As we take a breather heading into the All-Star Game and the Olympics, there are some important trends to take note of.
The top six is pretty well established, with Colorado at the front (for now), followed by five Eastern Conference teams. At any given point in the season, all six teams could be re-arranged in any order, but they definitely represent the cream of the crop. Your best Stanley Cup bets should fall in this group.
The next group are teams that are already in playoff position, and that is most apparent in the East, where the third-place team in the wild card race – Detroit – has only a 0.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to moneypuck.com. The West is a little wider open, but barring a miracle run the Jets (19.9% chance of making the playoffs) and Canucks (13.6%) are basically already out of the race.
The common thread rounding out the teams at the bottom is the lack of quality goaltending, even if they have star players. This is partially why the Oilers’ prospects are concerning; their .899 Sv% ranks 24th in the league, and they’re one of five teams that have failed to record a shutout win. It doesn’t mean the Oilers won’t make the playoffs, but barring a Carey Price-Esque run from their goalies (the Habs had one shutout win and a .896 Sv% last season), historically speaking, bad goaltending does not lead to long playoff runs.
(All fancy stats are 5-on-5 and courtesy naturalstattrick.com)
1. Colorado Avalanche (32-8-4, +54 goal differential. CF%: 6th, xGF%: 9th. PR: 1)
Chaos reigns in hockey, so it was both hilarious and fitting that it was the Coyotes – who had lost five straight heading into the game – ended the Avs’ record-breaking 18-game winning streak on home ice. Otherwise, for nearly two months the Avs were basically flawless and retain the top spot because no team can still strike fear into the opposition’s hearts even without their No. 1 center like they do.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (31-9-2, +49. CF%: 3rd, xGF%: 5th. PR: 3)
The wins were surprisingly hard to come by. They needed a shootout to defeat the Sens and ground out one-goal wins against the Sharks and Devils, and their ability to defeat teams in a variety of ways really bodes well for their future. Their perfect week vaults them back into the top spot among Eastern teams.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-10-6, +27. CF%: 11th, xGF%: 6th. Previous Rank: 2)
The Bolts similarly had to grind out wins, needing overtime to slay the Sharks and defeated the Devils by just one goal while losing to the Knights in a shootout. Both Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point were held without a goal, but Nikita Kucherov’s return should jumpstart their offense once again.
4. New York Rangers (30-13-4, +23. CF%: 32nd, xGF%: 29th. PR: 6)
Behind Igor Shesterkin’s goaltending and Mika Zibanejad’s elite playmaking that has turned Chris Kreider into a 50-goal scorer, the Rangers have managed to stay at the top even though the analytics say they shouldn’t. Of note, Alexis Lafrenière scored in consecutive games, the first time he’s done so in his career.
5. Florida Panthers (32-10-5, +55. CF%: 1st, xGF%: 3rd. PR: 4)
The Panthers get bumped down after losing to the Rangers, and it was a curious decision to start Spencer Knight over Sergei Bobrovsky, who started the first half of their back-to-back games against the Jackets. On any given night, the Panthers' offense can take over a game with four (!) players averaging a point-per-game or better: Huberdeau, Barkov, Reinhart and Mason Marchment, whose six-point effort pushed him over the top.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-10-3, +41. CF%: 7th, xGF%: 4th. PR: 7)
It was a wild, wild week for the Leafs, who had to come back from two separate two-goal deficits to keep their winning streak alive. Just when it seemed like the Big Smoke was on the verge of preparing for a Jack Campbell regression, they responded with an emphatic 7-1 win against the Devils behind Mitch Marner’s four points, who is now on a seven-game point streak and quelling all doubters.
7. Minnesota Wild (28-10-3, +41. CF%: 15th, xGF%: 11th. PR: 9)
What’s better than one good goalie? Two good goalies! Cam Talbot won both of his games since returning and Kaapo Kahkonen has not lost in regulation since Dec. 11. Rookie Matt Boldy has scored nine points in nine games.
8. Nashville Predators (28-14-4, +19. CF%: 18th, xGF%: 13th. PR: 10)
The Preds barely lost to the Oilers but otherwise have been very good, with Juuse Saros going 4-0-1 after losing three in a row in mid-January. Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene are not getting enough credit for the Preds’ success this season, combining for 14 points over the past two weeks.
