NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs Rise to No. 1; Rangers Fall Out of Top 5

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs Rise to No. 1; Rangers Fall Out of Top 5

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Welcome back to prosperity, Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

    Just more than six months after an epic playoff collapse resulted in a Game 7 elimination by the Montreal Canadiens, the kings of Ontario hockey are back among the NHL's elite.

    Powered by a 8-2-1 stretch that's placed them atop the heap in the Atlantic Division, the Maple Leafs have also ascended to the top of B/R's weekly NHL power rankings.

    It's the first No. 1 nod of the season for Toronto, which climbed six spots from last week and dethroned the New York Rangers, who plummeted all the way to No. 8. The Maple Leafs were listed first on four of five ballots to outdistance the Carolina Hurricanes, who got the lone dissenting first-place vote.

    "We have come a long way from where we were," coach Sheldon Keefe said.

    The top five is rounded out by the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. The Panthers, Capitals and Lightning were second, fourth and fifth last week, respectively, while the third-place Minnesota Wild dropped out of the quintet and into spot No. 6.

    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, Sabres, Senators, Blackhawks, Islanders, Kraken

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    32. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 32nd)

    It's getting fairly repetitive in Arizona, where the Coyotes entered Wednesday night having lost five in a row while scoring the least (1.78 goals per game) and surrendering the most (3.67) among 32 teams. Aside, the franchise value is the lowest in the league ($400 million), according to a study by Forbes.


    31. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 31st)

    Across the border in Montreal, the Canadiens haven't won in seven games, though they did manage a standings point by pushing one of the losses to overtime. "It's the same things over and over," defenseman Jeff Petry said. "We're not playing as a team. We're not playing as a group."


    30. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 29th)

    Whaddya know? The Sabres ended a seven-game streak of their own by taking to the road and beating the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday to begin a three-game trip. Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen picked up his first win in his third start and has stopped 124 of 132 shots in four 2021-22 appearances.


    29. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 30th)

    Break up the Senators! Ottawa continued a roll in which it has won five of six with an 8-2 rout of the front-running Florida Panthers. Other recent wins have come against elites like Colorado, Tampa Bay and Carolina. "We're willing to do whatever it takes to win a hockey game," coach D.J. Smith said.


    28. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 25th)

    The Blackhawks entered Wednesday's overtime win over Washington having alternated wins and losses for 11 games since a four-game win streak ended in mid-November. A 2-0 win at Montreal on Thursday was the 500th of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s career, making him the third in NHL history to reach the number.


    27. New York Islanders (Last Week: 26th)

    A win and two losses were the product of an uneven week for the Islanders, who will open a four-game homestand Thursday against Boston. Mathew Barzal went into COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday after having produced nine points in six games. Earlier in the season, the team had eight players test positive.


    26. Seattle Kraken (Last Week: 24th)

    Goalie Chris Driedger turned in one of his best performances of the season Tuesday, stopping 33 shots in a 3-1 road win at San Jose. It was his third straight win and matched his highest save total of the season. "I'm feeling good and I'm feeling really confident with our D corps," Driedger said.

Nos. 25-21: Devils, Flyers, Canucks, Blue Jackets, Red Wings

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    25. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 22nd)

    The Devils have lost seven of eight since Nov. 30 and have given up four of more goals five times during that stretch. Their goals-against average has ballooned to 3.26, ninth-worst in the league after Tuesday's games. "All you can ask is to give what you have. You can't expect anything else," coach Lindy Ruff said.


    24. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 27th)

    The best remedy for going 10 games without a win: Win three straight and score 15 goals while doing it. The Flyers established their longest positive run of the season with a 6-1 defeat of New Jersey on Tuesday. "What we're going to make sure is that they realize the result came because of their hard work," interim coach Mike Yeo said.


    23. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 28th)

    Sometimes, all it takes is a new voice in the room. The Canucks made it five straight under coach Bruce Boudreau on Tuesday night after winning just eight times in 25 games under Travis Green. "There's just a new life, a new energy in the room and it's showing on the ice," captain Bo Horvat said.


    22. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 21st)

    The Blue Jackets fell to 2-4-1 in December in particularly frustrating fashion Tuesday night, blowing a 3-0 lead on the way to a 5-4 loss to Vancouver. Forward Patrik Laine hasn't played since early November with an oblique injury, but he's back with the team and mourning the death of his father. "It's definitely been the hardest times of my life, for sure," he said.


    21. Detroit Red Wings (Last Week: 20th)

    The Red Wings followed a five-game win streak with three consecutive losses, but bounced back Tuesday with a gritty 2-1 defeat of the New York Islanders. "We came off a good heater there, winning five in a row, then not too great on the road," goalie Alex Nedeljkovic said. "To come back and get this win [Tuesday] was huge."

Nos. 20-16: Sharks, Kings, Stars, Bruins, Jets

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    20. San Jose Sharks (Last Week: 19th)

    A three-game win streak that bridged November and December has given way to a stretch in which the Sharks have dropped four of six. Elsewhere in the organization, there's speculation that NHL teams are scouting forward Evander Kane, who's in the AHL after San Jose placed him on waivers. 


    19. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 23rd)

    The Kings started a four-game eastern trip with an OT loss at Tampa Bay after winning two games at home and allowing a single goal while doing so. On the troublesome side, defenseman Alex Edler left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury that coach Todd McLellan labeled "long-term."


    18. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 9th)

    A 4-1 home loss to St. Louis on Tuesday was the fourth in a row for the Stars after a seven-game win streak and prompted coach Rick Bowness to put the group on blast afterward. "We had some guys that we'll have to check the video tomorrow to see if they even played," he said. "I couldn't find them out on the ice."


