THW Power Rankings: Avalanche Hit No. 1

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, Alec Rudolph (Boston Bruins), Julian Mongillo (Edmonton Oilers), Matt Rothman (New York Islanders), Melissa Boyd (Montreal Canadiens), and Sam Nestler (Dallas Stars)

There’s a Rocky Mountain high at the top of The Hockey Writers’ weekly NHL power rankings.

The Colorado Avalanche, the hottest team in the league during the past month despite an 8-3 road loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, jumped from third place to first this week. The Avs were 13-0-2 before the loss in Minnesota; their 15-game point streak was the longest in the NHL this season.

Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon Gabriel Landeskog Mikko Rantanen J.T. Compher Tyson Barrie
The Colorado Avalanche own the NHL’s longest points streak this season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Avalanche got 9of the 13 first-place votes. The Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs each received one.

Colorado supplanted its biggest division rival, the Vegas Golden Knights, who were first last week. Vegas dropped to seventh after going 1-2-1 last week, including a regulation loss and a shootout loss in a two-game home series against the Wild.

The Hurricanes, who lead the NHL with a .724 points percentage, moved from fifth place to second. Carolina won three of four games during the past week, most notably a 5-2 victory against the Panthers on Tuesday in a meeting between two of the three teams battling for first place in the Central Division.

Tough Week for Lightning

The third member of the Central’s top troika, the Lightning, dropped from second place to fifth after going 2-2-0 last week. Tampa Bay split two games apiece with two of the four teams in the division that are on track to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings.

As was the case in each of the past two weeks, there are no newcomers to the top-13 teams in the rankings.

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. Colorado Avalanche (26-9-4)

Points: 161
Last week: 3

Upswing: It’s no accident that the Avs took off after center Nathan MacKinnon returned on March 10 after missing three games with an upper-body injury. He put up 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) during the 15-game points streak, fueling a run that has moved Colorado past Vegas to first place in the West Division. MacKinnon, who had a goal and an assist on Wednesday, is up to sixth in the NHL scoring race with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 35 games.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon’s scoring sparked Colorado’s 15-game points streak (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Newcomer Jonas Johansson got his first win since being acquired by the Avs in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres when he made 25 saves in a 3-2 win against the St. Louis Blues on April 2. But he has yet to get another start, indicating that coach Jared Bednar isn’t sold on him as a reliable backup for Philipp Grubauer, who has played 33 of Colorado’s 39 games. Grubauer, who has never played more than 37 games in an NHL season, was torched by the Wild on Wednesday, allowing 7 goals on 18 shots before being lifted in the third period.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (26-9-3)

Points: 152
Last week: 5

Upswing: Unlike the Avalanche, Carolina is swimming in goaltending. Petr Mrazek returned Sunday after missing two months with a broken thumb and won twice in three days — 1-0 against the Dallas Stars and 5-2 against the Panthers. Veteran James Reimer and rookie Alex Nedeljkovic more than held down the fort during Mrazek’s absence. With three solid goalies, the Hurricanes could be in a position to deal one before the NHL trade deadline on Monday to shore up any weak spots.

Downturn: It’s hard to find anything wrong with a team like Carolina, but one issue could be tiebreakers. The ’Canes have 18 regulation wins (the first tiebreaker), trailing both Tampa Bay (22) and Florida (19).

3. Toronto Maple Leafs (27-10-3)

Points: 136
Last week: 7

Upswing: It’s been 75 years since a Toronto player led the NHL in goals (Gaye Stewart scored 37 in 1945-46, when the NHL played a 50-game schedule). That drought could end this season – center Auston Matthews leads the league with 28 goals, including six in his past six games. He’s also making his goals count – Matthews leads the NHL with nine game-winners.

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Downturn: It’s hard to believe a team with players like Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares could struggle on the power play, but the Leafs are in a big-league funk with the extra man. They ended an 0-for-28 drought with a third-period power-play goal against the Calgary Flames on Monday – one that came less than a minute after allowing a shorthanded goal. Toronto is 1-for-33 in its past 13 games after going 0-for-2 in a 3-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

4. Florida Panthers (26-10-4)

Points: 119
Last week: 6

Upswing: Center Aleksander Barkov has been red-hot since returning from an injury. Barkov has three goals and five points in three games, and he scored both of Florida’s goals on Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to Carolina.

Downturn: The Panthers just can’t get past the Hurricanes at big moments. They’ve won one of five games against Carolina this season (1-2-2) and on Tuesday saw a 2-1 lead after two periods in Raleigh turn into a three-goal loss (the last two were empty-netters). “We’ve been close,” said Barkov, Florida’s captain, “but not been able to find a way except one time.”

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (26-11-2)

Points: 112
Last week: 2

Upswing: Tampa Bay has gotten a boost from rookie forward Ross Colton, who scored his fifth goal in 13 NHL games on Tuesday in a 4-2 road loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also has three assists for eight points and is plus-8.

Ross Colton Tampa Bay Lightning
Ross Colton, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Scott Audette /NHLI via Getty Images)

Downturn: Colton’s scoring can’t offset the slump by a number of Lightning forwards. Blake Coleman has one goal in his past 12 games, with linemate Barclay Goodrow hasn’t scored since Feb. 25. Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn each have gone two weeks without a goal, Tyler Johnson is goal-less in eight and Anthony Cirelli hasn’t scored in nine games.

6. New York Islanders (25-10-4)

Points: 106
Last week: 8

Upswing: Mathew Barzal was the NHL’s first star for the week ending on April 4, largely because of his spectacular three-goal, two-assist performance against the Washington Capitals last Thursday. But coach Barry Trotz and his staff also have to be pleased with Barzal’s two-way game, which has been improving by leaps and bounds. Barzal has learned how to use his speed as a defensive weapon.

Downturn: Kiefer Bellows got back into the lineup for the 1-0 win against the Capitals at Nassau Coliseum but played just 10:16 and continues to have trouble earning Trotz’s trust. He still watches too much instead of moving his feet, and too often he tends to play like someone who’s scared of losing his playing time. However, Bellows’ playing time figures to shrink even more after the trade Wednesday that brought top-six forward Kyle Palmieri (and center Travis Zajac) to the Isles from the New Jersey Devils.

7. Vegas Golden Knights (25-11-2)

Points: 93
Last week: 1

Upswing: The Golden Knights save their best for last. Vegas leads the league with 47 third-period goals and have allowed just 28, the fourth-lowest total in the NHL. Their plus-18 goal differential in the third period is second to the Islanders, who are plus-21.

Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights
Marc-Andre Fleury is 1-5-0 in his past six games for the Vegas Golden Knights. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was 16-5-0 after the Golden Knights defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-4 on St. Patrick’s Day, but he’s hit a tough patch since then, going 1-5-0 in his past six decisions – including a 3-1 road loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. A lot of the blame can be laid on the offense: the Golden Knights scored just nine goals in the six games (six in the five losses).

8. Washington Capitals (25-10-4)

Points: 83
Last week: 4

Upswing: The Capitals share the top spot in the East Division with the Islanders largely because they’ve thrived in one-goal games. Washington’s 1-0 loss to the Isles at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday was its first one-goal defeat in regulation. The Capitals are still first in the NHL with a .737 winning percentage (14-1-4) in games decided by one goal.

Downturn: Washington went 2-3-0 on a five-game trek through the New York area, but both wins came against New Jersey Devils, who are all but assured of not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The defense came unglued in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers and an 8-4 nightmare against the Islanders. After the two wins against New Jersey, the Capitals played a superb defensive game against the Islanders, but the offense couldn’t score. That game was Washington’s 11th in a row against the three New York-area clubs; the 2-3-0 trip followed a 5-1-0 homestand against the same three teams.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (24-13-2)

Points: 47
Last week: 9

Upswing: Jared McCann has given a spark to the power play. He’s scored four times in the past six games with the Penguins up a man, including once in each of the past two. McCann originally was put on the power play after Evgeni Malkin was injured, but his production should keep him there when Malkin returns.

Jared McCann Pittsburgh Penguins
Jared McCann has given the Penguins’ power play a boost. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Where did the defense go? The Penguins had gone 15 games without allowing more than three goals until they lost a 7-5 track meet in Boston on Saturday and followed that with an 8-4 horror show of a loss to the Rangers in New York. Not even a team with Sidney Crosby is going anywhere fast when it scores nine goals in two games but loses twice because it can’t keep the puck out of the net.

10. Minnesota Wild (24-12-2)

Points: 38
Last week: 10

Upswing: The NHL’s next-to-last power play (12.0 percent) had a coming-out party in the rout of the Avalanche. Minnesota had scored just 14 power-play goals in 37 games before Wednesday, but lit up the Avs by scoring four times in five opportunities.

Downturn: The big win on Wednesday was fun for the players and fans, but the Wild finished the season series 3-5-0 against Colorado (the Avs were 5-2-1). The five-point differential almost all of the difference between the third-place Wild and the first-place Avalanche; Minnesota is six points behind Colorado with a game in hand.

11. Boston Bruins (20-10-6)

Points: 35
Last week: 13

Upswing: The Bruins are without their two regular goalies, Tuukka Rask (injury) and Jaroslav Halak (COVID-19 protocol), but they’ve gotten solid performances from the Nos. 3 and 4 goalies in their system. Dan Vladar is 2-1-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, and Jeremy Swayman was superb in his NHL debut on Tuesday – he made 40 saves, including 23 in the second period, in a 4-2 road win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Dan Vladar Providence Bruins
Dan Vladar, Providence Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Boston’s depth on defense is being sorely tested. Brandon Carlo, who missed 10 games with a concussion, is out again because of injury. Kevan Miller returned Tuesday after missing seven weeks with a knee injury. But more ominous is the play of Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, who’ve been struggling badly, and waiver acquisition Jarred Tinordi. With the organization down to its third and fourth goalies, the Bruins can’t afford any more cave-ins on defense.

12. Winnipeg Jets (23-13-2)

Points: 34
Last week: 12

Upswing: The Jets continue to get solid goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner is third in the NHL with 18 wins (18-10-3) and has a 2.54 goals-against average and .918 save percentage despite facing more shots (957) than any other goalie in the league. For all of Winnipeg’s firepower, Hellebuyck is their most important player.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck’s goaltending has been key to Winnipeg’s success. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: Winnipeg will be without captain Blake Wheeler indefinitely because of what the team says are concussion-like symptoms. He took an elbow to the head in Winnipeg’s 4-3 win against Ottawa on Monday. Wheeler has 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) in 39 games this season. He didn’t travel to Montreal for the opener of a five-game road trip on Thursday and there’s no word if he’ll be able to join the Jets at any point during the trip.

13. Edmonton Oilers (24-12-2)

Points: 33
Last week: 11

Upswing: It has to be comforting for coach Dave Tippett to be able to put Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice together at key moments. They’re one-two in the NHL scoring race after McDavid scored the game-winner and set up all three of Draisaitl’s goals in a 4-2 road win against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. As good as each is separately, they’re often unstoppable when they play together.

Downturn: The Oilers are 10 games over NHL .500 after the win in Ottawa — but that includes an 8-0-0 mark against the Senators, who are last in the North Division. The teams play for the final time this season in the second of the two-game series on Thursday.

Also receiving points: Arizona Coyotes (19), Nashville Predators (11), Montreal Canadiens (1) 

Dropped out: None

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