THW Power Rankings: Lightning Remain 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, Aaron Heckman (Minnesota Wild), Colton Pankiw (Calgary Flames), Jim Parsons (Edmonton Oilers), Nick Richardson (Buffalo Sabres), Sartaaj Bhullar (Vancouver Canucks)

The Tampa Bay Lightning remained on top in The Hockey Writers’ weekly NHL power ratings, but they weren’t a runaway winner this time.

Tampa Bay, which got 12 of the 13 first-place votes last week, received seven such votes this week and were one of six teams to get at least one vote for the top spot. The New York Islanders received two; the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals each got one.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning are in a three-way fight for the Central Division lead. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers and Hurricanes took the next two spots behind Tampa Bay, giving the Central Division the top three in the rankings. The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, who are battling for first place in the East Division, were fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by the West Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights in sixth place.

The Colorado Avalanche, winners of four in a row, are the only newcomers this week. They replaced the St. Louis Blues, who’ve gone winless in five games and lost 4-1 to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.

To create the Baker’s Dozen 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. Tampa Bay Lightning (20-6-2)

Points: 148
Last week: 1

Upswing: Forward Nikita Kucherov was on the ice with the Lightning at the morning skate before their game against the Nashville Predators on March 13. Kucherov is skating on his own and is nowhere near ready to return from hip surgery that will keep him out for the regular season. However, GM Julian BriseBois said he’s on track to return for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Downturn: Andrei Vasilevskiy leads all goalies in goals saved above average (GSAA) with 14.56 (as per Natural Stat Trick), but backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is at the other end of the spectrum. He’s allowed 14 goals on 102 shots against (.863 save percentage) and is in the bottom 10 in GSAA at minus-5.64.

2. Florida Panthers (19-5-4)

Points: 140
Last week: 7

Upswing: No defenseman in Panthers history has reached double figures in goals faster than Aaron Ekblad, who scored his 10th of the season in Florida’s 28th game, a 6-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday. He’s already doubled his goal total from last season and with 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) could exceed his career-high of 41 points, set last season.

Downturn: If the Panthers don’t finish ahead of the Lightning and Hurricanes in the race for first place in Central Division, the shootout issues that have plagued them since the tiebreaker was adopted for the 2005-06 issue might be the cause. Florida is 1-2 in shootouts this season and 71-97 all-time. The 97 shootout losses are the most in NHL history, and their .423 winning percentage is 30th, ahead of only the Philadelphia Flyers.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (20-7-1)

Points: 137
Last week: 2

Upswing: The Hurricanes have made opponents pay for taking penalties. Their power play is the best in the NHL, converting on 31.9 percent of its opportunities. The Hurricanes are 13-for-29 (44.8 percent) in their past nine games, a big reason they won eight in a row before a 4-2 road loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.

Vincent Trocheck Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes don’t know when Vincent Trocheck will return. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Downturn: There’s no timetable for the return of center Vincent Trocheck, Carolina’s goal-scoring leader with 13. Trocheck has missed Carolina’s past three games with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said last week that Trocheck will be out of the lineup “longer than expected,” but has yet to put a date on a potential return. If Trocheck will be out long-term, bringing back center Eric Staal, a longtime Carolina favorite and former captain, becomes more of a possibility.

4. New York Islanders (19-7-4)

Points: 132
Last week: 5

Upswing: Rookie forward Oliver Wahlstrom, taken with the No. 11 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has been showing why the Islanders wanted him. The 20-year-old has settled in on a line with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a rotating group of left wings and has shown off a rocket of a shot. Wahlstrom has scored five of his six goals in New York’s past 11 games and fired home the deciding goal in a 3-2 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Sunday, giving the Islanders their ninth consecutive win.

Downturn: The Islanders swept three games with the Devils last week, but the first win came at a huge cost when captain Anders Lee, the team leader at the time with 12 goals, tore the ACL in his right knee. He’ll have surgery and will miss the rest of the season. GM Lou Lamoriello said he expects Lee to be back for the start of next season — but for now, his absence blows a big hole in the lineup of one of a team built to win now.

5. Washington Capitals (19-6-4)

Points: 124
Last week: 6

Upswing: Alex Ovechkin is up to sixth on the all-time NHL goal-scoring list. He passed Phil Esposito with career goal No. 718 on Tuesday in a 3-1 win against the New York Islanders that moved Washington into first place in the East. Ovi has scored a goal in each of Washington’s past four games, helping fuel the Capitals’ six-game winning streak.

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin New York Islanders Nick Leddy
Alex Ovechkin scored against the Islanders to move into sixth place on the NHL’s all-time goals list. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Downturn: Ilya Samsonov, regarded as Washington’s goalie of the future, made 21 saves in the win against the Islanders and is 5-0-0 since returning from a six-week absence caused by a bout with COVID-19. But Samsonov, in his second NHL season, has yet to play three games in a row, raising questions about whether he’s their goalie of the present. Rookie Vitaly Vanecek is Samsonov’s backup, leaving Washington without a veteran goalie to share the load unless GM Brian MacLellan opts to acquire one before the NHL trade deadline on April 12.

6. Vegas Golden Knights (20-6-1)

Points: 118
Last week: 3

Upswing: The Golden Knights took over the league lead in points percentage (.759) by rallying to defeat the San Jose Sharks 5-4 on Wednesday. It was the fourth time this season that Vegas won when trailing after two periods, tying the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets for the league lead.

Downturn: Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was injured blocking a shot against San Jose on March 6 and has not played since. There’s no timetable for his return.