9. Calgary Flames (23-13-6, +32. CF%: 2nd, xGF%: 2nd. PR: 14)
The Flames have won six of their past eight, and if we had to nitpick, it’s that their losses never seem very close. They allowed 30 (!) goals in their six losses in January, and it feels like either shutout or bust for Jacob Markstrom. That being said, with four games in hand and only five points behind the division-leading Knights, the Flames are in prime position to make a run for the division title with no glaring weaknesses on their roster.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (27-11-8, +30. CF%: 8th, xGF%: 7th. PR: 5)
The loss to the Caps extended the Pens’ losing streak to four games, and their opponents – Seattle, L.A. and Detroit – were supposed to be cakewalks. The Pens keep getting hit with injuries just as they’re getting healthy, but the good news is Mike Sullivan has done an excellent job of keeping them competitive no matter the obstacle.
11. St. Louis Blues (26-13-5, +32. CF%: 23rd, xGF%: 27th. PR: 8)
Is it Ville Husso or Jordan Binnington? Just when Husso was gaining a stranglehold on the starting job, he laid an egg against the Jets with a 4-1 loss, opening the door for Binnington to start again. This will be the Blues’ biggest challenge going forward.
12. Vegas Golden Knights (27-16-3, +21. CF%: 9th, xGF%: 10th. PR: 11)
Robin Lehner in the first three months of the season: .905 Sv%, 3.03 GAA, -5.58 5v5 GSAA, ranked 87th out of 93 goalies. Since the calendar flipped: .923 Sv%, 2.08 GAA, 1.27 GSAA, ranked 29th out of 91 goalies. The Knights were winning games in spit of Lehner early in the season, but he’s been part of the solution in 2022.
13. Anaheim Ducks (23-16-9, +4. CF%: 20th, xGF%: 23rd. PR: 16)
Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras and Sam Steel combined for five goals over the past week and it’s a great sign that a team with so many young players can flip a bad stretch into a good stretch so quickly. Having John Gibson obviously helps as the Ducks continue their ascent and remain in playoff position, though the Flames and Oilers have six games in hand.
14. Dallas Stars (23-18-2, -2. CF%: 19th, xGF%: 16th. PR: 17)
The Jason Robertson-Roope Hintz-Joe Pavelski is pretty special, ranking second in xGoals percentage, according to moneypuck.com, trailing only Calgary’s top line and ahead of Colorado and Tampa’s. With a combined 56 goals, they account for 43 percent (!) of the Stars’ total; the Stars are 2-5-1 when Robertson doesn’t score a point and 18-8-1 when he does, and he ranks 21st in the league in P/GP.
15. Boston Bruins (26-14-3, +11. CF%: 5th, xGF%: 1st. PR: 12)
Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman bromance is rekindled since Rask is sidelined until after the All-Star Game. Their play remains uneven and they don’t have enough depth, especially on the blue line.
16. Edmonton Oilers (23-16-3, +4. CF%: 10th, xGF%: 14th. PR: 19)
The Oilers are 2-0-1 with 14 goals scored with Evander Kane in the lineup, who has three points and a plus-5 rating, but remain without reliable goaltending with Mikko Koskinen allowing six goals in two games. The real challenge comes later in the month when the Oilers visit Tampa, Florida and Carolina; those games will tell us where the Oilers are really at.
17. Washington Capitals (25-13-9, +22. CF%: 12th, xGF%: 12th. PR: 13)
It was a tough January; the Caps’ .417 P% ranked 26th and their 2.42 GF/GP ranked 29th, and Alex Ovechkin has lost the lead in the Rocket Richard and Art Ross races. They just can’t seem to get any traction; after a shutout win against Dallas and an overtime win against rival Pittsburgh, they lose 5-3 against Edmonton.
18. Los Angeles Kings (24-16-7, +6. CF%: 4th, xGF%: 8th. PR: 18)
Their goaltending rotation seems to be working just fine, and of their past five losses, only two of them – defeats on the road in Philly and San Jose – felt (somewhat) inexcusable. Their off-season acquisitions have proven to be astute moves with Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson combining for five goals in four games and represent two of their five players who have scored double-digit goals this season.
19. San Jose Sharks (22-20-4, -16. CF%: 29th, xGF%: 20th. PR: 21)
A 1-1-2 showing against a four-game gauntlet of Washington, Florida, Carolina and Tampa on the road is a pretty decent result, all things considered. They don’t have enough goal-scoring or quality goaltending to compete.
20. Vancouver Canucks (20-20-6, -11. CF%: 16th, xGF%: 18th. PR: 22)
The Canucks face a lot of existential questions at this point, and chief among them is whether this current core is good enough. Even with J.T. Miller and Thatcher Demko back, they’ve lost four of their past six and Elias Pettersson has shown just flashes of his former self.
