The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped from fourth place to first in this week’s Baker’s Dozen, the weekly NHL power rankings as voted by members of The Hockey Writers.
The Maple Leafs, who lead the NHL with 32 points and a .762 points percentage, won three of four games last week to move past the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning into the top spot in the rankings. That includes a 2-1 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday that saw Toronto tie the game in the final 90 seconds of regulation before winning at 1:06 of overtime. William Nylander scored both goals.
The Lightning remained in second place, with the Bruins dropping to third and the Florida Panthers moving up from fifth place to fourth.
The most spectacular move was made by the Edmonton Oilers, who rocketed from outside the top-13 last week to fifth place. The Pittsburgh Penguins (10th) and Los Angeles Kings (13th) also moved into the rankings, with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues dropping out.
Five teams received at least one first-place vote, with the Maple Leafs getting six, the Oilers three, the Bruins two and the Lightning and Panthers one each.
To create the Baker’s Dozen, 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.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-4-2)
Last week: 4
Upswing: Auston Matthews had back-to-back games with two goals and two assists in wins against the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. His 18 goals in Toronto’s first 21 games are five more than anyone else in the NHL and have him on a pace that would make him a 48-goal scorer even in a reduced 56-game season. He also set up both goals Wednesday in the 2-1 overtime win against the visiting Flames to move into third place in the NHL scoring race with 31 points.
Downturn: Goalie Frederik Andersen might be the most indispensable player on the Leafs, and he’s missed the past two games with a lower-body injury. With backup Jack Campbell also out with an injury, No. 3 goalie Michael Hutchinson has a loss and an overtime win in Andersen’s absence, but he isn’t a long-term answer.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (12-4-1)
Last week: 2
Upswing: Rookie Ross Colton made an instant impression in his first NHL game on Wednesday. The 24-year-old center, selected in the fourth round (No. 118) of the 2016 NHL Draft, scored 6:43 into his NHL debut, starting the Lightning on their way to a 3-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Downturn: The Lightning could use some more offense from center Brayden Point. He’s managed just one assist in his past five games after piling up 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in his first 11.
3. Boston Bruins (11-3-2)
Last week: 1
Upswing: David Pastrnak continues to make up for lost time. After missing Boston’s first seven games while recovering from offseason surgery, “Pasta” has nine goals in nine games — including a hat trick in the Bruins’ 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at their NHL Outdoors game in Lake Tahoe.
Downturn: The win at Lake Tahoe didn’t come without cost. Defenseman Jeff Lauzon will be out at least four weeks after breaking his left hand in the win against the Flyers. He had played in all 16 games for Boston, averaging 18:32 of ice time.
4. Florida Panthers (12-4-2)
Last week: 5
Upswing: Chris Driedger took the loss Wednesday when the Dallas Stars defeated the Panthers 3-0 at BB&T Center despite allowing 2 goals on 25 shots (.920 save percentage). He’s 7-2-1 and has had a save percentage below .914 in just 1 of his 10 starts this season.
Downturn: Of Florida’s four regulation losses, two have come against the Detroit Red Wings, who are last in the Central Division. Florida bombarded the Red Wings 7-2 in Detroit on Friday but managed just one goal in a 2-1 loss on Saturday.
5. Edmonton Oilers (13-8-0)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: The Oilers are 7-1-0 in their past eight games, a surge that coincides with the return of goalie Mike Smith from injury. Smith is 5-0-0 in six starts with a 2.05 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and one shutout, and he’s been a key to Edmonton’s climb into second place in the North Division.
Downturn: Forward James Neal is giving the Oilers very little production, and he’s the kind of player who’s not helping the team when he’s not scoring. The 10-time 20-goal scorer has two goals and five points in 11 games; he cleared waivers earlier this month and has bounced between the Oilers and their taxi squad.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (12-5-1)
Last week: 6
Upswing: Rookie Alex Nedeljkovic has done a solid job backing up James Reimer in goal while Petr Mrazek recovers from a broken thumb. Nedeljkovic got his first NHL shutout in a 4-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and has a 2.38 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in five starts.