7. Minnesota Wild (18-8-1)

Points: 96
Last week: 9

Upswing: The Wild have been the best team in the NHL during the past month, going 12-2-1 and winning eight in a row at Xcel Energy Center for the first time in five years. Minnesota completed a 5-0-0 homestand with a 3-0 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. They’ve scored an NHL-best 56 goals since Feb. 18 and got shutouts from goalies Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen during the three-game series against the Coyotes. Kahkonen is 9-0-0 in his past nine appearances.

Kaapo Kahkonen Minnesota Wild
Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen has won his past nine appearances. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The power play continues to struggle. Minnesota is 7-for-86 (8.1 percent) with the extra man, the worst in the NHL. The Wild were 0-for-3 with no shots on goal in the win against the Coyotes on Tuesday.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-10-1)

Points: 70
Last week: 11

Upswing: The Penguins have re-established themselves as Stanley Cup contenders by going 13-6-0 in a 19-game stretch. That includes going 9-6-0 against their biggest division rivals, the Boston Bruins (1-1-0), Philadelphia Flyers (2-1-0), Washington Capitals (2-2-0) and New York Islanders (4-2-0).

Downturn: Evgeni Malkin left Pittsburgh’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday with what coach Mike Sullivan called a lower-body injury after a first-period hit by Boston’s Jarred Tinordi. Teddy Blueger is also out long-term with a lower-body injury, leaving the Penguins thin down the middle — especially if Malkin has to miss time. He had found his scoring touch with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in Pittsburgh’s previous 12 games.

9. Colorado Avalanche (17-8-2)

Points: 69
Last week: Not ranked

Upswing: Colorado is outshooting opponents by more than nine shots per game. The Avs lead the NHL with an average of 34.2 shots per game and are the best in the league at suppressing opponents’ shots, allowing 24.9 per game. They’ve outshot their opponents in each of the past 14 games — including 127-46 in a three-game stretch last week.

Philipp Grubauer Colorado Avalanche
Philipp Grubauer has 16 of the Colorado Avalanche’s 17 wins. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Avalanche are at risk of wearing out starting goalie Philipp Grubauer unless they can find a backup goalie to carry some of the load during the final seven-and-a-half weeks of the season. Hunter Miska is 1-1-2 and had to be pulled after allowing four goals on seven shots in the first period against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday; Grubauer relieved him and stopped all 15 shots he faced in an 8-4 victory. He’s 16-7-0 but has played in 23 of Colorado’s 27 games — a pace that’s unsustainable for a team that has no more than one day between games for the remainder of the season.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs (19-9-2)

Points: 53
Last week: 4

Upswing: Wrist issues haven’t slowed center Auston Matthews. His overtime goal against Winnipeg on Thursday was his 21st, most in the NHL, and his league-high seventh game-winner.

Downturn: Captain John Tavares has scored four goals at even strength through Toronto’s first 30 games. That’s quite a drop for a player who led the NHL with 37 even-strength goals in 2018-19. Tavares is averaging 18:10 of ice time a game, his lowest since 2009-10, his rookie season, when he averaged 18:00 with the Islanders.

11. Winnipeg Jets (18-9-2)

Points: 48
Last week: 8

Upswing: Kyle Connor has quietly become one of the NHL’s most dangerous marksmen. He scored two goals for the second straight game in Winnipeg’s 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, giving him 16 in Winnipeg’s 29 games. Connor, who’s scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons, is on pace to score 31 times in the COVID-shortened 56-game season.

Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor leads the Winnipeg Jets with 16 goals. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Jets continue to have trouble putting away opponents. The overtime win against Montreal came after the Canadiens tied the game with 1:25 remaining in the third period and goalie Carey Price on the bench for an extra attacker. It was the third time in the past 12 games that the Jets won in overtime after giving away a point when an opponent scored an extra-attacker goal.

12. Boston Bruins (15-8-4)

Points: 19
Last week: 10

Upswing: Dan Vladar, a 23-year-old rookie goalie, described himself as “the happiest guy in the world” after winning his first NHL start by making 34 saves in a 2-1 road win against the Penguins on Tuesday. Vladar got the call because Tuukka Rask is injured and Jaroslav Halak had played in the front end of the back-to-back, a 4-1 loss on Monday. The native of Prague, Czech Republic, was Boston’s third-round pick (No. 75) in the 2015 NHL Draft but had been in the minors since turning pro in 2016.

Dan Vladar Providence Bruins
Dan Vladar won his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Downturn: The Bruins needed every one of Vladar’s 34 saves to win because the offense continues to struggle. Boston has scored eight goals while going 2-3-1 in its past six games, and four of those eight came in the first 25 minutes of a 4-0 win against the New York Rangers last Thursday.

13. Edmonton Oilers (19-13-0)

Points: 13
Last week: 12

Upswing: The Oilers have put the Toronto Massacre in the rear-view mirror, going 5-2-0 since being swept in a three-game set. Two of the wins have come against their biggest rivals, the Calgary Flames — including a 7-1 blowout at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday.

Downturn: Edmonton is a pedestrian 10-8-0 at Rogers Place, and an inability to kill penalties is a big reason for the struggles at home. The Oilers have allowed 16 goals in 60 power-play opportunities at home; their 73.3 percentage is 26th in the NHL.

Also receiving points: Calgary Flames (5), Vancouver Canucks (5), Philadelphia Flyers (2), Montreal Canadiens (2)

Dropped out: St. Louis Blues