NHL Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands at the Christmas Break

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands at the Christmas Break

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    It's the most wonderful time of the year—except for NHL schedule-makers saddled with reconfiguring a schedule that had 50 games postponed due to COVID-19 concerns prior to the league's Christmas break.

    The hiatus began a bit earlier than planned, thanks to the postponement of four games Wednesday and five more on Thursday, which was the day before the cessation had been scheduled. Teams are scheduled to resume testing, practice and/or travel starting on Dec. 27.

    There are 14 games on the schedule for Monday.

    Planned or not, the break allows for a comprehensive look at where teams stand, and the B/R hockey writing team was happy to oblige with voting for the penultimate edition of NHL Power Rankings for 2021.

    The league's two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, ascended to the top spot for the first time since play began in October, getting four of a possible five first-place votes and jumping three spots from last week's No. 4 ranking. 

    The Carolina Hurricanes got the lone dissenting vote and took second for the second consecutive week, while the Toronto Maple Leafs (down from first), the New York Rangers (up from eighth) and Washington Capitals (down from third) rounded out the top five. The Florida Panthers fell out of the group and took sixth.

    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.

Nos. 32-26: Coyotes, Canadiens, Senators, Devils, Kraken, Sabres, Islanders

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    32. Arizona Coyotes (Last Week: 32nd)

    Well, at least the Coyotes didn't head to the break on a losing streak. They defeated Anaheim, 6-5, in their final game on Friday. Of course, they'd lost six straight prior to that, but at least they have a home rink after making a six-figure rental payment that'll keep them in Gila River Arena for the time being.


    31. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 31st)

    It's a similar story for the Canadiens, who picked up a 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia in their final pre-break game to end a skid that had reached seven. Winger Jesse Ylonen made a memory in the second-to-last pre-break game, scoring his first goal since he was picked 35th overall in 2018.


    30. Ottawa Senators (Last Week: 29th)

    The Senators were competitive on a three-game road trip, winning big at Florida and losing by a goal at Tampa Bay before an overtime loss in Philadelphia on Saturday. They're set to return to play on Monday in Washington before coming home to 50 percent arena capacity on Wednesday against Boston.


    29. New Jersey Devils (Last Week: 25th)

    It's a freefall in New Jersey, where the Devils have lost six straight and been outscored 26-12 since a defeat of Philadelphia on December 8 and sit second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division. "Everything's tough right now, we're not scoring, we're giving up goals," defenseman Dougie Hamilton said following their loss against the Golden Knights on December 16.


    28. Seattle Kraken (Last Week: 26th)

    It'll be an extended break for the Kraken, who hadn't played since December 18—a 5-3 home loss to Edmonton—before the league shut things down. The team had five players in COVID-19 protocol, including expansion draft acquisition Yanni Gourde, who has six goals and 16 points in 22 games.


    27. Buffalo Sabres (Last Week: 30th)

    The Sabres have to hope their momentum carries across the hiatus after they went 2-0-2 in their final four games. They're expected to have a new player when games resume, thanks to the expected on-ice arrival of Alex Tuch, who was acquired in the Jack Eichel trade while recovering from shoulder surgery.


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

    The Islanders haven't hit their stride just yet, but they're getting closer. They've not lost a game by more than one goal since November 24, going 3-3-4 in those 10 outings. Winger Anthony Beauvillier has been better since a December 9 benching, scoring once and averaging better than 18 minutes per game.

Nos. 25-21: Blackhawks, Canucks, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Sharks

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    25. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Week: 28th)

    Chicago went to overtime in three straight games, going 1-0-2, and the team is 10-6-2 since Derek King took over as head coach for Jeremy Colliton. "I think he's done a pretty good job at getting this team together and making us stay positive even when things are going wrong," forward Brandon Hagel said.


    24. Vancouver Canucks (Last Week: 23rd)

    The Bruce Boudreau vibe is strong in Vancouver, where the Canucks reached the holiday having won six straight since the 66-year-old replaced Travis Green, who'd gone 8-15-2. "I feel like they just found that hunger and excitement and fun," defenseman Quinn Hughes said about his teammates, "enjoying the game again."


    23. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 24th)

    The Flyers lost their first two under interim coach Mike Yeo after Alain Vigneault was fired, but they went 4-0-1 in their final five games and scored 21 goals—well above their average of 2.66 goals per game that's 25th in the league. "Good teams rise up to the challenges—that's what it is," Yeo said.


    22. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Week: 22nd)

    The Blue Jackets have lost four of their last five (one in a shootout) and were 2-7-1 in their previous 10. Upon returning, Patrik Laine is expected back from an oblique injury that's shelved him since early November. His return should help Columbus' power play rebound from a slump that's yielded seven goals in 19 games since his injury.


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

    The Sharks hit pause having not played since December 16 and not won since December 11. So it's no surprise the team is anxious about how things will play out going forward. "I think the fear moving forward for us is what does it look like when we get back (after) Christmas," coach Bob Boughner said.

Nos. 20-16: Red Wings, Kings, Jets, Stars, Bruins

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

    The Red Wings began the month amid a five-game win streak, then lost three in a row before righting the ship with two wins in three pre-break games. "It's been difficult. You just have to find a way to show up and play," captain Dylan Larkin said. "It feels pretty good in our room at a pretty tough time."


    19. Los Angeles Kings (Last Week: 19th)

    Goaltender Garret Sparks was recalled for the Kings' final pre-break game at Washington and made 33 saves for his first win since March 2019. He'd not played in the NHL in 26 months. "It's been a long road back here," Sparks said. "I've been through a ton. I got to step into a situation where they needed me."