Downturn: The Hurricanes would be sitting in first place in the Central Division today if they’d followed up the 4-0 win over Tampa Bay with better efforts in Games 2 and 3 of four straight against the Lightning. But they didn’t, losing 4-2 in Tampa on Monday and 3-0 at home on Wednesday.
7. Vegas Golden Knights (11-4-1)
Last week: 3
Upswing: The Golden Knights got a split in their four-game showdown against the Colorado Avalanche with a 3-0 shutout in Denver on Monday. It came after Vegas was dominated by the Avalanche in their 3-2 loss to Colorado on Saturday in Lake Tahoe, a game that saw Marc-Andre Fleury give them a chance to win by making 36 saves.
Downturn: Center Reilly Smith, who’s put up 60, 53 and 54 points in his first three seasons with the Golden Knights, has managed just three goals and six points in 16 games. He’s gone seven games without scoring a goal after scoring an NHL career-high 27 in 71 games last season.
8. Winnipeg Jets (11-6-1)
Last week: 13
Upswing: The trade that brought Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Columbus Blue Jackets paid its first dividend for the Jets on Sunday, when Dubois scored his second goal of the game 27 seconds into overtime to give Winnipeg a 4-3 road win against the Vancouver Canucks. Dubois, normally a center, has fit in well on the left side of a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and coach Paul Maurice says he’ll leave the combination alone for now.
Downturn: The goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit has helped negate the fact that only seven teams allow more shots on goal than the Jets (32.2 per game). Winnipeg is also in the bottom 10 in face-off winning percentage (48.7).
9. Colorado Avalanche (9-6-1)
Last week: 8
Upswing: The Avalanche have done a good job in shutting down opponents, allowing just 26.6 shots on goal per game. That’s second-best in the NHL behind the Boston Bruins (25.1). They outshoot opponents by an average of 5.2 per game, also second to the Bruins (5.5).
Downturn: Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog’s scoring touch has gone missing. Landeskog, a seven-time 20-goal scorer, has just three goals and six points in 14 games. He has no goals and three assists in his past nine games and was scoreless with a minus-2 rating in a 6-2 home loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (10-6-1)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: The Penguins have won three in a row to move into fourth place in the East, including a 3-2 win against the New York Islanders on Saturday in Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th NHL game. Crosby set up two goals by defenseman Kris Letang, including the game-winner in the third period.
Downturn: Forward Jason Zucker is likely to miss at least one game after leaving in the third period of a 3-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday with what appeared to be a knee or ankle. He had to be helped off the ice after he twisted and fell awkwardly. Zucker was sent home for further evaluation.
11. Chicago Blackhawks (10-6-4)
Last week: 12
Upswing: Patrick Kane is now 32 but shows no signs of slowing down. His four points (one goal, three assists) helped Chicago defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-5 in a shootout on Tuesday. The goal was the 398th of his NHL career and came in his 993rd game. He has 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 20 games, tying him with Toronto’s Mitch Marner for third in the NHL.
Downturn: The Blackhawks led 5-3 halfway through the third period against Columbus but allowed two goals and had to go to a shootout to get the win. Third-period struggles are a big reason that just five of Chicago’s 10 wins have come in regulation – the first tiebreaker for determining a playoff berth.
12. Philadelphia Flyers (9-4-3)
Last week: 9
Upswing: Eric Gustafsson and Shayne Gostisbehere, two defensemen the Flyers were counting on for offense each scored for the first time this season in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday. Each also had an assist on the other’s goal.
Downturn: The Flyers continue to struggle against the East Division-leading Bruins. They are 0-3-2 against Boston after being blown out in the 7-3 loss at Lake Tahoe.
13. Los Angeles Kings (9-6-3)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: The Kings made it six wins in a row with a 2-1 victory at St. Louis on Wednesday. They’ve received an offensive lift from forward Dustin Brown, who leads Los Angeles in goals (10) and plus-minus rating (plus-9)
Downturn: Another forward, Adrian Kempe, opened the season with three goals in his first five games, but has scored just once since then.
Also receiving points: Minnesota Wild (22), New York Islanders (10), Washington Capitals (10), Arizona Coyotes (8), St. Louis Blues (8), Ottawa Senators (4), Montreal Canadiens (3)
Dropped out: Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues
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.