Not all that long after it had gained ground on Toronto and took a lead on Edmonton, Winnipeg finds itself in a full-on scrap with Montreal to determine who will finish third and fourth in the North. The Jets entered Wednesday with seven straight losses and in a flat-footed tie—at 57 points after 51 games played—with the Canadiens.

                 

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

    Win three in a row, celebrate. Lose three in a row, clean out the executive wing. The Rangers went about doing the latter on Wednesday on the heels of losses to the Islanders (4-0 and 3-0) and Washington (6-3), firing team president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton and promoting Chris Drury to both positions. Drury played 264 games for the Rangers from 2007-2011.

Nos. 15-11: Canadiens, Blues, Predators, Islanders, Oilers

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    Nick Didlick/Associated Press

    15. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 18th)

    The Canadiens at the end of the season are starting to resemble the team that won eight of its first 12 games and briefly controlled matters in the North Division. Aa three-game win streak entering Wednesday's games pulled Montreal into a points tie with free-falling Winnipeg for third place, setting up a possible first-round matchup with Edmonton, against whom they're 5-2 in 2020-21.

                 

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

    Of all the fourth-place teams revving up for possible playoff spots, the Blues may be the most dangerous to the teams above them. St. Louis entered Wednesday having seized 11 of a possible 12 points over its past six games, a stretch that's included two wins apiece over Colorado and Minnesota, who entered Wednesday in second and third, respectively, in the West Division.

                     

    13. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 16th)

    Firmly in the playoff chase after an 8-6 record in April, the Predators started off May with two more victories and found themselves four points up on Dallas for the final Central Division postseason ticket. The bad news: Current standings would pair Nashville up with Central front-runner Carolina, which has won all six games in the season series, including five in regulation.

                

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

    Two straight wins over the rival Rangers, both by shutouts, seemed an ideal way to start a home stretch that continued with lowly Buffalo. Problem is, the Islanders stubbed their toes on consecutive nights against the Sabres, earning just one of a possible four points. They would probably like to miss a playoff duel with Washington, which has won six of eight games with them this term.

                   

    11. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 12th)

    From one eye, Oilers fans will be watching as Connor McDavid pursues 100 points in 56 games (he's got 93 with five games left). From the other, they will be watching the bottom of the North Division standings. Assuming it finishes second, Edmonton will draw either Winnipeg or Montreal in Round 1. The Oilers are 7-2 against the Jets this season but just 2-5 against the Canadiens.

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

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    Bruce Bennett/Associated Press

    10. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 10th)

    Three more wins this week made it 10-2-1 in the 13 games since the trade deadline for the Bruins, who could still finish anywhere from first to fourth in the East but will be a tough, momentum-riding out for anyone. Newcomer Jeremy Swayman has made a case to see playoff time with a 6-2 record, a 1.62 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage since April 6.

                 

    9. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 6th)

    Call it the Tom Wilson Effect. Just two days after the Washington winger was fined $5,000 for punching Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich while he was face-down on the ice, the teams combined for six fights at the beginning of Wednesday's game at Madison Square Garden. Wilson fought New York's Brendan Smith on his first shift and later left the game with an upper-body injury.

                   

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

    A 3-2 OT loss to Montreal on Monday wasn't an ideal result, but considering it came after a five-game win streak, the Maple Leafs will probably be OK with it. Toronto defeated Winnipeg (twice), Montreal and Vancouver (twice) in the skein, which saw them run up a 22-7 scoreboard edge. The Maple Leafs can clinch first in the North with five points in their final four games.

                   

    7. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 8th)

    It's now 12-5-1 since the beginning of April for the streaking Penguins, who will finish with two against visiting Buffalo on Thursday and Saturday. Pittsburgh could still finish anywhere from first to fourth, but if they beat the Sabres twice, they will finish with a .688 points percentage—good for third-best in franchise history behind the 1992-93 and 2012-13 teams that both won division titles.

                    

    6. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 5th)

    Two straight losses to St. Louis ended a seven-game win streak for the Wild, who continue to hold out hope for first or second place in the West but won't finish any lower than third, which would mean either Vegas or Colorado as a first-round opponent. Minnesota was a combined 8-6-1 against those teams entering Wednesday, averaging 3.13 goals per game.

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

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

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

    It's good news for Lightning fans, and perhaps ominous for the rest of the league, that prolific forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov were skating on a line together for the first time in 14 months on Tuesday. OK, it was at a practice, but it's still a positive sign for a team regathering its mojo for a title defense. Kucherov hasn't played this season, and Stamkos has been out since April 8.

                   

    4. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 7th)

    It's a charge to the finish in the Central for the Panthers, who won three straight one-goal games to stretch their streak to four games and climb within four points of first place. Florida is 5-6-3 against Carolina and Tampa Bay, teams they could face in the first round. Goalie Spencer Knight, 20, is 4-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average since debuting on April 20.

                   

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

    It's become a mental game down the stretch for the Golden Knights, who are preparing as if a first-round matchup with the Minnesota Wild is imminent. Minnesota beat visiting Vegas, 6-5, on Monday, and the Golden Knights entered Wednesday having not won this season at the Xcel Energy Center. "We're really close, and we've got to get on the right side of that line," head coach Peter DeBoer said.

                 

    2. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 3rd)

    It's more a glimpse into the future than a difference-maker, but 2019 first-round pick Alex Newhook debuted with the Avalanche on Wednesday at San Jose. The 20-year-old center registered eight points in eight games in the AHL before the call-up. In the standings, Colorado reached Wednesday two points behind Vegas with a game in hand and a May 10 duel looming.

                  

    1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 2nd)

    It's a first-time lap in the pole position for the Hurricanes, who have picked up at least a standings point in 12 straight games (9-0-3) since a 3-1 loss to Detroit on April 12. The run is one off a franchise record and clinched home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs for a team that cannot finish lower than second in the Central.

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