NHL Power Rankings: New York Rangers Are Top of the Heap
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Though they have not qualified for a full-fledged postseason since 2017 and haven't advanced past the second round since 2015, the New York Rangers are suddenly headline-makers in the NHL.
A start that's among the best in the history of a 95-year-old franchise will do that.
Led by first-year coach Gerard Gallant and a tasty mix of established talent and dynamic youth, the league's midtown Manhattan residents earned first-place nods on four of five ballots this week to ascend to the top of B/R's NHL power rankings for the first time this season.
It was a five-spot spike for the Rangers, who surged past last week's top team, the Florida Panthers, along with the remaining members of the top five: the Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Capitals were the top team on the lone dissenting ballot.
Washington and New York were separated by one standings point following Wednesday's games.
Read on to see how the remaining spots were filled, and feel free to drop a note or two in the comments section to let our puck heads know where they got it right, and perhaps otherwise.
Editor's note: Votes were recorded before Wednesday night's games.
Nos. 32-26: Coyotes, Canadiens, Senators, Sabres, Canucks, Flyers, Islanders
32. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 31st)
A lousy November bled into an awful start to December, with the Coyotes losing twice by a combined 11-2 score. Meanwhile, management denied a Forbes report that suggested the team was up for sale and might be bound for Houston. "This is false," a team statement said. "Totally false."
31. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 30th)
Similar to Arizona, December in Montreal has continued in the same manner as November. With losses. A 3-2 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday made it four straight for the Canadiens. Elsewhere, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that the team could be considering player agent Kent Hughes as its next general manager (h/t Stu Cowen of the Montreal Gazette).
30. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 32nd)
The Senators lost six in a row, won three in a row and then lost Tuesday to the New York Islanders, who had not won in 11 games. "For us, the main thing is looking back at the five games in seven days, and we had a good stretch," Thomas Chabot said.
29. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 24th)
A shutout loss to the Ducks on Tuesday was the fifth defeat in a row for the suddenly punchless Sabres, who have scored two goals in 120 minutes after scoring 10 times in the first three losses of a five-game losing streak. "We're going to pay attention and try to improve defensively, and we will, but we can't lose that confidence we talked about for scoring goals," coach Don Granato told The Buffalo News.
28. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 29th)
Alas, there is life in Vancouver, where the Canucks jettisoned general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green and then defeated Los Angeles 4-0 in the first game under new coach Bruce Boudreau. That was followed by a shootout win over Boston. A managerial committee headed by Stan Smyl is assuming Benning's role for the time being.
27. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 25th)
The Flyers fell to New Jersey on Wednesday for their 10th straight loss—their second under interim coach Mike Yeo, who replaced the dismissed Alain Vigneault. But GM Chuck Fletcher said time will be taken to find a replacement. "The focus right now is not on interviewing people and rushing to hire a head coach," he said. "Right now, it's to support Mike and get this team playing the right way."
26. New York Islanders (Last Week: 27th)
Happy days finally arrived for the Islanders, whose win over Ottawa on Tuesday was their first since a 2-0 triumph in Winnipeg on November 6. "It felt good to have a little life in the dressing room after the game," coach Barry Trotz said to reporters. "Music blaring and guys ribbing each other."
Nos. 25-21: Blackhawks, Kraken, Kings, Devils, Blue Jackets
25. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 28th)
The Blackhawks have been up and down since mid-November, with Tuesday's loss to the New York Rangers dropping them to 5-5 in that stretch. A scary moment in that defeat came when Jujhar Khaira took a hit from Jacob Trouba and left the ice on a stretcher. He was released from a hospital Wednesday.
24. Seattle Kraken (Last Week: 26th)
Three points in four games against Detroit (shootout loss) and Edmonton (win) preceded a five-goal loss to Pittsburgh on Monday. The Kraken had gone 5-1-1 in their previous seven games. Jordan Eberle scored Seattle's lone goal after missing two games with a lower-body injury.
23. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 23rd)
A 5-1 win in Edmonton was the lone highlight of the week for the Kings, who were blanked 4-0 by Vancouver on Monday. Defenseman Alexander Edler faced the Canucks for the first time after signing with Los Angeles in July. He played 925 games for Vancouver across 15 seasons.
22. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 22nd)
It was four straight losses and three in December for the Devils before Wednesday's 3-0 win over the floundering Flyers. "I thought we played a complete game," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was a great effort by the whole group."
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 15th)
The Blue Jackets scored just three goals in losses to Dallas and Washington to start the week and then potted 10 while splitting two more games with San Jose and Toronto. Some of the offensive output is thanks to the power play, which is 11th-best in the league after placing 27th last season.
Nos. 20-16: Red Wings, Sharks, Jets, Penguins, Predators
20. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 19th)
Going the distance and then some was apparently the recipe last week for the Red Wings, who recorded wins in a shootout and in overtime to stretch a win streak to five before dropping a game in regulation against Nashville on Tuesday. "We've been playing good hockey, won five games in a row," captain Dylan Larkin said. "We just didn't come out and execute."
19. San Jose Sharks (Last Week: 18th)
A 5-3 defeat of Calgary on Tuesday ended a two-game skid and was San Jose's first win on home ice since November 24, an ideal way to begin a seven-game homestand. "Feels good right now after a tough end to our road trip there," captain Logan Couture said. "Both games that we lost on that road trip, there was a sour taste."
18. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 20th)
The Jets scored a combined 14 goals in wins over New Jersey and Toronto before ending a four-game homestand with a loss to Carolina. Next up is a quick jaunt to Seattle and Vancouver. Defenseman Neal Pionk was suspended two games for a knee-on-knee hit on Toronto's Rasmus Sandin. Jason Spezza's retaliation left Pionk in the league's concussion protocol.
17. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 17th)
A western trip began with losses in Calgary and Edmonton but wrapped with wins in Vancouver and Seattle in which the Penguins outscored their foes 10-2. A 28-save win against the Kraken was the first of the season for goalie Casey DeSmith, who was previously 0-3-1 in four starts.
16. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 21st)
The Predators bounced back from a shutout loss to Boston with consecutive wins over Montreal and Detroit in which they scored nine goals. Center Matt Duchene didn't score in those contests, but he has 13 goals in 24 games after scoring just six last season. "I want to be here, and I believe my best years are ahead of me," he told ESPN's Kristen Shilton.
Nos. 15-11: Golden Knights, Bruins, Blues, Ducks, Avalanche
15. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 14th)
The Golden Knights dropped a 6-5 decision in Anaheim before rebounding with defeats of Arizona, Calgary and Dallas. Off the ice, goalie Robin Lehner took to Twitter to announce he'll not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics because concerns about his mental health.
14. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 16th)
Veteran Tuukka Rask appeared at a Monday practice for the Bruins as an emergency backup goalie with Linus Ullmark sidelined by a non-COVID-19 illness. Enough players were affected, in fact, that Boston delayed a flight out of British Columbia to give them more time to feel well enough to fly.
13. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 11th)
Two home-and-homes with two of the league's best teams—Florida and Tampa Bay—saw the Blues win a pair in St. Louis while losing on the road. But the focus is on a goalie shortage. Jordan Binnington is in COVID-19 protocol and Ville Husso left Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury, prompting Jon Gillies' call-up from the minors to back up No. 3 man Charlie Lindgren.
12. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 13th)
Oh, sure, the Ducks split four games for the week. But all the talk around the team—and much of the league—was the lacrosse-style pass from Trevor Zegras to assist Sonny Milano's goal during a 2-0 win over Buffalo on Tuesday. "That's something you see maybe in men's league on Friday nights somewhere, not in the NHL," Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer told NHL.com. "The kid's obviously special."
11. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 10th)
It's been four up and three down for the Avalanche since the end of a six-game win streak. The win over Philadelphia on Tuesday was the 2,000th game in franchise history and brought with it a victory for rookie goalie Justus Annunen in his first career start. He allowed five goals on 32 shots.
Nos. 10-6: Oilers, Stars, Flames, Maple Leafs, Hurricanes
10. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 3rd)
That clicking sound you hear is the Oilers, or at least their perpetually tortured fans, hitting the panic button now that a 7-7 stretch—particularly a three-game losing streak—has followed a 9-1 start. "The good start has bought us a little time here, but we can't rely on that," captain Connor McDavid said.
9. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 12th)
Monday's home win against Arizona was the seventh in a row for the surging Stars. That streak tied a franchise record before Wednesday's 5-4 loss on the road to Vegas. However, the eight straight wins at the American Airlines Center are alone at the top of the franchise's historic heap. "It shows we're doing something right around here right now," captain Jamie Benn said.
8. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 7th)
A trip out west started with wins in Los Angeles and Anaheim but ended in losses to Vegas and San Jose for the Flames. "I don't think we played our best hockey, but we came out of it .500—probably what we deserved," center Mikael Backlund said. "Sour feeling going on the plane."
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 2nd)
Toronto pushed a win streak to five games before losing two in a row. Still, the Maple Leafs managed five goals in a bounce-back defeat of Columbus on Tuesday. "It [was] not a good game for us, but it [was] a good result," head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 4th)
The front-running Hurricanes experienced adversity for the first time this season with consecutive losses to Washington, Dallas and Ottawa, but they returned to winning ways against Buffalo and Winnipeg, scoring 10 goals in the process. Defenseman Ian Cole got a major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing Jets forward Mark Scheifele and was later fined $5,000 by the NHL.
Nos. 5-1: Lightning, Capitals, Wild, Panthers, Rangers
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 9th)
It's four-for-four in December for the two-time defending champs, who have allowed just seven goals in those games while scoring 17. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 84 saves on 90 shots while winning three of those games to maintain top-10 leaguewide positions among starters in goals-against average (2.12) and wins (13).
4. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 5th)
The first three games of a four-game homestand yielded a shootout loss and two wins for the Capitals, whose shootout victory Anaheim on Monday was their first win in a game that went past regulation this season after five overtime losses and the aforementioned shootout defeat.
3. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 8th)
It's a five-spot jump for the surging Wild, who won five straight at home before visiting Edmonton on Tuesday and emerging with a 4-1 win to stretch the overall streak to seven. The defeat of the Oilers also boosted Minnesota to 37 points, the best start in franchise history through 25 games.
2. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 1st)
Two wins and an OT loss comprised another successful week for the Panthers, who dropped from the top spot in our rankings but remain in the top two. Team captain Aleksander Barkov made a goal-scoring return to the lineup Tuesday after not playing since suffering a knee injury on November 16. He now has 10 goals and 18 points in 16 games.
1. New York Rangers (Last Week: 6th)
A 7-3 rout suffered at the hands of Colorado wasn't an ideal welcome to the top spot for the Rangers, but considering it came after a seven-game win streak, it's not all bad. Still, they will have to continue for the short term without goalie Igor Shesterkin, who left Friday's game against San Jose with a lower-body injury after establishing himself among the league's leaders in wins (13), goals-against average (2.05) and save percentage (.937).