The Maple Leafs are getting out shot nearly every night, but are keeping afloat with strong special teams and goaltending. This and more in our weekly ranking of each NHL team.
A lot of those stats geeks will probably go out for Halloween tonight and somehow come up with a set of complex calculations that place more value on the homes that give kiss candies than the ones that distribute Snickers bars and bags of chips.
These are the same guys who must hate the Toronto Maple Leafs. Statistically, the Leafs are a nightmare and avowed enemy of all who live in their mothers’ basements. They consistently get outshot and outplayed, but they’ve been constantly winning. To wit: there is only one team in the NHL that gets outshot on a per-game average more than the Leafs and that is the putrid Buffalo Sabres.
But the last time we checked, good old save percentages and special teams stats were pretty relevant numbers, too. The Leafs are feasting on those and rocketing up the Power Rankings. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. Colorado (2): Goaltender Semyon Varlamov faces some very serious allegations that should not be minimized. Yes, it’s trite to wonder how they might affect the Avalanche and their star goaltender, but it would take an incredibly focused athlete to be able to put something this dire aside.
2. Toronto (9): The Western Conference has dominated the Eastern Conference this season with one notable exception: the Maple Leafs are 6-2-0 against western teams. An injury to Tyler Bozak prompted coach Randy Carlyle to put Nazem Kadri with Phil Kessel and the results have been breathtaking at times. Defensively, they’re scarier than any ghoul you’ll encounter tonight, but when you have the puck that much…
3. San Jose (1): The Sharks have a goal differential of plus-27, largely because they rarely give up offensive chances or even-strength goals. The Sharks finished a five-game road trip Wednesday night with a 3-1-1 record that included two shutouts for goaltender Antti Niemi and a 38-save effort by backup Alex Stalock. Patrick Marleau has emerged as the early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.
4. Vancouver (17): The Canucks risk playing the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler into skeletal remains, but you can’t argue with the success they’ve been having of late. For some bizarre reason, nobody is asking what Tom Sestito has to do to earn a little more ice time. The three are getting more ice time on a regular basis than any of the Canucks defensemen these days.
5. Anaheim (5): The Ducks haven’t played particularly well lately – opening a road trip by losing to Toronto and Montreal before picking up one-goal wins against non-playoff teams Ottawa, Columbus and Philadelphia – but they’re still 10-3-0. If not for the play of the Avalanche and Sharks, the Ducks would be the story of the Western Conference. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are back to being one of the most dangerous duos in the league. Imagine how good they’d be if they could ever score a power-play goal.
6. St. Louis (4): The Blues will move up in the standings even more once they catch up with everyone on the games played front. Their first line of Alex Steen between David Backes and T.J. Oshie might be the best in the league right now. Steen is more suited to the Selke Trophy than the Rocket Richard, but feel free to enjoy the fact that he is leading the NHL in goals at the moment.
7. Pittsburgh (3): Sidney Crosby has eight more points than the next highest scorer on his team and, despite some declining production of late, is on pace to score 132 points this season. Nobody has put up those kinds of numbers in 17 years. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is off to the best start of his career and that wind you feel is everyone in Pittsburgh exhaling in relief.
8. Chicago (6): You don’t win championships the way the Blackhawks are playing at the moment, but people shouldn’t be too worried about the fact the Blackhawks are winning hockey games as though they’re track meets. And the worst penalty killing in the league? Really? Chicago? They give up too many chances and too many goals, but there’s no reason to believe Joel Quenneville won’t have this group tightened up and ready for another run by the playoffs.
9. Tampa Bay (10): Steven Stamkos was the No. 1 star of the week in the NHL, largely because he and Martin St-Louis are carrying the Lightning offensively. For whatever reason, they came out limp against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, prompting coach Jon Cooper to quip that Martin Brodeur, “could have had a cigarette and a cup of coffee and played that game.” Not bad.
10. Phoenix (7): The Coyotes are fourth in the Pacific Division, but they’d be second if they were in either the Atlantic or Metropolitan. Kyle Chipchura had a Gordie Howe hat trick in a 3-1 statement win over Los Angeles Tuesday night, a down-and-dirty affair that typifies much of the play in the Western Conference. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is making a serious bid for the Norris Trophy.
11. Los Angeles (12): Anze Kopitar has only two goals this season, but his contribution to the Kings in terms of winning has been enormous. First, one of those goals is an overtime winner. Second, he’s scored three deciding shootout goals this season. Shootout has become a dirty word in the NHL of late, but those are three points the Kings have because of Kopitar.
12. Montreal (15): With the exception of the Avalanche, no team is getting better goaltending from its No. 1 and backup than the Canadiens are. And they’re stopping just the shots that get through. The Canadiens lead the league with 243 blocked shots, with Josh Gorges tied for second in the league with 39. Lars and the Real Gals have cooled a bit, but Tomas Plekanec has picked up the offensive slack.
13. Detroit (14): The Red Wings are 7-4-2 and have somehow managed to give up five more goals than they’ve scored. That’s very un-Red Wing of them, but they did manage to tighten things up rather nicely in a 2-1 road win over the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night. By the way, Stephen Weiss did sign with the Red Wings over the summer, right? Just checking.
