The start to the new calendar year has been a little slow with multiple postponements already, and the Islanders and Kraken are not expected to play this week. It will be a scramble to finish the season just like the last time, with some teams finishing their seasons a week or two before their opponents.
That’s added some complexity when judging teams, because a long layoff can disrupt both positive and negative momentum. It also tends to lead to a bump in scoring with defenses and goalies shaking off some rust after seeing the same shooters at practice for a week or more.
The Hurricanes and Panthers are back on top, and based on their average power ranking throughout the season, also rank first and second in the league, respectively. The edge goes to the Canes, whose impressive seven-goal rally against Columbus was far more eye-opening than the Panthers pumping nine goals against Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup’s backup and said backup’s backup, and pumping five goals against the Laval Rocket all-stars with a few cameo appearances from NHL players.
(All fancy stats are 5v5 and courtesy naturalstattrick.com)
1. Carolina Hurricanes (23-7-1, +40 goal differential. CF%: 2nd, xGF%: 5th. Previous Rank: 3)
The Canes are back in the top spot because their two wins were impressive; an easy 4-0 win against the Habs with backup Antti Raanta, who had struggled previously, and then a 7-4 comeback win on the road against the Jackets after falling behind 4-0. Monday’s much-anticipated litmus test against the Leafs was postponed, and their next matchup won’t be until March 17 in Toronto.
2. Florida Panthers (22-7-4, +31. CF%: 1st, xGF%: 2nd. PR: 7)
Both the Canes and Panthers had a brief lull, but are back again as the two best teams in the league. An emphatic 6-2 win against the Flames despite missing key players now gives them four straight wins, during which they’ve outscored their opponents 24-10.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (21-8-2, +28. CF%: 7th, xGF%: 4th. PR: 2)
It’s hard to gauge where the Leafs are at since they’ve played only one game since Dec. 16, an expected 6-0 drubbing of the Sens. Among Canadian teams, it’s clearly the Leafs, and then everyone else.
4. New York Rangers (22-8-4, +16. CF%: 32nd, xGF%: 30th. PR: 5)
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Rangers have won three straight, including two straight wins against the Lightning and then a 4-1 victory over the Oilers. Possession metrics be damned, this Rangers team seems to be consistently finding ways to win games. No question, though, that a big reason for their success has been Igor Shesterkin’s play.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (22-8-5, +13. CF%: 13th, xGF%: 7th. PR: 1)
Forget the Dibiasky comet; if there was a world-killing asteroid headed toward Earth, it should be named “Lightning backup goalies.” The gulf between Andrei Vasilevskiy and their backups is massive, and he’s the one player they cannot survive without. A 7-2 win against the Jackets was a step back in the right direction.
6. Colorado Avalanche (19-8-2, +27. CF%: 6th, xGF%: 8th. PR: 6)
The Avs are impossible to beat when they get decent goaltending and show off talent like this. They always make the games closer than they should – they needed two goals from Erik Johnson, of all people, to force overtime against Chicago – but that’s also now six straight wins for Darcy Kuemper.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-5, +18. CF%: 5th, xGF%: 3rd. PR: 8)
Guess who has the best points percentage since Dec. 1? The Pens are a league-best 8-1-0 and rank fifth in both GF/GP and GA/GP, and Mike Sullivan deserves a lot of Jack Adams consideration for keeping the Pens on track even though they had every reason not to. They’ve overcome Sidney Crosby’s early absence, a bunch of COVID-related roster complications and not having Evgeni Malkin all season.
8. Washington Capitals (20-6-8, +30. CF%: 10th, xGF%: 9th. PR: 9)
It’s been really up-and-down lately for the Caps, who have veterans drawing in and out of the lineup due to COVID protocols and various ailments. They have only one winning streak longer than three games this season.
9. Nashville Predators (21-11-2, +13. CF%: 15th, xGF%: 11th. PR: 11)
Is it a coincidence the Preds have looked so impressive this season because this is also John Hynes’ first full season behind the bench? He was hired this month two years ago but took over the reins in Nashville midway through the season and the following season was cut short by the pandemic. But the saying also goes: “show me a good coach, and I’ll show you a good goalie.” They have a Vezina candidate in Juuse Saros.
