We are (almost) officially done with the first month of the NHL season.
At this stage, we can figure out who’s for real and who pulled the wool over our eyes in December. Which teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspiration, and who should focus on the top prospects for this year’s draft. While contenders will fluctuate throughout the season, the picture on who they might be becomes a lot clearer now, especially in a shortened season like this one.
With this in mind, how do the teams stack up at this moment? Did anyone emerge from last week, or has your favorite team evened out? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to January 31.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (+1): It took a little while, but the Lightning have earned the top spot of these rankings for the first time this season. The usual suspects of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been instrumental so far in the team’s success.
2. Montreal Canadiens (+3): The Canadiens have easily been the most fun team to watch this season. The young talent has come along quickly, the metrics support their rise to being a top team, and there’s reason to believe the best is yet to come.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (-2): A tough-luck shootout loss to St. Louis and a COVID-19 outbreak push Vegas out of the top spot, but a post-quarantine hot streak like Dallas or Carolina’s should push them back up there. One word of advice: Marc-Andre Fleury (.951 save percentage and 1 GAA) has earned more playing time.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (Even): 5-2-1 in one-goal games, a 43.33% power play success rate (second in the league behind Washington), and their top stars playing as advertised have been key to Toronto’s hot start. The only sticking point I have with the Leafs is what happens if one or more of their stars goes on a slump?
5. Washington Capitals (+3): A 6-3 comeback win against the Islanders on Thursday followed by a gutsy overtime decision over Boston is enough to push the Capitals into a top-five spot. In the absence of Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek (5-0-2 record and .918 save percentage) has turned a lot of heads with increased playing time.
6. Colorado Avalanche (-3): My preseason selection to win the Stanley Cup, the Avalanche have still struggled with consistency early on in the year. Potentially losing the likes of Nathan MacKinnon or Devon Toews for a while due to injury does not help matters.
7. Boston Bruins (Even): Being top-five on both the power play (5th at 34.62%) and the penalty kill (third at 90%) will lead to any team being successful. With David Pastrnak restoring the Perfection Line, the Bruins should be able to effectively end any scoring issues that plagued them at the start of the season.
8. St. Louis Blues (+1): The rise of Jordan Kyrou has been something to behold. After being a resident of Craig Berube’s doghouse last season, Kyrou has broken out to start the season, tying Brayden Schenn with 10 points in nine games.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (+4): The Hurricanes came back from quarantine in a big way, firing off three straight victories against both of last year’s Stanley Cup Final participants. Vincent Trocheck, who scored two goals and the shootout winner in the series against Dallas, reminded everybody about just who the Hurricanes traded for last year.
10. Dallas Stars (-4): The offensive production will have to tail off at some point, but 3.83 goals per game (second in the league behind Montreal) is definitely not a mark to scoff at. Joe Pavelski (five goals and 10 points) and Denis Gurianov (three goals and seven points) will be counted on to keep the goals coming.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (Even): Just when the Flyers were starting to scare me, they fire off four straight victories against the Devils and the Islanders. Consistency is still something they have to find, but James van Riemsdyk (five goals and 13 points) has been a big part of the positive results.
12. Calgary Flames (+2): Handing Montreal its first regulation loss is a good sign for a Flames team that needed to show something against a top team. Jacob Markstrom (.929 save percentage and 2.18 GAA) is looking like the long-awaited Miikka Kiprusoff replacement Calgary fans have been looking for.
13. Winnipeg Jets (+2): Perennially-underrated Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, 11 points, +8) has stepped up with the permanent absence of Patrik Laine. The only questions are when will Pierre-Luc Dubois be expected to play, and can the defense and penalty killers help Connor Hellebuyck out.
14. Minnesota Wild (-4): The series against Colorado showed that while the Wild still have a ways to go towards legitimacy, they aren’t as far off as I thought they were to start the year. Kirill Kaprizov has continued his strong start, but the emergences of Jordan Greenway (10 points and +8) and Joel Eriksson Ek (five goals and nine points) definitely help matters.
