It’s hard to believe that we’re quickly approaching the quarter mark of the 2021-22 NHL season, but here we are.
While (spoiler alert) the Carolina Hurricanes have reclaimed their top spot in the rankings, no team has gone on a roll quite like the Anaheim Ducks have. At the start of the season, the Ducks were widely considered a competitor in the Shane Wright sweepstakes, with the closest thing to in-season intrigue they were presumed to have being who would be sold off at the trade deadline. Instead, they have rattled off seven wins in a row, but they haven’t done it on the back of John Gibson. The offense has finally found its legs, with Troy Terry emerging as a legitimate star. While it’s not certain if the Ducks or any of the early-season surprises, for that matter, can keep this run of form going, but those storylines are what make the NHL so exciting year after year.
Of course, not all surprises are of the good variety. The Florida Panthers followed up a dramatic victory over Carolina with a winless week, the Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to show how important their injured players truly are, and the Vancouver Canucks have gone through one of the ugliest stretches of the season. Then there’s the Arizona Coyotes, who are worse than anyone could have possibly imagined. The Coyotes, at the moment, have won one game and earned just 10% of their possible points this season. To put it in perspective, the expansion 1974-75 Washington Capitals won eight games and earned 13.1% of possible points. Fifteen games is obviously too soon to say the Coyotes are that bad, but the fact they haven’t even looked remotely close to competitive has them rubbing elbows with some of the worst teams in NHL history.
So how does the NHL stack up this time?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded as of November 15.
1. Carolina Hurricanes (2): The best record, best goal differential, and even their more controversial offseason deals in Frederik Andersen and Tony DeAngelo are paying massive dividends so far. Even in a stacked Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes have a good chance to claw their way to Cup contention.
2. Edmonton Oilers (3): I can’t say I trust the Oilers one hundred percent, as losses to Detroit and Buffalo indicate more help is needed on defense and in net. Still, with Leon Draisaitl averaging over two points per game and Connor McDavid scoring at a similar rate, there isn’t a more exciting team to watch.
3. Minnesota Wild (4): November has been kind to the Wild so far, as they’ve won all but one game as they continue to stake their claim as a dark horse Cup contender. What’s scary is they’ve managed to have all of this success with mediocre to subpar goaltending and Kirill Kaprizov not yet finding consistent offense.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): A 2-4-1 start had Toronto fans clamoring for the panic button. Winning eight of their last nine on the back of their superstar forwards and Jack Campbell has eased such fears, at least for now.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (7): In the absence of Nikita Kucherov yet again, Steven Stamkos has been relied upon to put up the offensive numbers for the Lightning. I’d say that a 5-0-2 record in their last seven games shows how successful that strategy has been.
6. Florida Panthers (1): The sooner the Panthers break out of this rough patch, the better off they’ll be. The last thing they need is for the “Joel Quenneville made them good” rumors to start swirling around any longer than they have.
7. Vegas Golden Knights (12): Don’t look now, but the Knights have gone 8-2 in their last ten games, Chandler Stephenson has been playing lights-out to counteract the wave of injuries, and captain Mark Stone is back. Tuesday’s game against Carolina could determine if Vegas has turned the corner on this season.
8. Washington Capitals (15): Alex Ovechkin passed Brett Hull for fourth on the all-time goal-scoring list with goal number 472. Next on the list: Jaromir Jagr, who sits 24 goals away from the Great 8.
9. Boston Bruins (9): The Perfection Line is starting to get rolling, which is bad news for any team facing Boston. What has been surprising has been the emergence of Jeremy Swayman, who has thoroughly outproduced Linus Ullmark thus far (.914 save percentage and 2.16 GAA for Swayman, compared to Ullmark’s .903/3.01 line).
10. St. Louis Blues (5): A one-win week for the Blues is a step back, and the analytics did expect results like this after St. Louis’s unbelievable start to the season. At least Pavel Buchnevich has started to come alive in the month of November, though.
11. Winnipeg Jets (14): The rhetoric towards Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois has gone on all season long, but what about the defense? Stalwarts like Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk are off to solid starts, but Nate Schmidt has looked more like the defenseman we saw in Vegas than last year’s version in Vancouver.
12. New York Rangers (13): The Rangers had a great week, but there is cause for concern with the Blueshirts. They have been bailed out by the play of their superstars and goaltender, and the underlying numbers suggest a substantial regression is coming.
13. Colorado Avalanche (17): A similar arc to Vegas: Stanley Cup contender suffering from injuries to star players and a slow start, but starting to find its form as the calendar changes months. Watch out.