    18. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: 16th)

    The return from the holiday will officially set the wheels in motion for interim coach Dave Lowry, who replaced Paul Maurice when he resigned on Friday. "I built some very strong connections with these players," said Lowry, who'd been on Maurice's staff, "and I look forward to working with them moving forward."


    17. Dallas Stars (Last Week: 18th)

    The Stars scored 11 goals in consecutive wins to partially erase the sting of a five-game losing streak. Seven different players scored in the final game, a 7-4 home win over Minnesota. "That's the approach we want to take is, regardless of who comes in, we're going after them," coach Rick Bowness said.


    16. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 17th)

    The Bruins reached the break averaging 2.69 goals per game—23rd in the NHL and off the pace that had them above the league's midline (14th) in 2020-21. "It's putting the puck in the net," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We've generated opportunities. We need to generate more high-end opportunities."

Nos. 15-11: Oilers, Ducks, Flames, Golden Knights, Blues

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    15. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: 15th)

    The Oilers scored 10 goals in winning their final two games, ending a six-game skid before the break. In a good sign for their depth, only one of them came from Connor McDavid. "The one word that comes to mind is belief," forward Warren Foegele said. "We stuck together. No one was pouting."


    14. Anaheim Ducks (Last Week: 11th)

    It's been a successful stretch for the Ducks, who've picked up points in nine of their last 10 games—winning six and climbing into a first-place tie in the Pacific Division. Elsewhere, a report suggested Anaheim was in the running for Jack Eichel but refused to part with Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale.  


    13. Calgary Flames (Last Week: 10th)

    Though building plans had been finalized and a development permit approved, a deal on a new arena for the Flames will not proceed after the team's ownership pulled out. Calgary has been in its current building, now called the Scotiabank Saddledome, since it opened in October 1983.


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

    The Golden Knights dropped their pre-holiday finale to Tampa Bay, but the bigger concern was the health of many high-profile players. Mark Stone left the game with an injury, Robin Lehner didn't play with an injury and both Alex Pietrangelo and Evgenii Dadonov were placed into COVID-19 protocol.


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

    The Blues recorded five wins in seven games before the holiday. They've gotten 29 points in 31 games from Vladimir Tarasenko, whose departure seemed imminent in the offseason after a trade demand. "He wants to be here, and we need him to perform at a high level, and he is," coach Craig Berube said.

Nos. 10-6: Predators, Penguins, Wild, Avalanche, Panthers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    10. Nashville Predators (Last Week: 12th)

    The Predators lost their first game of December, but it's been a perfect month since, as they've won seven in a row while allowing just 14 goals. In fact, Nashville's 2.63 goals-against average is now 10th-best in the league, and Juuse Saros, who's 5-0 in the streak, is tied for sixth with two shutouts.


    9. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Week: 13th)

    Count the Penguins among the teams that would have preferred to keep playing, in no small part because of the seven-game win streak they'd posted prior to the halt. "There's a lot of stuff you can't control," winger Danton Heinen said. "But you can still come to the rink and have a smile on your face."


    8. Minnesota Wild (Last Week: 6th)

    To suggest the initial portion of the schedule ended badly for the Wild would be a Minnesota-sized understatement. Not only did the team lose four straight while allowing 18 goals, but center Joel Eriksson Ek left Monday's game with an injury. "He's everything for us," winger Marcus Foligno said.


    7. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 7th)

    The pre-Christmas season ended with an unseemly 5-2 loss to Nashville, but the big picture for the Avalanche is taking shape. Over their last 17 games, they've won 13 times and scored more (5.0 goals per game) than any team in the league. Darcy Kuemper is 9-1 in his previous 11 starts since beginning the season at 4-4. Kuemper did not receive credit for a 5-2 victory over the Ducks on November 24 after he left prematurely with an equipment malfunction.


    6. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 5th)

    Adversity hasn't been frequent in south Florida this season, but it arrived for the Panthers prior to the break with a stretch of three straight losses and four in five games since the end of a three-game win streak to start the month. "We're just trying to piece things together right now," interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

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

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    5. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 3rd)

    It'll be eight days between games when the Capitals return against Ottawa and a welcome reset after a month that's seen them go 4-3-2 while winning two straight just once. "Guys have been in and out, and lineups don't stay the same for two games in a row, it seems," winger Conor Sheary said.


    4. New York Rangers (Last Week: 8th)

    It's been a desultory 2-2-1 stretch for the Rangers and a drop to third in the Metropolitan Division following a seven-game win streak and one of the best 25-game starts (17-5-3) in franchise history. They scored just nine goals in the five games after averaging four goals per game in the seven consecutive victories.


    3. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 1st)

    The Maple Leafs are among the teams most impacted by COVID-19, with 11 players and six staff members having tested positive since December 17. They were prolific in their final four games, however, scoring 18 goals while winning three times. Auston Matthews has been scalding hot individually, with 10 goals and four assists in seven games since the start of the month.


    2. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 2nd)

    Carolina reached the holiday among the league's best across the board—boasting the most wins (21), the best points percentage (.741), the fewest total losses (eight) and the best road record (12-4-1). "It's hard not to be proud of the guys and the way we play every night," coach Rod Brind'Amour said.


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

    Coach Jon Cooper was placed into COVID-19 protocol before Tuesday's pre-break finale against Vegas, so assistant Derek Lalonde got his first win behind an NHL bench. "It really is seamless," he said. "I know it probably sounds cliche, but we share everything, and everything kind of our room comes as one."