10. St. Louis Blues (19-9-5, +25. CF%: 21st, xGF%: 24th. PR: 13)
The Blues lost in regulation just twice in December, and only once in their past seven games. They’re getting into a groove; their bottom six has sorted itself out with Logan Brown winning a roster spot, five forwards have double-digit goals, three defensemen have double-digit points and Jordan Binnington hasn’t swung his stick at anybody’s head.
11. Vegas Golden Knights (22-13-1, +19. CF%: 9th, xGF%: 10th. PR: 4)
The Knights should be deep enough to withstand their endless list of injuries to key players, but what they can’t seem to overcome right now is bad goaltending. Robin Lehner has been below average in all GSAA models, and without Max Pacioretty, scoring goals will be much harder.
12. Anaheim Ducks (18-11-7, +12. CF%: 18th, xGF%: 20th. PR: 12)
The Ducks took a little longer to come out of their holiday lull, and stopped the bleeding with three straight losses until Tuesday’s win against the Flyers. They’re a streaky bunch and very good at home (11-4-4), but without much consistency and without Trevor Zegras, they’ll find it difficult to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
13. Boston Bruins (17-10-2, +9. CF%: 4th, xGF%: 1st. PR: 15)
I get the hype behind Tuukka Rask, but note the Bruins have allowed the fourth-fewest goals at 5-on-5 with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, both of whom have good save percentages and above average in GSAA. A win against the beat-up Wild on Thursday would mark their longest winning streak of the season at four games.
14. Minnesota Wild (19-10-2, +18. CF%: 16th, xGF%: 14th. PR: 10)
They allowed six goals against the rival Blues at the Winter Classic and dropped their fifth game in what has been their roughest stretch this season. Cam Talbot is injured, but the calvary is coming; Marco Rossi and Matt Boldy were both called up to the taxi squad.
15. Calgary Flames (17-8-6, +27. CF%: 3rd, xGF%: 6th. PR: 16)
Losing 6-2 to the Panthers was not a good look. It was their fifth loss in seven games, and as much as we can attribute some of that to unexpected postponements and rusty play, the Flames suddenly look a little vulnerable; a good showing Thursday and Friday in Tampa and Carolina, respectively, should stump any further worry.
16. Winnipeg Jets (16-11-5, +6. CF%: 11th, xGF%: 16th. PR: 20)
It always just seems so difficult against the zombie Jets. They eked out a win against the Coyotes, their third straight win under Dave Lowry following a loss to the Caps. There’s definitely some positive momentum brewing following a tough 14-game stretch under Paul Maurice where they only won four games.
17. Edmonton Oilers (18-13-2, +4. CF%: 12th, xGF%: 13th. PR: 14)
There’s no easy fix in Edmonton, and things will get undoubtedly worse if Connor McDavid misses time. There’s only so much Dave Tippett can do with the roster he’s been given, and the worst part is, there’s no immediate solution to the defense and goaltending.
18. Los Angeles Kings (16-12-5, +2. CF%: 8th, xGF%: 12th. PR: 19)
The Kings need to go on a run if they’re serious about making the playoffs. Other than a seven-game winning streak in November, they’ve failed to string more than two wins in a row. They have four home games coming up and sit three points behind Calgary and one behind Edmonton in the Pacific, both of whom have struggled recently.
19. Vancouver Canucks (16-15-3, -6. CF%: 17th, xGF%: 19th. PR: 17)
The Canucks’ impressive streak ended in L.A., but they’re still unbeaten in regulation under Bruce Boudreau. Their postponed games couldn’t have come at a more unfortunate time, just when they’re in a groove. A tough five-game road trip coming up will tell where the Canucks are really at.