    17. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 14th)

    The Bruins won two of three on a trip out west and then returned home to drop a 4-1 decision to Vegas on Tuesday. Patrice Bergeron was placed in COVID-19 protocol after the game, joining Brad Marchand and Craig Smith since the Bruins played in Calgary on Saturday night.


    16. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 18th)

    Recent losses to Carolina and Buffalo prompted the blame game with the Jets. Coach Paul Maurice took the blame for not having the team ready against the Hurricanes, but defenseman Nate Schidt said the Sabres game was all players. "It's 100 percent on us, being ready for the game, being prepared and having the giddy-up," he said.

Nos. 15-11: Oilers, Golden Knights, Penguins, Predators, Ducks

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    15. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 10th)

    Have the Oilers hit bottom yet? Well, the jury's still out on that, but they have lost six straight games—five at home—since a franchise-best 16-5 start and scored just nine goals in the process. Oh, and coach Dave Tippett is now in COVID-19 protocol and missed Tuesday's loss to Toronto. "We got off to a hot start and were getting points when maybe we didn't deserve it," Zack Kassian said.


    14. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 15th)

    Three wins in four games this week made it five of seven for the month for the Golden Knights, who have scored 33 goals in that stretch and were fourth in the league (3.5 per game) heading into Wednesday. "Things have been rolling," Chandler Stephenson said on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain (h/t Las Vegas Review-Journal). "We just want to keep it going."


    13. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 17th)

    Five straight wins and a plus-14 goal differential during those games are certainly signs of a red-hot team in Pittsburgh. A 5-2 win over Montreal was the 400th multi-point game of Sidney Crosby's career, and the Penguins' 10-2-1 record and 21 points since November 18 are tied for the league's best.


    12. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 16th)

    Six players and six more members of the team's traveling party are in COVID-19 protocol, the Predators announced Wednesday. Nashville, which has won five in a row since a loss to Boston on December 2, is scheduled to host Colorado on Thursday night. 


    11. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 12th)

    The Ducks have allowed just four goals in their past four games, winning three and suffering a 1-0 defeat. The success has moved Anaheim into the top 10 in goals-against average at 2.63 (ninth). Goalie John Gibson has stopped 48 of the past 50 shots he's faced after allowing three or more goals in six straight appearances.

Nos. 10-6: Flames, Blues, Rangers, Avalanche, Wild

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    10. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 8th)

    The NHL announced that Calgary's return to game play is delayed at least through Saturday. The team's training facilities will remain closed to players, and Saturday's game against Columbus will be postponed, following already nixed games on Monday (Chicago), Tuesday (Nashville) and Thursday (Toronto).


    9. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 13th)

    Goalie Jordan Binnington returned from the COVID-19 protocol, which prompted the trade of recent call-up Jon Gillies to New Jersey. Gillies arrived on an AHL tryout contract and reached the Blues when Binnington and Ville Husso (injury) were sidelined. He made one start and stopped 36 shots in an OT loss to Anaheim.


    8. New York Rangers (Last Week: 1st)

    A four-goal loss to Colorado on Dec. 8 ended a seven-game win streak and triggered a drop for the Rangers, who are now 1-3 since the streak ended while being outscored 13-7. "Teams that are good go through adversity no matter where it is in the season, and maybe we're facing a little bit of it now before Christmas," Ryan Strome said.


    7. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 11th)

    Speaking of the Avalanche, they have won five straight and six of eight since the start of December, while scoring four or more goals six times. "I guess the pucks just seem to be going in right now," Cale Makar said. "I don't anticipate it continuing throughout the year. It's a little bit of a heavy pace right now."


    6. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 3rd)

    An eight-game win streak was halted by losses in Los Angeles and Vegas, and the Wild lost a chance to right the ship when a Tuesday game with visiting Carolina was postponed because of COVID-19 issues with the Hurricanes. Elsewhere, Minnesota's Bill Guerin was named GM of the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team.

Nos. 5-1: Panthers, Lightning, Capitals, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    5. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 2nd)

    The Panthers created a bit of a logjam in their net Monday when Jonas Johansson was claimed off waivers from Colorado when the Avs tried to send him to the AHL. The job has been shared by Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, who have combined for a 2.89 goals-against average. Johansson was 3-2-1 in nine games with Colorado.


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

    A five-game win streak to begin December was cut short by Ottawa, but the Lightning bounced back with an OT win against the Kings and entered Wednesday just two points off the pace in the Atlantic Division. It was the 11th overtime game of the season for Tampa Bay, which has won a league-high eight times.


    3. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 4th)

    Notorious winger Tom Wilson missed Saturday's shootout win in Buffalo, his first DNP of the season, after suffering an upper-body injury the night before in a collision with Pittsburgh's Marcus Pettersson. Coach Peter Laviolette labeled Wilson's absence as "hopefully not too long," but he remains listed as day-to-day.


    2. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 6th)

    The Hurricanes will go ahead with Thursday's home game against Detroit in the wake of Tuesday's postponed game with the Wild in Minnesota. No new Carolina players tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday. Though Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Ian Cole, Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal and Steven Lorentz have tested positive.


    1. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 7th)

    A 5-1 beatdown of the Oilers in Edmonton opened a three-game northwest swing for the Maple Leafs, whose 17 standings points (8-4-1) on the road are good for ninth in the league. At home, the capacity at Scotiabank Arena will be limited to 50 percent after Ontario's provincial government announced new COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday.