Rich 10 NHL Rankings (Dec. 23-29)

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With the end of the year quickly approaching, the NHL season is almost halfway over. At this point, the Stanley Cup Playoff field picture can faintly start to take form. Without further ado, here is another installment of the Rich 10 NHL rankings. 

Honorable Mention: Toronto Maple Leafs (19-14-4)

  • Record over past week: 3-0-0
  • No Mike Babcock? No problem for this team. Since Sheldon Keefe was given the head coaching gig, the offense has transitioned into a more three-dimensional team playing to the talent it possesses. From using all zones and areas of the ice, stars and role-players on the team have been able to take the necessary step forward to put Toronto second in the Atlantic Division, behind only Boston. Super-star Auston Matthews has been the prime example of the offense turning a new leaf (no pun intended), posting seven points over the past week (4 G, 3 A). 

10. Colorado Avalanche (22-11-3)

  • Previous ranking: 5
  • Record over past week: 1-3-0
  • Three things are certain in life. Death, paying taxes and the Avalanche scoring goals. With Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog back in the lineup, the offensive depth is showing its sheer potential in projecting the puck into the net. Goaltending, on the other hand, has not been able to find similar success. In all three losses this past week, the Avalanche had the lead but were not able to hold it. In Colorado’s last two losses, all seven goals given up were in the third period, including a tear-jerking 5-3 loss against Chicago, where the Blackhawks scored four goals in a span of less than nine minutes. While goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been dealing with injuries this season, the goaltender had a week to forget, as he went 0-3 and allowed 10 goals. The question moving forward: will Pavel Francouz become the primary starter? 

9. Arizona Coyotes (21-13-4)

  • Previous ranking: 10
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • Arizona made the first significant trade of the season, as they brought in forward Taylor Hall from New Jersey with two months to spare until the trade deadline. Hall has quickly made his presence and mad wrist-shot known in the desert, as he already has three points with the Coyotes (1 G, 2 A). One of those assists proved to be the difference-maker, as a quick-thinking helper from behind the net to Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the third period helped seal a win against the San Jose Sharks. While depth on offense is deeper, depth at goaltending will be tested, as Vezina Trophy contender Darcy Kuemper is slated as week-to-week following an injury against the Minnesota Wild. Antti Raanta, the ice is yours. 

8. Winnipeg Jets (21-13-2) 

  • Previous ranking: 7
  • Record over past week: 1-2-0
  • A drop in the ranking should not signal the end of the world, as this team is still stacked on all sides of the ice and closed out last week with a 6-0 drubbing of the Wild in Saint Paul. Is there a more underrated line out there than Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Patrik Laine? All three are on pace to shatter their current point records and are all 26 and younger. Forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who had three points last week, should not be forgotten about either, as he is also only 23. Mix in others like forward Blake Wheeler and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (who has three shutouts on the year), and you have a dark-horse Stanley Cup Final contender that isn’t even that bold of a choice. The Jets zoom their way to a date against the Montreal Canadians this week before doing a critical home-and-home set with the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues. 

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-11-4)

  • Previous ranking: 8
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • While the injury bug has been contagious in the penguin flock this season, it has not stopped the Steel City from maintaining a gritty style of play. From multi-point performances this past week by Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh was able to outscore its opponents 10-7. Coupled with excellent goaltending from Tristan Jarry (his 1.89 GAA and .939 Sv% both rank first in the NHL), the Penguins find themselves tied with the fourth-best goal differential (+24 and tied with Carolina) in the NHL. More importantly, they find themselves in a wild-card spot. Not too shabby for a team without one of the best players in the game in Sidney Crosby. 

6. Philadelphia Flyers (20-11-5) 

  • Previous ranking: NR
  • Record over past week: 3-0-0
  • The Flyers vault themselves into the top-10 after going undefeated last week. After getting outscored 14-5 the week before the last, they return the favor and outscore the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators by a combined score of 15-6. While they do not possess a Connor McDavid, they possess a balanced all-around attack that emphasizes on sharing the puck. Despite not having a player in the top-25 in goals or assists, Philadelphia is averaging 3.11 goals per game, 13th in the NHL. The pure team-oriented playstyle of Philadelphia has shown on the ice in all ways, from their offensive philosophy to wearing #OskarStrong shirts in support of teammate Oskar Lindblom, who has Ewing’s sarcoma and will miss the remainder of the season.

5. New York Islanders (23-8-3) 

  • Previous ranking: 3 
  • Record over past week: 1-1-1
  • After allowing seven unanswered goals against the Nashville Predators in an 8-3 loss last Tuesday, the Islanders salvage three points through a shootout victory against the Boston Bruins and shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Their loss to Anaheim was their first shootout defeat of the year. Even with a down-week in Islander terms, the team still sits in a comfortable position, as their 49 points rank third in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders get a game at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight before going on the road for four of their next five. 

4. Carolina Hurricanes (22-12-2) 

  • Previous ranking: 6
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • Carolina finds itself fourth after making mincemeat of Hellebuyck and the Jets last Tuesday and coming back late in the third period against the Avalanche last Thursday. Both games took place on the road, giving the Hurricanes a solid 12-6-2 record away from PNC Arena this season. While the Hurricanes rank 10th in the NHL in goals per game this season (3.22), that does not give this offense enough justice, as Carolina has four players with 30 points or more (Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen with 36, Dougie Hamilton with 35 and Sebastian Aho with 34). The team in the Western Conference that needs to be watched is Winnipeg. In the East, it is Carolina. This team is scary. 

3. Boston Bruins (21-7-9) 

  • Previous ranking: 2
  • Record over past week: 0-0-3 
  • This team does a lot of things the right way. They score quickly, capitalize when on the man-advantage and have sharp goaltending. The one blemish, though, is a significant one. Boston’s nine losses when the game goes beyond regulation rank first in the entire NHL. The team is 0-5 in the shootout this season. This wart exposed itself this past week, as while the Bruins picked up three points, all three losses were in overtime or the shootout (Two traditional overtime losses, one shootout loss). With plenty of time to correct the issue, Boston still remains high in this ranking, due in large part to David Pastrnak’s 51 points on the season, a feat that garnered him the Atlantic Division captain position in this year’s NHL All-Star Game. 

2.  St. Louis Blues (23-8-6) 

  • Previous ranking: 3
  • Record over past week: 3-0-0
  • St. Louis continues to be the cream of the crop in the Western Conference, as its 52 points are five points higher than the next closest competitor (Avalanche with 47). While goaltender Jordan Binnington has built off of his rookie season with another solid effort so far (2.44 GAA, .920 Sv%), 29-year-old Jake Allen has been an unsung hero for this team guarding the net. His 2.19 GAA and .931 Sv% through 11 games started has made the veteran an excellent back-up that St. Louis can count on for another 20 starts at the minimum. He picked up two wins this past week (vs. Edmonton Oilers, @ San Jose Sharks) and should see more playing time behind Binnington this week, as the Blues go up against the LA Kings on the road before doing a home-and-home with the Jets. 

1. Washington Capitals (26-6-5) 

  • Previous ranking: 1
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • Surprise, surprise, surprise. The Capitals find themselves at the top of the rankings once again, and for good reason. Their goal differential of +30, in addition to their 16 wins on the road, both rank first in the NHL. While John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin continue to be the leading forces on offense, do not overlook forward Jakub Vrana. The 23-year-old is on pace for a career year in points, as he is already at 30 through 37 games after posting 47 last year after playing in all 82 games. Up and down the ice there are playmakers on this team, and Vrana is just one of many. Barring anything drastic, this team should remain at the top of the ranking for the foreseeable future. 
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