20. Detroit Red Wings (16-15-3, -18. CF%: 30th, xGF%: 22nd. PR: 21)
When it comes to goaltending, Alex Nedeljkovic is either really good or really bad, and it’s tough to say which one will show up most nights. The Wings are a bubble playoff team and that’s more than what most expected. Don’t expect this to change much all season.
21. Dallas Stars (15-12-2, -3. CF%: 20th, xGF%: 17th. PR: 18)
It will be 15 days on Thursday since the Stars played their last game. I’m not quite sure what will happen, but the Stars are generally good at home. They’re a streaky bunch and – again – need to figure out their goalie rotation.
22. New York Islanders (10-12-6, -16. CF%: 29th, xGF%: 21st. PR: 27)
Both Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin are turning in good performances in net, so things are looking up, and 10 of their next 11 games will be at home. The Isles have a long way to go to make the playoffs, but they should catch Jersey, Columbus and Philly soon if they can keep building momentum.
23. Philadelphia Flyers (13-14-6, -24. CF%: 25th, xGF%: 31st. PR: 23)
Would it hurt to give Felix Sandström another look? The Flyers gained just 3 of 8 points on their road trip, and their one win needed overtime against arguably the league’s worst team at home.
24. San Jose Sharks (17-16-1, -12. CF%: 27th, xGF%: 18th. PR: 25)
We wondered how long James Reimer was going to keep this up, right? In his past two starts, he’s allowed 10 goals on 41 shots (.756 Sv%) and the Sharks have lost four of their past six and allowed more than five goals in three games.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (11-17-5, -35. CF%: 26th, xGF%: 28th. PR: 26)
They made it close against the Avs, but it still ended up being their fifth straight loss, and opponents have scored at least four goals in four of those games. None of their goalies other than Marc-André Fleury are playable, and when they start auctioning off their defensemen, it’s probably going to get even worse.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-15-1, -11. CF%: 24th, xGF%: 26th. PR: 22)
After the Jackets’ three-game winning streak was snapped on Nov. 27, they have been the league’s third-worst team in points percentage (.269), ahead only of the Habs (.250) and Coyotes (.227). Elvis Merzlikins has never had this kind of workload before, and his save percentage has dipped every month from October (.939) to January (.733).
27. New Jersey Devils (13-16-5, -22. CF%: 14th, xGF%: 15th. PR: 32)
Just when the Devils are rebounding from hitting rock bottom with only three wins from Nov. 13 to Dec. 19, their three-game winning streak was snapped by Boston on Tuesday. Nico Hischier is also injured (again) and Dougie Hamilton has a broken jaw.
28. Buffalo Sabres (10-17-6, -27. CF%: 23rd, xGF%: 29th. PR: 28)
The losses keep rolling in – and Sabres have fans heard this before – but the future does look brighter. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looks like the real deal, Alex Tuch’s return has made a huge difference and prospects Peyton Krebs and JJ Peterka have made good first impressions with their new team.
29. Seattle Kraken (10-19-4, -30. CF%: 19th, xGF%: 23rd. PR: 24)
The Kraken had a blank slate and they hired someone whose biggest free agent signing in Carolina was Scott Darling for four years and $16.6 million, and handed the recently waived Victor Rask a six-year contract worth $24 million when he was an RFA. This is a multi-year fix to get the Kraken even close to where the Knights were in their inaugural season.
30. Arizona Coyotes (6-22-3, -56. CF%: 28th, xGF%: 32nd. PR: 30)
Fun stat: the Coyotes are the only team in the league who have yet to win a game by more than one goal.
31. Ottawa Senators (9-18-2, -28. CF%: 31st, xGF%: 27th. PR: 29)
At least the Coyotes can score goals. The Sens were shut out 6-0 against the Leafs in their last game.
32. Montréal Canadiens (7-23-4, -50. CF%: 22nd, xGF%: 25th. Previous: 31)
The Habs have so many ailments they were once forced to play with 11 forwards and 5 defensemen against Florida, and the combined salary cap hit of their injured players (roughly $33 million), is basically the cost of the entire Sabres offense. Even the best tank commanders in league history can’t match up to the Habs.