21. New York Islanders (16-17-6, -12. CF%: 24th, xGF%: 17th. PR: 15)
The Isles have been a huge tease, underperforming all expectations in the first 25 games of the season then silencing doubters throughout January, only to see themselves lose three of their past four at home. The Isles now embark on their second multi-game road trip of the season, and note under Barry Trotz they’ve always been a much better team at home; the 0.113 P% difference between their home and road records since 2018-19 is the eighth-highest margin in the league.
22. Winnipeg Jets (18-17-7, -8. CF%: 13th, xGF%: 19th. PR: 20)
Are we even sure the Jets are a good team? Tuesday’s loss to Philly was particularly alarming, and if the season ended today, this would be the first time Connor Hellebucyk finished with a losing record. It’s definitely not all on him; a lack of goals and a general sense of malaise has grounded the Jets all season, and the mid-season coaching change has changed nothing.
23. Ottawa Senators (14-22-4, -26. CF%: 26th, xGF%: 24th. PR: 24)
Matt Murray since getting called back up from the AHL: 4-1-2, .924 Sv% and 2.51 GAA. The Sens’ goaltending has improved and Murray’s at the heart of it, and even with inexperienced forwards and a thin blue line, when the Sens get quality goaltending, they can certainly play the spoiler.
24. Seattle Kraken (15-27-4, -38, -40. CF%: 17th, xGF%: 21st. PR: 26)
Fun stat: the Kraken have not won three straight games at any point this season, one of three teams to do so. (The other two are Arizona and Montréal). Philipp Grubauer is winning games – finally – but the Kraken sunk so fast to the bottom at the beginning of the season that going 6-4-0 in their past 10 barely registers.
25. Detroit Red Wings (20-21-6, -32. CF%: 30th, xGF%: 22nd. PR: 23)
Alex Nedeljkovic has come under siege over the past two weeks, allowing 21 goals in six games with a .873 Sv%, including blown leads against the Leafs and Kings.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (20-22-1, -23. CF%: 21st, xGF%: 28th. PR: 25)
Elvis Merzlikins continues to struggle in net, and for the third straight month, his GAA has continued to rise. Good news: Patrik Laine has four goals and six points in four games, all of them at even strength. The Jackets are gathering some underrated firepower and face Montréal, Chicago and Buffalo twice in the coming weeks.
27. Buffalo Sabres (14-24-7, -40. CF%: 25th, xGF%: 31st. PR: 28)
The Sabres just had their second-best month of the season with four wins in January, falling one shy of October’s five wins. In both months, the Sabres had at least two goalies with save percentages higher than .900. Coincidence?!?
28. Arizona Coyotes (11-30-4, -70. CF%: 31st, xGF%: 32nd. PR: 29)
It was tempting to move the Coyotes to No. 1 after defeating the Avs, because truly that felt like a David vs. Goliath-type of triumph. But we must remain (somewhat) serious with these rankings, and despite the surprising and (somewhat) lucky win, the Coyotes have lost five of their past six and only one of them by a one-goal margin.
29. Philadelphia Flyers (15-22-8, -39. CF%: 22nd, xGF%: 25th. PR: 32)
The nightmare losing streak is over, but the nightmare season continues. The Flyers’ .422 P% is the second-lowest in the cap era, better only than 2006-07’s .341 P%.
30. New Jersey Devils (15-25-5, -37. CF%: 14th, xGF%: 15th. PR: 30)
Admittedly, it’s hard to win games when your two goalies are Jon Gillies and Akira Schmid. Of their 15 wins this season, only two of them were not earned by Mackenzie Blackwood or Jonathan Bernier.
31. Montréal Canadiens (8-29-7, -73. CF%: 28th, xGF%: 30th. PR: 31)
Continuing on with the theme, of the Habs’ eight wins this season, only three of them were not earned by Jake Allen, who has played just once (a 5-1 loss) since Dec. 15. Only Nick Suzuki has managed to appear in every game this season, and the Habs are also the only team that doesn’t have a single player who has scored at least 10 goals.
32. Chicago Blackhawks (16-23-7, -44. CF%: 27th, xGF%: 26th. PR: 27)
Wednesday’s shutout loss against Minnesota was their seventh in eight games, but nothing was uglier than owner Rocky Wirtz’s response to a question at a town hall about accountability and transparency following Kyle Beach’s situation.