The roaring 2020s are starting off with a bang at The Hockey Writers, with our first-ever NHL Power Rankings, for the month of January.
In this inaugural edition, the Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues look to pick up the New Year where they left 2019 off and the Tampa Bay Lightning reach contender status anew. Meanwhile the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings battle it out for last place. Spoiler alert: No one really wins there.
1. St. Louis Blues (26-10-6)
The St. Louis Blues are clearly for real. They may have started off 2020 with a disappointing 7-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, but 2019 belonged to them, even excluding the obvious Stanley Cup championship.
The Blues were 56-19-11 in regular-season games, including a 9-4 record this past December, which included an eight-game winning streak in turn.
2. Washington Capitals (27-9-5)
It’s not that Alex Ovechkin has slowed down. He’s still on pace for nearly 50 goals this season. It’s that defenseman John Carlson, who leads the team in scoring with 50 points at the season’s halfway mark, has turned it up that much.
Braden Hotlby’s goaltending remains a weak point, but Ilya Samsonov, who’s 5-0 in his last five starts with a .932 save percentage, is a stellar backup option. Look for him to earn more starts in 2020.
3. Boston Bruins (24-7-11)
Where would the Boston Bruins be without David Pastrnak’s league-leading 30 goals? Probably still in the playoff picture at the very least, as Pastrnak has gone relatively cold from a goal-scoring perspective with just two in his last eight games. The Bruins as a whole nevertheless have points in nine straight.
Even without Pastrnak, the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins boast a vast array of superstars like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron up front. Meanwhile, in net you’ll find one of the best goaltending tandems in the league in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. That’s saying nothing of their top-10 defense, which has given up a decent 31.0 shots per game.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (24-11-5)
Despite a full injury ward that includes Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins find a way to get it done. Granted that “way” generally goes by the name of Evgeni Malkin, who scored 16 points during a 10-2 December, but even he only dressed for 10 of those games. Bryan Rust (33 points in 26 games) and Tristan Jarry (.936 save percentage), continue to slip under the radar as unheralded heroes for the very real Penguins.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (23-15-6)
The Vegas Golden Knights are on a modest three-game winning streak. However, their status as legitimate contenders is largely due to an overall 9-4-3 month of December. Over their last 12 contests, Max Pacioretty has led the charge with eight goals and nine assists, silencing both his and the team’s doubters.
6. Colorado Avalanche (24-13-4)
Tied with The Toronto Maple Leafs for the most goals scored (151, but in one fewer game), the Colorado Avalanche are no joke. Their defense remains a bit of a question mark, but the relative-no-name goaltending duo of Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz has largely been up to the task.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (22-13-4)
No one truly believed the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2018-19 season was a fluke. If anything, their start to this one was, but at 8-2-1 in their last 10, including five straight wins, they have erased any doubts. They are back.
8. New York Islanders (25-11-3)
Head coach Barry Trotz is making his case for a second straight Jack Adams Award, which would be the first time since Jacques Demers turned the trick in 1988 for the Detroit Red Wings.
He keeps working miracles, proving his New York Islanders are greater than the sum of their parts. Six points back of the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, first place is still a possibility thanks to two games in hand.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (24-14-2)
If you’re wondering what to make of the Carolina Hurricanes, you’re not alone. They’re a contender with weak goaltending care of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer on paper.
Assuming they make the playoffs, the Hurricanes will likely go as far as that goaltending will take them, but it hasn’t been enough to break them during the regular season. They are 8-3-1 over their last 11, despite having given up 34 goals (nearly three per game) in that span.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (23-14-5)
New head coach Sheldon Keefe can do nothing wrong. Since he replaced Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Maple Leafs are 14-4-1, having outscored their opponents 79-54. That works out to well about four goals per game… and almost three against. If they could just ensure starter Frederik Andersen doesn’t burn out more than he already has, they’ll be all set.
11. Dallas Stars (23-14-4)
The Stars’ offense continues to sputter, but the goaltending of Ben Bishop and backup Anton Khudobin remains a shining example of the threat the third-place Dallas Stars represent. At 6-3-1 since the coaching change of their own, when Rick Bowness replaced Jim Montgomery, the Stars keep riding high regardless of obstacles thrown in their way.
12. Arizona Coyotes (23-16-4)
The Taylor Hall trade hasn’t exactly turned out as expected. He has just five points in eight games, during which the Arizona Coyotes are 4-4. However, the offense has come alive relatively speaking, with 25 goals in those games. The bad news? They’ve given up 26. Once Darcy Kuemper returns from injury, they’ll likely be forces with which to be reckoned.
13. Vancouver Canucks (22-15-4)
Few people thought the third-place Vancouver Canucks had it in them to hold down a playoff spot so far into the season. However, Elias Pettersson has warded off the supposed sophomore slump with 44 points through the first half of the season.
Furthermore, J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson have proven to be quite the fits. Jake Virtanen has meanwhile re-discovered the talent that made him a high draft pick just a few seasons ago, similar to Jacob Markstrom once upon a time. The Swedish netminder has concretized his spot as a top-tier goalie on the verge of turning 30.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (22-14-5)
A mediocre 5-5 in their last 10, the Philadelphia Flyers fall about where you would expect. A thankfully healthy Travis Konecny’s breakout season continues to make up for the below-expected output from the likes of Claude Giroux and the usually consistent Sean Couturier.
15. Florida Panthers (21-14-5)
The Panthers boast one of the most underrated offenses in the league, having scored a fourth-ranked 142 goals. Led by Jonathan Huberdeau’s surprising 55 points, if they could just keep the puck out of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net, they could be a threat down the stretch and possibly even into the playoffs, now in ninth place.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (19-14-8)
After failing to earn a win in his first 10 appearances, spot-starter Elvis Merzlikins suddenly has two straight. What’s more impressive is he has allowed just two goals in the process, as they, now just three points out, look to him to keep them in the hunt.
