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, Austin Stanovich (Los Angeles Kings), Brandon Seltenrich (Buffalo Sabres), Brooke LoFurno (Chicago Blackhawks), Colton Davies (Winnipeg Jets), and Jonathan Amatulli (New York Islanders)
It’s Vegas, Baby!
The Vegas Golden Knights were a runaway choice for the No. 1 spot in this week’s The Hockey Writers’ Power Rankings.
The hottest team in the NHL extended its winning streak to 10 games on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas’ tear was more than enough to earn 11 of the first-place votes from the THW panel and keep the Golden Knights atop the rankings.
The Avs, who lost the last three games of their road trip after opening with a 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues, got the other first-place votes but were bumped to third place by the Central Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals complete the top five.
The New York Rangers, winners of three in a row and seven of their past 10 games, are the only newcomer to the rankings this week. They replace the Dallas Stars.
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 (35-11-2)
Last week: 1
Upswing: After their victory over the Avalanche, Vegas now has ten straight wins, eight by at least three goals, and a plus-28 (45-17) goal differential during the winning streak. They have an NHL-leading plus-61 goal differential (excluding shootouts) for the season and a goaltending duo that has combined to allow a league-low 103 non-shootout goals. Talk about a team that’s firing on all cylinders — that’s the Golden Knights as they approach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The win against Colorado put Vegas six points up on the Avalanche atop the West Division, though Colorado has a game in hand.
Downturn: What could the Golden Knights do better? Maybe score a few more power-play goals — they are 23rd in the NHL at 18.4 percent. Aside from that, there’s not much they aren’t doing brilliantly right now.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (32-10-7)
Last week: 3
Upswing: The Hurricanes locked up a playoff berth on Monday when they got the door prize in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. They put themselves in command of the Central Division the next night with a 5-1 win in Dallas. They should be able to help their chances of winning the division and earning an easier path to the division final by taking care of business in its next five games — all of which are against teams out of the playoffs. The Hurricanes have reached the playoffs for three straight seasons, something the franchise hadn’t accomplished since they made the postseason in seven consecutive seasons between 1986-92 when they were known as the Hartford Whalers.
Downturn: The team has received solid goaltending from Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, and rookie Alex Nedeljkovic, who excelled while Mrazek was out with a broken thumb. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s task before the postseason is to determine whether he wants to rely on one starter or use a rotation — and who will be the odd man out.
3. Colorado Avalanche (31-12-4)
Last week: 2
Upswing: Nathan MacKinnon won’t win the NHL scoring title — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid has that all but locked up — but he extended his point streak to 15 games with an assist in the loss to Vegas on Wednesday, breaking a tie with Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton for the longest run in the league this season. MacKinnon has 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in his past 23 games.
Downturn: Starting goalie Philipp Grubauer came off the NHL’s COVID-19 list on April 23, but he wasn’t ready to play in the showdown against the Golden Knights. Head coach Jared Bednar said Grubauer and forwards Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi might be ready to return Friday when the Avs host the San Jose Sharks and try to end their three-game losing streak.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (33-14-2)
Last week: 6
Upswing: Alex Barre-Boulet is the latest callup to give the Lightning an offensive spark. Barre-Boulet, signed by Tampa Bay as a free agent in March 2018, excelled in the American Hockey League and was recalled in late February. He scored his first NHL goal Sunday against Columbus and got his second also against the Blue Jackets two nights later.
Downturn: The team is hoping Victor Hedman’s overtime goal against Columbus on Sunday will spark their top defenseman after an 11-game slump that saw Tampa Bay go 5-6-0. Per The Athletic, the Lightning were outscored 17-8 while Hedman was on the ice during those games. With their two top forwards, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, not expected to return until the playoffs (there’s no set date for either), the Lightning need Hedman at the top of his game.
5. Washington Capitals (32-13-4)
Last week: 5
Upswing: The Capitals would probably enjoy a chance to avenge last summer’s playoff loss to the New York Islanders after sweeping a recent three-game series that included back-to-back wins on Long Island. Two of the three victories were 1-0 shutouts, one each by Ilya Samsonov (in a shootout) and Vitek Vanecek.
Downturn: Washington has a chance to take control of the division by winning their next two games, both at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are one point behind the Capitals and have played one more game. But the Caps may be without their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t played since sustaining a lower-body injury late in the first game against the Islanders last Thursday. Ovechkin wasn’t on the ice for the team’s optional practice Wednesday after missing the last two games against the Islanders.
6. Florida Panthers (32-14-5)
Last week: 4
Upswing: The Panthers left nothing to chance when it came to clinching a playoff berth, scoring four third-period goals in a 7-4 road win against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. They tied a team record with 55 shots on goal, scored three times on the power play, and had four players with a multipoint game, led by a five-point night (two goals, three assists) from Jonathan Huberdeau.
Downturn: Rookie Spencer Knight earned the win in the clincher after replacing Sergei Bobrovsky, who allowed four goals on 21 shots through 40 minutes. Bobrovsky’s win-loss record (17-8-2) belies his mediocre 2.94 goals-against average and .905 save percentage — although those are still improvements from his first season in Florida (23-19-6, 3.23 GAA, .900 save percentage) — which raises the question of whether he will be the starter when the playoffs open next month.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (31-13-5)
Last week: 11
Upswing: The Maple Leafs clinched a playoff berth and all but assured themselves of being the first team to clinch a division title after their 4-1 road win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. The victory gave Toronto the NHL’s best road record (17-6-2) and kept them seven points ahead of the second-place Edmonton Oilers, who have two games in hand. The big difference between the teams? Toronto is 6-1-2 in nine games against the Oilers.
Downturn: Alex Galchenyuk has seen time on each of the top two forward lines since being acquired from the Hurricanes in mid-February and added an offensive boost – but he’s also been a defensive liability. He was on the ice for Montreal’s only goal on Wednesday and finished minus-1, meaning he’s been a minus player in each of Toronto’s past six games and is minus-9 in that span. Head coach Sheldon Keefe will have to decide whether any offense that Galchenyuk brings is worth his defensive shortcomings.
8. Minnesota Wild (31-14-3)
Last week: 8
Upswing: The Wild became the third team to clinch a playoff berth when they completed a two-game sweep over the Sharks with a 6-3 road win. Their seventh straight win put Minnesota into the postseason for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Downturn: General manager Bill Guerin warned his team about complacency after the playoff clincher. Sure enough, the Wild turned a 3-1 lead after two periods against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday into a 4-3 loss by allowing three goals in the third period. The loss severely damaged Minnesota’s hopes of moving up from third place in the West Division.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (32-15-3)
Last week: 10
Upswing: The Penguins have a chance to take command of first place in the East when they visit the Capitals on Thursday and Saturday – and injured center Evgeni Malkin could return for one or both games after missing the last 21 with a knee injury. Pittsburgh won four of their first six games against Washington, but the Capitals earned a point in three of the four losses. The teams haven’t seen each other since Washington won 5-2 at Capital One Arena on Feb. 25.
Downturn: Head coach Mike Sullivan would probably feel better if the games against the Capitals were at PPG Paints Arena. Despite their 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, the Penguins are 20-4-2 at home but just 12-11-1 on the road.
10. Boston Bruins (28-14-6)
Last week: 9
Upswing: Taylor Hall hasn’t lit up the scoreboard since the Bruins acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres before the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12, but he’s given them a viable second line. He scored his fourth goal for Boston in their 3-1 road win against the Penguins on Tuesday, giving him seven points in nine games. Perhaps more impressive is that he’s plus-8 in those nine games after being a minus-21 after 37 games in Buffalo.
Downturn: Hall’s arrival has taken the sting out of Jake DeBrusk’s struggles. The 24-year-old forward was a healthy scratch on Tuesday after going nine games without a goal. “We just need a higher compete level,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the decision to scratch DeBrusk, who scored 27 and 19 goals in the two previous seasons.
11. Edmonton Oilers (29-16-2)
Last week: 12
Upswing: The Oilers took a giant step toward locking up second place (and first-round home-ice advantage) in the North Division when they defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Wednesday. It was the kind of gritty road victory they’ll need in the playoffs — featuring power-play goals from Tyson Barrie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, three assists by McDavid, and a 29-save performance by No. 2 goalie Mikko Koskinen. The Oilers finished the season 7-2-0 against Winnipeg and lead the Jets by three points in the race for second place with two games in hand.
Downturn: Forward Zach Kassian won’t be back for the remainder of the regular season. He was placed on long-term injured reserve on Monday, five days after sustaining a lower-body injury against the Canadiens.
12. New York Islanders (29-15-5)
Last week: 7
Upswing: After losing all three games to Washington, the Islanders play a home-and-home set with their archrival New York Rangers, then have two games each with the East Division’s weakest teams, the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. They are a combined 11-1-0 against the two.
Downturn: The offense picked a bad time to hit the skids. The Islanders were shut out twice in their three-game set with the Capitals for a 0-2-1 record that has dropped them from first place to third and left them worrying more about making the postseason than winning the division. The most notable slump-ridden forward is center Mathew Barzal, who hasn’t scored since his spectacular three-goal, five-point night against the Capitals on April 1.
13. New York Rangers (26-18-6)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: Mika Zibanejad’s slow start is a distant memory. He had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) after 27 games; he’s had 35 (17 goals, 18 assists) in his past 23, including a hat trick (his third of the season) against Buffalo on Sunday and a game-clinching power-play goal in a 3-1 win against the Sabres on Tuesday.
Downturn: As the fifth team in a race for four playoff spots in the East, the Rangers have the least wiggle room and the toughest schedule. They play three two-game series, all against teams above them in the standings: the Islanders (Thursday-Saturday), Capitals (Monday-Wednesday), and Bruins (May 6-8). They probably need to win five of the six to have a chance to pass the Bruins or Islanders.
Also receiving points: Winnipeg Jets (4), St. Louis Blues (4), Dallas Stars (3), Nashville Predators (2)
Dropped out: Stars
Longtime NHL writer and editor. Covered first NHL game in 1975 (and hundreds since). Have done several books, hundreds of magazine/newspaper/online stories. Big fan of hockey history.