14. Boston (8): The Bruins have the 22nd ranked power play and the 28th ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Put them together and you have one of the worst special teams squads in the NHL so far this season. No wonder the Bruins have been putting Zdeno Chara in front of the net during power plays. Jarome Iginla leads the Bruins with 32 shots on goal.
15. Minnesota (18): The Wild is having a heck of a time scoring goals, particularly 5-on-5, so coach Mike Yeo tried to balance out his lines with the imminent return of Charlie Coyle to the lineup Friday night. After missing 11 games, Coyle will center Zach Parise and either Dany Heatley or Justin Fontaine. That knocks Mikko Koivu off the top line and onto a unit with Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak.
16. Nashville (19): Starting tonight in Phoenix, the Predators start a stretch in which they’ll play nine of their next 10 games on the road and the seven-game road trip that starts tonight is the longest in franchise history. And with Pekka Rinne sidelined with a hip infection, they’ll be pinning their goaltending hopes on Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg. Don’t be ashamed if you have to look them up.
17. Carolina (16): The Hurricanes would be even lower if they didn’t play in the worst division in organized hockey, thus holding down a playoff spot with a sub. 500 record. The Hurricanes go into Friday night’s game against Tampa Bay with a goal differential of minus-10, a losing record on home ice and a 3-5-2 record in their past 10 games. Aside from that, they’re a powerhouse.
18. NY Islanders (21): Same as above goes for the Islanders, who are hoping to capitalize on their weak division by making a run for the playoffs with a lineup bolstered by Thomas Vanek. Don’t read much into the fact that Matt Moulson outscored Vanek 2-0 in their first games with the new teams. Vanek will be a positive force for the Islanders once he develops some chemistry with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
19. New Jersey (27): The Devils looked like their old, stingy selves in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay Tuesday night. The Devils are undefeated in regulation time at home, but are the worst road team in the NHL with a 1-5-2 mark. But the Devils are riding a two-game winning streak and are 3-1-1 in their past five. With Cory Schneider out with an injury, the goaltending hopes fall to Martin Brodeur. Here’s hoping he can handle it
20. Calgary (11): The fact that the Flames continue to hang in there with a .500 record is an outstanding feat given the dire predictions for them when the season began. After getting off to a hot start, rookie Sean Monahan has just one point in his past four games and was minus-3 in the Flames loss to Toronto Wednesday night. That’s good news for Canada’s world junior team and, ultimately, the Ottawa 67s.
21. Winnipeg (23): If anyone can figure this team out, please contact our offices immediately and explain the Jets to us. They played well enough to win in St. Louis Tuesday night, but gave the best power play in the league five chances to click and it’s what ultimately did them in. The Jets finished up a four-game road trip 1-2-1, all of them one-goal games.
22. Columbus (20): The move to the Eastern Conference hasn’t paid huge dividends for the Blue Jackets yet, but they do have a 4-4-0 record against their new playmates. The Blue Jackets are on the outside of the playoffs looking in because their play in their own end of the ice hasn’t been very good lately and unlike last year, Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been able to stop those turnovers from going into the back of the net.
23. Dallas (25): Sergei Gonchar is a notoriously slow starter and this season, his first with Dallas, is no exception, but he’s certainly not in a minority when it comes to veterans and so-so play. The Stars are making a lot of mistakes with and without the puck. You can live with that when the players are young and inexperienced, but the more seasoned players are going to have to step to the fore.
24. Ottawa (13): The Senators are struggling, after going 1-3-0 in their past four games. The most stinging of those was to the Stanley Cup champions Tuesday night when they blew a third period lead by giving up three goals. The Senators are something of a mess defensively at the moment and have had a pretty nasty schedule to start the season.
25. Washington (22): Alex Ovechkin was held pointless in two games and will miss Friday night’s game against Philadelphia. The Capitals give up way too many shots and turn the puck over far too much to make up for their ability to score and feast on power play opportunities. A fun bunch to watch? Absolutely, unless of course, you’re Adam Oates.
26. NY Rangers (28): Really bad combination here. The Rangers are 29th in goals for and 28th in goals against. But they have tightened up under backup Cam Talbot recently and have allowed just 12 goals in their past six games. We’ll see how good the Rangers are now that they’re home for an extended period of time for the first time this season. Because they’re not really this bad, are they?
27. Florida (24): Wow. These guys really lost to the Buffalo Sabres. Jacob Markstrom has had to shoulder most of the goaltending load with the constant injury problems to Tim Thomas and has held up reasonably well. The Panthers play a good number of tight games, but they almost always find a way to come out on the losing end of them.
28. Philadelphia (29): The Flyers have four games coming up against teams in the worst division in hockey. Wait a minute. You say they’re the worst team in the worst division in hockey? Never mind. This is the worst start in franchise history and a nightmare for Claude Giroux’s bid to play for Canada’s Olympic team.
29. Edmonton (26): Imagine how bad the Oilers would be if their players weren’t blocking all those shots. Edmonton is second in the league with 228 blocked shots so far this season, but terrible goaltending has undermined them. Is Richard Bachman the answer? Seriously, is Richard Bachman the answer?
30. Buffalo (30): The Sabres have a bunch of rookies on defense, just traded their franchise player and have one regulation win this season. Ryan Miller is probably thinking about where he’s going soon and the Sabres have basically just handed the reins of their rebuild to Darcy Regier. On the bright side, rookie Mark Pysyk is one of three rookies who have acquitted themselves well on the blueline.