17. Calgary Flames (21-17-5)
The honeymoon between the Calgary Flames and head coach Geoff Ward may be over. The Flames are still an impressive 10-5-1 overall under the new bench boss, but just 3-5-1 over their last nine.
18. Winnipeg Jets (22-16-3)
With just one win in their last five games, the Winnipeg Jets are just barely holding on to a playoff spot. Outscored 25-17 in that span, they must realize they may have the offense, but not the defense to get into shootouts like that, with Vezina Trophy-candidate Connor Hellebuyck having earned an .861 save percentage in that span.
19. Edmonton Oilers (21-17-5)
Technically the Edmonton Oilers are a still playoff team, but it’s in much the same way they recently beat the New York Rangers 7-5 after leading 6-0.
The only difference is the overall offense isn’t quite as prolific, especially with their top two and at-times-only scorers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl having gone through a relative dry spell. Draisaitl has “just” 10 points in his last 12 games. McDavid has only five points in his last six and seven points in his last nine.
20. Minnesota Wild (19-17-5)
Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker is now out, but he could be the secret behind the team’s recent success. The Wild have turned it around since Zucker called out the team back in October. Since starting out the season 1-6, the Wild are a respectful 18-11-5.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, as they represent the top team among the Western Conference’s lower tier, four points back of a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots. An all-important game against the wild-card Jets is set for this Saturday.
21. New York Rangers (19-17-4)
The New York Rangers held such promise on paper in terms of depth heading into the season. They’ve turned into a one-man show on Broadway, with Artemi Panarin having scored 22 goals and 55 points so far.
That’s 18 points higher than second-leading-scorer Ryan Strome, which should tell you all you need about how surprisingly disappointing this season has been so far; The Rangers are seven points out early in the New Year.
22. Nashville Predators (18-15-6)
Nashville Predators forwards Nick Bonino and Calle Jarnkrok may quietly be putting together impressive campaigns with 13 and 12 goals respectively. They’re still off the team lead held by Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi (14).
The latter of whom would likely be in the middle of conversation for the Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman… were it not for the fact the team is struggling as a whole. Sub-par goaltending care of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has led the Preds into the relative gutter, five points out of the last wild-card spot. Thankfully, they have four games in hand over the eighth-place Oilers.
23. Buffalo Sabres (18-17-7)
The Buffalo Sabres continue to fall from grace for a second consecutive season. After starting off the season 8-1-1, the Sabres are still in the Eastern Conference race, but for how long without valuable-secondary-scorer Jeff Skinner? Jack Eichel has put together a most-valuable-esque campaign so far, with 54 points through the halfway mark of the season, but he’s going to have to be superhuman from here on out.
24. Chicago Blackhawks (18-18-6)
The Chicago Blackhawks may be eight points out of the last Central Division spot, but they’re also just five points out of the second wild-card spot.
Having gone 5-3-1 in their last nine, the Blackhawks are theoretically in the thick of it. In those three regulation losses to the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks though, they allowed 18 goals. If their last-in-the-league-ranked defense (36.3 shots against per game played) can get on track, they could make some noise. That’s a big if, though.
25. Montreal Canadiens (18-17-6)
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin may be hoping the just-acquired Marco Scandella is the defenseman they’ve long needed to solve their lack of depth on the left side.
Unfortunately, neither Scandella (nor the newly signed, but in-decline Ilya Kovalchuk) will likely be enough. Brendan Gallagher, the team’s arguable heart and soul, is now out with a concussion and the Habs have lost four in a row to fall six points out of the last Atlantic Division playoff spot.
26. Ottawa Senators (16-20-5)
Credit the Ottawa Senators for being fun to watch and arguably better than just about everyone expected.
Unfortunately, “better” in this scenario still isn’t great, with Anthony “I don’t think he knows how to play” Duclair impressively leading the team in scoring, on pace for over 40 goals. So, yeah, fun to watch, but not necessarily a great sign.
27. Los Angeles Kings (17-21-4)
When your backup has the same save percentage as your starter, it can be a good sign. Not so for the Los Angeles Kings (.894). Jack Campbell (6-6-2) continues to slightly outperform Jonathan Quick (11-15-2) in the win-loss department, but not enough to make a difference playing behind a flawed defense led by a potentially-in-decline Drew Doughty.
28. New Jersey Devils (15-19-6)
The Devils just traded away their best player in Taylor Hall and yet they’re a decent 5-2-1 since the deal. They’re also still in last place in the Metropolitan Division.
29. San Jose Sharks (18-21-3)
If it’s any consolation, general manager Doug Wilson was one of the best in the league over the last decade. It nevertheless couldn’t end fast enough for the San Jose Sharks, who enjoyed just a single victory in their final six games of the calendar year and went 2-9-2 in December. At least they started the new decade with a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
30. Anaheim Ducks (16-20-5)
One of the best goalies in the league, John Gibson, has a mediocre .907 save percentage and is 12-16-3, pointing to the Ducks’ defensive woes and general inability to produce much offense, all at once.
31. Detroit Red Wings (10-28-3)
It may not just be about the All-Star Game for Dylan Larkin. The Detroit Red Wings forward, perhaps cheekily, asked fans not to vote for him as one of the “Last Men In,” because he likes “the days off more.”
The Red Wings are a league-worse 3-7 in their last 10, having given up the most goals (157) and scored the least (89) through the halfway mark of the season. It’s enough to cause anyone to want a vacation. At least they ended the decade with a shutout over the San Jose Sharks. Unfortunately, it was also just their first of the season, compared to four against. Needless to say, the Red Wings are in a downward spiral.