We have officially crossed the quarter mark of the NHL season.
It’s been a time of change for the NHL in recent weeks. Just last week, I was talking about the Canadiens firing Marc Bergevin and instantly getting Jeff Gorton to kickstart what’s looking like an inevitable rebuild. Within the last 24 hours or so, two more teams have made significant changes. In Vancouver, Travis Green and Jim Benning were shown the door in a move that, frankly, should have happened last offseason. With Bruce Boudreau now behind the bench and an expected collaborative effort in the front office, the Canucks will be looking to salvage what they can from what looks like a lost season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Philadelphia Flyers have fired head coach Alain Vigneault after a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the latest in an eight-game skid. Similar to another divisional rival in the New York Islanders, the Flyers’ recent string of losses are hurting their chances to remain competitive in a strong Metropolitan Division. Similar to the Canadiens, the Flyers deserve credit for at least getting aggressive and addressing the problem early. Bad news is that the interim head coach is a man Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is well-acquainted with: Mike Yeo. The last time we caught up with Yeo, he was running the Blues into the ground in the 2018-19 season before being replaced by Craig Berube and…well, you know the rest. Needless to say, I’m not feeling particularly optimistic that Yeo’s third tour of duty as an NHL head coach is going to go that well.
With all that said, how does the NHL stack up this week?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded on December 5.
1. Florida Panthers (5): The most entertaining team in the NHL over the last couple of weeks, the Panthers won all of their games last week in come-from-behind fashion, including erasing three-goal deficits against Washington and Buffalo. That’s the type of resiliency that will serve this team well, come playoff time.
2. Minnesota Wild (9): The biggest riser of the week, the Wild have won six straight games and have pulled ahead in the Central Division. If they can just fix their power play, which currently ranks 28th in the league, I’m not sure if there’s a noticeable flaw that can be exploited.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (1): The Leafs had their winning streak broken by the Wild, necessitating a small drop in the rankings this week. Still, Auston Matthews is scoring goals left and right to insert himself back into the Rocket Richard Trophy conversation, including a hat trick against Colorado.
4. Washington Capitals (3): In this week’s Ovechkin Watch, Alex hit 20 goals this season and 750 on his career. That and the re-emergences of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov have been critical towards the Capitals being in the running for the Metropolitan Division crown.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (4): A 5-4-1 record in their last ten games is a disappointment for a Hurricanes squad that started off so strongly this season. The loss to a white-hot Dallas squad was somewhat understandable; losing to lowly Ottawa, not so much.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (6): If you were expecting the Lightning to fall off at some point, you’ll be disappointed to know that the defending champs are on a three-game winning streak. Steven Stamkos has been critical to Tampa Bay’s success, riding a seven-game point streak at the moment.
7. Edmonton Oilers (2): The Oilers fell back into some bad habits this week, with a top-heavy offense being unable to overcome a battered defense and shoddy goaltending. If this continues, expect Edmonton to be connected to any top goaltender on the trade market when the deadline rolls around.
8. Calgary Flames (8): The Flames have plenty of reasons to like their chances this season, and it starts with goaltending. Whether it’s Jacob Markstrom or Dan Vladar manning the crease, their play has given Calgary a chance to win every night.
9. New York Rangers (10): A six-game winning streak would normally indicate a massive rise, but Igor Shesterkin’s lower body injury complicates matters for the Rangers. He’s been a pivotal reason as to why New York is exceeding expectations, so they can prove something to a lot of people if they do well in this upcoming stretch.
10. Colorado Avalanche (7): The offense has been there for the Avalanche, but they desperately need to fix the back end. Their defense is currently sixth-worst in the league at 3.38 goals allowed per game, and Darcy Kuemper’s injury has forced an overmatched Jonas Johansson into starts.
11. Dallas Stars (16): A six-game winning streak has pushed the Stars closer to the top ten, and Roope Hintz has played a big part of that recent success. After a rough start to the season, Hintz now has ten goals in as many games, including a hat trick in an upset win over Carolina.
12. Anaheim Ducks (17): Troy Terry continues his hot start, and the Ducks may have an intriguing line with Trevor Zegras centering Sonny Milano and Rickard Rakell. After having the league’s worst offense last season, being seventh with 3.32 goals per game is a massive accomplishment.