14. Anaheim Ducks (21): Even with GM Bob Murray resigning from the team, the Ducks have still managed to continue their early success. Now the question is this: is this an early-season apparition, or the emergence of an underrated squad?
15. Calgary Flames (6): Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar have been one of the best goaltending tandems to start the season, but recent results have shown an overreliance on the Flames’ netminders. A .500 record in November with a middle-of-the-road offense is proving that Calgary needs more to sustain their hot start.
16. Los Angeles Kings (20): Who had Jonathan Quick re-emerging as a number one netminder on their 2021-22 season bingo cards? In the month of November, he has lead all goaltenders with at least three starts with a .97 GAA.
17. Nashville Predators (23): The Predators’ offense has Nashville rolling with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten, and Matt Duchene has been a pivotal part of the early success. The much-maligned forward has finally started living up to his contract this season, scoring eight goals in his last nine games.
18. Detroit Red Wings (19): Tyler Bertuzzi and Detroit’s dazzling rookie duo are in the spotlight in Hockeytown, but Vladislav Namestnikov has been playing his part superbly. His 29.2% shooting percentage certainly isn’t sustainable, but his career high of 22 goals in 2017-18 is within reach.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (10): The Flyers’ bouts with inconsistency have carried on, at least for this week. Hopefully, getting Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis back helps them out in that regard.
20. New York Islanders (11): It’s been typical Islanders hockey this season: sixth-best defense in the league, sixth-worst offense. At least we’ll finally get to see UBS Arena this weekend.
21. New Jersey Devils (22): The Devils have gotten solid contributions from the likes of Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, and another talented rookie in Dawson Mercer. Imagine if the team can keep this up when Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton get healthy.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets (16): I get the Blue Jackets are shopping Joonas Korpisalo and trying to give him every chance to boost his trade value, but this experiment is only hurting the team. Korpisalo has been an unimpressive 2-3-0 with a .897 save percentage and 3.56 GAA, compared to Elvis Merzlikins’s 5-2-0 record and .929/2.42 stat line.
23. Dallas Stars (26): They finally got their first regulation win against Philadelphia this week, but a 2.38 goals per game mark (fourth-worst in the league) isn’t going to cut it. A lot of Dallas’s big offensive weapons are off to slow starts, something that has to change if the Stars want to go anywhere.
24. Pittsburgh Penguins (18): The Penguins have struggled massively with their stars being out, highlighted by a 6-1 pasting at the hands of their rival Washington and a league-worst power play that’s two percentage points behind the next-lowest mark. At least Sidney Crosby was kind enough to give a physical demonstration of Pittsburgh’s frustration.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (30): No one’s going to mistake Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Arizona as the shining stars of the league, but Chicago’s three-game winning streak still has to feel good. Bottom-five marks in all phases of play still have the Blackhawks behind the eight ball, so interim coach Derek King will be pressed to continue his good first impression.
26. San Jose Sharks (25): Logan Couture and James Reimer have been bright spots thus far, and the Sharks are getting a lot of guys back from COVID protocol. Still, this is a team that has only won three of their last ten, and several key defenders (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Radim Simek, in particular) have been struggling.
27. Buffalo Sabres (27): The Sabres have only won once in their last seven games, and have let go of less than four goals twice in that span. They’ve regressed quickly, but at least the divisional rivals below them seem content on staying in the basement of the Atlantic for a while.
28. Vancouver Canucks (24): 22 goals against the Canucks this week, including back-to-back games where they let go of seven, have highlighted how bad the defense has been this season. Travis Green and Jim Benning will have to move quickly if they want to have jobs in the new year.
29. Seattle Kraken (28): Is it safe to call Philipp Grubauer the biggest disappointment thus far this season? Signed by the Kraken to be their version of Marc-Andre Fleury, Grubauer has responded with a -9.53 goals saved above average mark, which is four goals worse than the next-lowest goalie.
30. Montreal Canadiens (31): Nick Suzuki has been the only player worth anything in Montreal this season. The decision to place Philip Danault and even Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Christian Dvorak has backfired dramatically, with Dvorak scoring only one goal (five points) and a second-worst -17 mark.
31. Ottawa Senators (29): At least the Senators had a high note in their last game against Pittsburgh. COVID ravaging their roster will see Ottawa on a bye week.
32. Arizona Coyotes (32): …The NHL expects fans in Tempe to watch this? Was cruel and unusual punishment allowable now?