THW Power Rankings: All Hail the Golden Knights

Welcome to The Hockey Writers’ Power Rankings, the top-13 teams in the NHL this week as ranked by members of The Hockey Writers. This week’s panel is Greg Boysen (Chicago Blackhawks), Jeff Morris (Ottawa Senators), Kevin Armstrong (Toronto Maple Leafs), Louis Pannone (Arizona Coyotes), Shaun Filippelli (Chicago Blackhawks), Pete Bauer (Columbus Blue Jackets), Dean Plunkett, Kyle Gipe, Brandon Stanley (Carolina Hurricanes), Jake Zrihen (Seattle Kraken), Matthew Zator (Vancouver Canucks), Sam Impaglia (New Jersey Devils), and Kyle Knopp (Detroit Red Wings)

The Vegas Golden Knights’ eight consecutive victories carried them into first place in The Hockey Writers’ weekly NHL power rankings.

The Golden Knights, the NHL’s hottest team, completed a two-game sweep of the San Jose Sharks with a 5-2 victory on Wednesday. Vegas leads the NHL with 68 points and is four points ahead of last week’s top team, the Colorado Avalanche, in the race for first place in the Honda West Division. The Avalanche had last week wiped out by COVID-19, which forced them to postpone two home games against the Los Angeles Kings and a road game against the St. Louis Blues. They are scheduled to return to action against the Blues on Thursday.

Max Pacioretty #67, Vegas Golden Knights
Max Pacioretty and the Golden Knights lead the NHL in points. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vegas got nine of the 13 first-place votes. Colorado received the other four, with all of those voters ranking the Golden Knights in second place. The Carolina Hurricanes, whose .744 points percentage is the best in the NHL, were third, with the Florida Panthers coming in fourth. The two teams are tied atop the Discover Central Division with 65 points.

The Boston Bruins, winners of five in a row, and the Dallas Stars returned to the rankings this week, replacing the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.

To create the THW power rankings, 13 members of The Hockey Writers staff rank their top 13 teams. The team picked first by a voter receives 13 points, a second-place selection is worth 12, a third-place vote gets 11, and so on down to No. 13, which is worth one point.

Here are this week’s rankings:

1. Vegas Golden Knights (33-11-2)

Points: 165
Last week: 4

Upswing: The Golden Knights have been able to rotate goalies during the eight-game winning streak that has made them the first team in the NHL to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury carried the load when Robin Lehner struggled with injuries and some inconsistency, but with Lehner healthy and playing well, coach Peter DeBoer has been able to alternate the two to avoid burnout.

Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights
Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights have won eight in a row. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Vegas probably would have liked to play both games of their Honda West Division showdown series against the Avalanche as scheduled at T-Mobile Arena on April 26 and 28. But Colorado’s three-game pause due to COVID-19 has moved the April 26 game back to May 10.

2. Colorado Avalanche (30-9-4)

Points: 159
Last week: 1

Upswing: The Avalanche have received more than they could have expected from 26-year-old rookie forward Liam O’Brien, who has fit in well in the fourth line. O’Brien has three assists and two fights during his eight-game NHL callup, and the Avs are 7-1-0 with him in the lineup.

Downturn: The one-week break in the schedule came at a bad time – Colorado had won four in a row and were 17-1-2 in their previous 20 games. However, they are assured of going to Vegas no worse than tied for first in the West if they can sweep the three games from the Blues.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (30-10-5)

Points: 139
Last week: 5

Upswing: The Discover Central Division title is the Hurricanes’ to lose after they emerged from a two-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning with three points, including a 4-1 win in the second game. The ’Canes visit the third contender in the Central, the Florida Panthers, on Thursday and Saturday, then play their final nine games against the bottom five teams in the division. Carolina has won five of their six games against Florida, and center Vincent Trocheck, acquired from the Panthers before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, has six goals against his former team.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck, has excelled against his former team, the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Downturn: Carolina is still without Teuvo Teravainen, who hasn’t played since March 4 because of a concussion sustained on the night he returned from concussion symptoms that cost him seven games. He is traveling with the team and skating at practice, but no date has been set for his return.

4. Florida Panthers (30-12-5)

Points: 116
Last week: 8

Upswing: Spencer Knight showed why he was Florida’s first-round pick (No. 13) in the 2019 NHL Draft with a 33-save performance in his NHL debut, a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Head coach Joel Quenneville said he was impressed with Knight’s composure and with his ability to track the puck. Knight became the first goalie born in the 2000s to play in an NHL game.

Downturn: The Panthers have won just once in their six games against the Hurricanes, who will play at BB&T Center on Thursday and Saturday. Each team has 65 points, but Carolina has a game in hand. The Panthers were swept in two games in Raleigh last week and will have to prove to themselves that they can beat the Hurricanes when it matters most.

5. Washington Capitals (29-13-4)

Points: 92
Last week: 2

Upswing: Alex Ovechkin is 35, but his goal-scoring touch looks as good as ever after a slow start. He scored twice in a 6-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. He has 730 career goals, one shy of Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for fifth on the all-time list. Dionne is among those who have said Ovechkin has a chance to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894.

Downturn: The defense and goaltending sprung a few leaks last week as Washington earned a 1-2-0 record and after allowing 14 goals. The Capitals will have to tighten up; their next three games are against the second-place New York Islanders, with the first two at Nassau Coliseum before the teams move to Capital One Arena next Tuesday.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-14-2)

Points: 91
Last week: T6

Upswing: The Lightning are playing catchup in the three-team Discover Central Division race, but the schedule could give them a chance to recoup. They host the seventh-place Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and Saturday and don’t play either of their top-two rivals for the division title until the end of the season, with games at Florida on May 8 and 10.