13. Vegas Golden Knights (11): Vegas’s drop isn’t so much on them having a bad week more than the two teams leapfrogging them having better weeks. With Max Pacioretty being an offensive force right now and the team starting to find its way again, however, the descent likely shouldn’t go any further.
14. Boston Bruins (12): There is some cause for concern for Boston right now, as they are currently last in five-on-five shooting percentage with a dismal 5.84% success rate. It speaks to some issues with Boston’s offensive depth, which has been a common theme over the last few years.
15. Detroit Red Wings (21): The numbers haven’t been too supportive of their rise, but the Red Wings have won five games in a row. Sometimes, the results speak louder than the process.
16. St. Louis Blues (13): The offense has returned to form a bit in recent games, and the Blues have gotten back into the top ten on offense. Now, if only the rest of their underlying numbers were as positive…
17. Pittsburgh Penguins (14): Tristan Jarry is rewarding the Penguins for not giving up on him after his disastrous postseason. Out of goaltenders who have started ten games or more, Jarry is currently fourth in save percentage with .934 and third in GAA with 1.92.
18. Winnipeg Jets (18): A 4-5-1 in their last ten games isn’t a good thing, but Mark Scheifele did manage a breakout game against the Devils earlier this week. Hopefully, a hat trick is just Winnipeg’s number one center needed to break out of his early-season funk.
19. Nashville Predators (19): I’m still not sure if the Predators have what it takes to get anywhere beyond being a middle-of-the-road squad. A four-goal game for Filip Forsberg against Columbus certainly made him noticeable for any team needing offense at the deadline…assuming Nashville decides to stop holding off a rebuild.
20. Columbus Blue Jackets (15): A week where the Blue Jackets dropped three of four games and looked like the worse team in all of them speaks to where they are right now. They’ll play above their expectations one week, then sink below them the next.
21. Los Angeles Kings (23): The Kings haven’t been great lately, but the struggles of the teams above them put them closer to the top twenty. Anze Kopitar has been the only positive on offense so far, as the Kings are putting up only 2.64 goals per game.
22. San Jose Sharks (24): Similar to their in-state rivals, the Sharks have moved up more on the struggles of the teams above them than their own success. At least Erik Karlsson is playing up to his contract for arguably the first time since becoming the league’s highest-paid defenseman.
23. Seattle Kraken (25): The Kraken have been getting it together on offense, which speaks to their rise in the last week or so. My only concern is that the negatives surrounding the Kraken still outweigh the positives.
24. Chicago Blackhawks (26): The good news is that offseason acquisitions Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury have shaken off rough starts to their seasons. The bad news is that longtime stalwart and captain Jonathan Toews is still without a goal at the quarter mark.
25. New Jersey Devils (20): A three-game losing streak has the Devils sliding down the rankings, with the main culprit being poor goaltending. While the Devils defense as a whole has been alright, they are still letting go of over three goals per game.
26. Philadelphia Flyers (22): Everything’s gone wrong for the Flyers lately. That’s really all that has to be said.
27. Vancouver Canucks (31): The Canucks’ rise is more on my curiosity of Bruce Boudreau meshing with this current team. It probably won’t lead to much postseason success, but he is third all-time in points percentage for a reason.
28. Ottawa Senators (32): Fun fact: since being bitten by Brendan Lemieux, Brady Tkachuk has scored five points in the last three games, and the Senators have won against Carolina and Colorado. Relevant? No. Hilarious? Absolutely.
29. Montreal Canadiens (29): The Canadiens are 2-7-1 in their last ten games, and a loss to Colorado led to fans tossing their jerseys out onto the ice. I can only imagine the fans’ reaction when their favorite players are traded away.
30. Buffalo Sabres (27): Goaltending has turned into a real issue for the Sabres, with Malcom Subban joining the list of injuries at the position after a disastrous debut in net. It’s not a matter of if top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen cracks the team, but when he takes over.
31. Arizona Coyotes (30): I’m willing to throw in the towel on Jakob Chychrun this season. Whether it’s due to not finding a full-time defensive partner or the general awfulness of this Coyotes team, Chychrun has had a rough year both in terms of statistics and metrics.
32. New York Islanders (28): The descent to the bottom is complete for the Islanders, who haven’t won a game in a month. If Barry Trotz didn’t have the pedigree he has, he’d undoubtedly be shown the door.