15. Florida Panthers (+6): The Panthers have yet to face the class of their division yet, but good teams find ways to win the games they’re supposed to. If anyone told you Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe would be leading the team with five goals apiece at the start of the year, your next question should be if they managed to build a time machine.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): It’s a testament to Sidney Crosby and Co. that the Penguins haven’t bottomed out yet, what with all the defensive injuries and goaltenders struggling to make saves when they have to. They’re strictly in the middle for now, but that can change in an instant.
17. Nashville Predators (Even): Put the Predators in the same boat as the Penguins, as a fringe team at risk of freefall down the rankings. They’ve managed to stay afloat for now, but 2.38 goals per game (fifth-worst in the league), a league-worst 63.64% penalty kill, and paying $16 million for Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen to not score a single goal yet could do them in sooner rather than later.
18. Vancouver Canucks (+8): Yes, it was against the Senators and Jets, but a four-game winning streak was just what the Canucks needed to get back into the hunt. If they can get this week’s performances from Brock Boeser (four goals in the last two games) and Thatcher Demko (1 GAA and .971 save percentage in his three starts) throughout the season, the Canucks could shoot up the rankings quickly.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): The offense has been anemic to this point and drama has unfolded in the wake of the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade, and yet the Blue Jackets still managed to pick up points in seven straight games. It’s difficult to find a more hard-working team in hockey.
20. New York Islanders (-8): The big dropper in the rankings this week, the Islanders have seen things unravel the past few games. An absolute implosion against Washington highlighted (or lowlighted) an 0-3-2 skid and a 2.11 goals per game mark, good for the 3rd-lowest mark in the league.
21. Edmonton Oilers (-1): Let me get this straight: the Oilers have the league’s two top point-getters in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (22 and 21 points, respectively), and they still can’t manage to get over .500 in point percentage? If one or both seek trades out of Alberta, you heard it here first.
22. New Jersey Devils (-4): Tough break for the young Devils this week, losing three of their last four games. The good news is that the Devils may have found a strong new line in Miles Wood, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian after they dominated Buffalo in Sunday’s victory.
23. Los Angeles Kings (+2): Anze Kopitar’s twelve points are a promising sign, and they’ve put together some impressive performances against top divisional rivals. It might not be enough to get into the playoffs, but they could surprise people once the divisions return to normal.
24. Arizona Coyotes (-2): The Coyotes have allowed two goals or less in four straight games, and the two games they lost out of those were by 1-0 scores. A fine depiction of goaltending no longer being enough to bail out bad offenses.
25. San Jose Sharks (-1): Allowing 3.88 goals per game (good for second-worst in the league behind Ottawa) is a sign that the Sharks might just be as bad as last year’s trainwreck season indicated. Erik Karlsson (three points and -8 in eight games) might already have the worst contract in the NHL.
26. Buffalo Sabres (+1): Stars like Jack Eichel (11 points), Victor Olofsson (4 goals and 10 points), and Taylor Hall (nine points) have been doing their part to keep the Sabres competitive. That said, the consistency just hasn’t been there for Buffalo to make any noise.
27. New York Rangers (-4): It’s time to just admit an inconvenient truth: the Rangers’ defense is horrible. Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller (9 points and +8 between them) point to a brighter future, but the recently-waived Tony DeAngelo and uninspiring play from the likes of Jacob Trouba, Brendan Smith, and Jack Johnson have and will ensure the Blueshirts miss the playoffs again.
28. Chicago Blackhawks (+2): Patrick Kane (10 points) has been his usual dominant self, and Kevin Lankinen (.937 save percentage and 1.97 GAA) is shaping up to be one of the big surprises of 2021. In a lost year for the injury-ravaged Blackhawks, that’s all they could have hoped for.
29. Anaheim Ducks (Even): Why do the Ducks choose to torture John Gibson like they do? Even if Gibson channels prime Brodeur, the Ducks’ league-worst offense would still keep him on the loser column.
30. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Well, at least the Red Wings had no expectations to begin with. Despite being the better goaltender, Thomas Greiss is still looking for his first win in a Red Wings jersey.
31. Ottawa Senators (-3): They haven’t picked up a single point in two weeks. Allowing one more goal per game than San Jose and having the league’s worst goal differential at -22, the Senators’ season will likely be done early.
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