We are rapidly approaching the Christmas break of the NHL season, and it’s nice of the league to have some nice gifts for us.
This has been a week of streaks, where unexpected teams have come out of the woodwork to emerge as potential playoff contenders. The Colorado Avalanche have emerged from a shaky start to return to what they were expected to be in October: a Stanley Cup contender. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks have been pleasant surprises this season by way of resurgent seasons from veterans or young players finally breaking out.
However, this week has made many top teams from last week’s rankings look relatively average. The Oilers and Flames have gone on long losing streaks after looking like the top teams in the Pacific Division. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes suffered tough losses to the likes of Ottawa and Vancouver, respectively. It’s the parity of the league on full display; any team can pull out a victory on any given night.
So how does the NHL stack up?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded from December 12.
1. Florida Panthers (1): It was a bit of a rough week for the Panthers, but going .500 on a tough stretch without their best player is respectable enough to keep the top spot. Be forewarned, though; their grip on the top spot is tenuous, at best.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (5): The loss to Vancouver ended the week on a sour note for the Hurricanes, who had four straight wins prior to that. It’s fitting that the loss came without Sebastian Aho; he’s currently riding a five-game streak of scoring at least two points.
3. Colorado Avalanche (10): The Avalanche won all four of their games this week, have won twelve of their last fifteen games, and have scored at least six goals in their last three games. Their victory against Florida was all I needed to see; the Avs are back where they belong.
4. Minnesota Wild (2): Losing to LA and Vegas to end the week was rough, but those two have been their only losses in the last ten games. If the Kevin Fiala trade rumors are to be believed, the Wild could be in on some of the big trade targets at the deadline.
5. Washington Capitals (4): Alex Ovechkin has been impressive enough on his own, but the Capitals leading the Metropolitan Division without many key players is terrifying. Imagine how good this team might be when the likes of Nicklas Backstrom come back.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (6): The Lightning haven’t been bad enough to drop and, to Ottawa’s credit, they’ve won against pretty stiff competition these days. That, and Tampa Bay defeating the team below them keeps them even this week.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (3): The defensive play that helped the Leafs get off to a fantastic start has faltered since the calendar turned to December. The Leafs have let go of at least three goals in every game this month, and at least four goals in their last five games.
8. Anaheim Ducks (12): The Troy Terry breakout looks legitimate, and the Ducks have continued to stay competitive. Also, credit Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano for the new Goal of the Year favorite (and giving another reason for NHL teams to stay away from John Tortorella.)
9. Vegas Golden Knights (13): Breaking Philadelphia’s losing streak was outweighed with strong performances about then-hot teams in Dallas, Calgary, and Minnesota. The offense has predictably come back with the returns of their top players, but the goaltending has to get better if the Knights want to sustain this recent success.
10. Nashville Predators (19): I’m not a fan of spikes or drops like this, but a strange week has made it absolutely possible. That, and the Predators have the longest active winning streak in the league at five, including their last four games on the road.
11. New York Rangers (9): A blown call against Buffalo led to the Rangers’ only win this week, Chris Kreider has slowed down, and goaltending has struggled without Igor Shesterkin. The concerns about the Rangers being top-heavy were at least somewhat validated.
12. St. Louis Blues (16): With the Blues being rattled with injuries, they’ve needed players to step up in increased roles. This week was Nathan Walker’s turn to rise to the occasion, as the NHL’s only Aussie player picked up his first career hat trick against Detroit.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins (17): Another team that’s suffered from the injury bug got more bad news with leading scorer Jake Guentzel needing to miss more time. However, the Penguins are still on pace for another 100-point season, so can we really count them out at this stage?
14. Boston Bruins (14): Depth scoring has still been an issue, but the metrics show the Bruins as being more unlucky than bad. This is still a playoff-caliber team, but Boston could use some good bounces to improve on their current standing.
15. Edmonton Oilers (7): The old issues that have haunted the Oilers for years have re-emerged, and it’s led to Edmonton dropping five games in a row. Streaks like this are why I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edmonton as the most aggressive buyer at the trade deadline.
16. Calgary Flames (8): The Oilers’ cross-province rival isn’t doing so hot themselves, no pun intended. The Flames have lost four in a row, and now will have their next three games postponed due to COVID.
17. Los Angeles Kings (21): I will actively vouch for Jonathan Quick to make it to the All-Star game this year. He is the sole reason the Kings are anywhere close to the playoff picture right now.
18. Winnipeg Jets (18): Same story this week as usual: Kyle Connor’s been fantastic, but the rest of Winnipeg’s top players are middling at best. Not good news in a Central Division that’s looked more competitive than expected.
19. Dallas Stars (11): After an impressive winning streak, dropping three in a row has the Stars trending back in the wrong direction. A stretch against Central Division opponents could be the litmus test of where Dallas truly is.
20. Detroit Red Wings (15): Sure, this season has been all about progress for the Red Wings, but three blowout losses in the past week is not a good look. Hopefully, this doesn’t lead to a confidence-breaking losing streak for the young Wings.
21. San Jose Sharks (22): Jonathan Dahlen and James Reimer barely saw any NHL playing time down the stretch last season. Now, both have become key players for a Sharks team that’s been somewhat better than anticipated.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets (20): It feels like the Jackets could use Patrik Laine back, but it may be even more important to give Elvis Merzlikins a reliable battery mate. Daniil Tarasov hasn’t gotten his first NHL victory yet, but do the otherwise solid stats give him a chance to unseat a struggling Joonas Korpisalo?
23. Vancouver Canucks (27): Give Bruce Boudreau some credit; he took a Canucks team in despair and has fired off four straight wins out of them. The difference in moods of Canucks fans last month and now have been night and day.
24. Ottawa Senators (28): The Senators have won four of their last five games, including wins against Carolina, Colorado, and Tampa Bay. Are we sure Brady Tkachuk isn’t real-life Peter Parker?; he’s been playing his best hockey of the season since the Brendan Lemieux bite.
25. Seattle Kraken (23): A couple of bad losses squandered the momentum that the Kraken seemed to be creating. Can anyone think of a bigger disappointment this season than the Philipp Grubauer/Chris Driedger goalie tandem?
26. Chicago Blackhawks (24): Congratulations to Marc-Andre Fleury on his 500th career NHL victory, and his play has certainly improved since Derek King took over as Blackhawks coach. If the offense could do the same, Chicago might be on to something.
27. Philadelphia Flyers (26): The Flyers broke their losing streak this week, but this has been par for the course far too often for this team. It always feels like a winning streak carries them to the playoffs, or a losing streak like this destroys their chances early.
28. New York Islanders (32): The Islanders finally won a game at UBS Arena, which has to be a relief. For a team as offensively challenged as this, however, being down this big in a competitive division might be an early kiss of death.
29. New Jersey Devils (25): The Devils have won two of their last 10 games, and Jack Hughes coming back hasn’t been the shot in the arm the team had hoped it would be. Maybe hiring Lindy Ruff in the midst of a clear rebuild wasn’t a good idea.
30. Montreal Canadiens (29): No team as a whole has been more disappointing this season, and Tyler Toffoli’s injury is just the latest setback. The teardown is coming.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): Do we have to go any further?
32. Buffalo Sabres (30): One win in their last twelve games sees the Sabres return to the basement. How can a team be this consistently bad?