Downturn: Given that captain Steven Stamkos is still out with an injury and forward Nikita Kucherov (hip surgery) won’t play until the playoffs (if then), the Lightning might have seen their best chance to win the Central vanish when the Hurricanes came into Amalie Arena and left with three of a possible four points, including a 3-2 overtime loss and a 4-1 win. The depth scorers who were producing have gone cold, and there have been too many turnovers in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who started against Carolina on back-to-back nights – largely because the Lightning haven’t found a reliable backup.

7. New York Islanders (29-13-4)

Points: 88
Last week: T6

Upswing: Anthony Beauvillier is one of the streakiest players in the NHL, but he broke out of a scoring slump with four points (one goal, three assists) in a 6-1 victory against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Before his big night, Beauvillier had gone five games without a point and seven without a goal. The Islanders need him to keep scoring; they play their next three games against the Capitals, one of the two teams they’re battling in the race for first place in the MassMutual East Division.

Anthony Beauvillier New York Islanders
Anthony Beauvillier’s four-point night helped the New York Islanders defeat the Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Islanders are the NHL’s best home team (18-2-2), but their play away from Nassau Coliseum is another story. They have a 10-11-2 record on the road and just one victory (against the Boston Bruins) in 10 road games against the other three teams holding a playoff spot in the East. They play the Capitals at home Thursday and Saturday before visiting Washington on Tuesday.

8. Minnesota Wild (29-13-3)

Points: 87
Last week: 12

Upswing: The Wild have all but wrapped up third place in the West (and their eighth trip to the playoffs in nine seasons) by beating up on the teams behind them. Minnesota defeated the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 at Gila River Arena on Wednesday, giving them a 22-7-2 mark against the Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, and the three California teams. They are also 23-5-3 in their past 31 games against the Coyotes, including 12-3-1 in Arizona.

Downturn: Minnesota would be a lot closer to the Avalanche and Golden Knights if they had played better in the second period overall this season. They have outscored opponents by 18 goals in the first (47-29) and by 13 in the third (52-39), but they have been outscored 47-37 in the second period.

9. Boston Bruins (26-12-6)

Points: 72
Last week: 13

Upswing: Rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman has given the Bruins a spark. He’s won four of his five starts since being recalled, with a 1.78 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage, and he earned his first NHL shutout by defeating the Islanders 3-0 on April 16. Swayman is a big reason the Bruins have won five in a row, allowing six goals in those wins, and are looking to see which of the three teams ahead of them in the East are catchable, rather than worrying about trying to hold on to a playoff position.

Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Rookie Jeremy Swayman is a big reason the Bruins have won five in a row. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Bruins have the fewest regulation wins (19) of any of the four East teams that appear headed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Regulation wins are the first tiebreaker in playoff positioning, meaning the Bruins will likely have to finish with more points to surpass any of the Capitals, Islanders or Penguins.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (29-14-3)

Points: 53
Last week: 9

Upswing: Sidney Crosby is heating up and carrying the Penguins toward first place in the East with him. He has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in his past 16 games, with at least one point in 13 of the 16 games. Not surprisingly, the Penguins are 11-3-2 during that span, putting them within one point of the Capitals and Islanders.  

Downturn: There’s no such thing as a bad win, but if there was, it would look like the Penguins’ 7-6 victory against the New Jersey Devils at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday. The Penguins nearly blew a 6-0 lead in the third period and became the first team in NHL history to win a game after being outscored by five goals in the third period. Not surprisingly, coach Mike Sullivan had a pre-practice meeting with his players on Wednesday, stressing the need for accountability and playing the right way.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-13-5)

Points: 50
Last week: 3

Upswing: John Tavares’ scoring touch has returned. He has two points in each of Toronto’s past four games and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the past six games. The Maple Leafs’ captain is also plus-11 after finishing minus-7 last season.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares has four straight two-point games for the Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Maple Leafs had to think they could take advantage of the Canucks in their two-game visit to Vancouver. But despite facing a team returning to play after a 25-day break caused by COVID-19, Toronto blew leads and lost both games, extending their losing streak to five games (0-3-2), entering a two-game set against the Winnipeg Jets, who trail Toronto by four points.

12. Edmonton Oilers (27-16-2)

Points: 27
Last week: 11

Upswing: Leon Draisaitl won’t repeat as NHL scoring champion; he’s 13 points behind teammate Connor McDavid with 11 games remaining. But if his plus-minus rating is any indication, Draisaitl’s play away from the puck has improved markedly. He is plus-25, tied for second in the NHL, after finishing minus-7 last season.

2018 Olympics
Leon Draisaitl’ is among the NHL leaders in plus/minus. Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Downturn: The Oilers wouldn’t exactly be heartbroken if the Montreal Canadiens miss the playoffs. No team has defended McDavid, Draisaitl & Co. better than the Canadiens, who improved to 5-2-0 against Edmonton with a 4-3 victory at Rogers Place on Wednesday. The Habs have allowed 14 goals in the seven games; the teams play again on May 10 and 12 in Montreal.

13. Dallas Stars (19-13-12)

Points: 16
Last week: Not ranked

Upswing: The Dallas Stars are riding a four-game winning streak in which they’ve outscored their opponents 17-6 and they’re on an eight-game point streak (6-0-2). They won the first two of a four-game set against the Detroit Red Wings, a team they’ve beaten five times in six tries. Dallas trails the Nashville Predators by two points in the race for the fourth and final playoff position in the Discover Central Division, but they have three games in hand.

Downturn: Dallas faces a grueling final 11 games, including a season-ending seven-game road trip that includes three games at Tampa Bay and one at Florida. They’ll finish with six games in four cities during the first 10 days of May.

Also receiving points: Winnipeg Jets (15), New York Rangers (11), Nashville Predators (3), Vancouver Canucks (1)

Dropped out: Jets, Predators

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