Rich 10 NHL Rankings (Jan. 7th-12th)

Photo via Nick Wass/AP

2020, meet the NHL. NHL, meet 2020. With the halfway mark of the season being reached at the start of a new decade, separation is starting to be noticed between division leaders and playoff hopefuls. With the trade deadline in late February looming, teams could start to make moves to take them over the million-dollar hump. Until then, here is another week of the Rich 10 NHL Rankings. 

Honorable Mention: Vancouver Canucks (23-15-4)

  • Record over past week: 2-0-0 
  • Winning seven in a row dating back to December 19th puts Vancouver on the cusp of the Top 10. After offseason revamping, along with younger players developing and producing more, the Canucks find themselves as one of the up-and-coming teams in the Pacific Division. With postseason possibilities becoming a legitimate aspiration for this team, one cannot overlook forward Elias Petterson. The 21-year-old posted a three-point performance against the Chicago Blackhawks this past week, which gives the native Swede 13 multi-point games on the year through 42 games played. In 71 games played last season, the then-rookie posted only 15 such games. Pay attention to this player in the stretch-run, as he could prove to be the main catalyst to Vancouver clinching a playoff spot for the first time since the 2014-2015 season. 

10. Arizona Coyotes (23-15-4)

  • Previous ranking: NR
  • Record over past week: 2-0-0
  • With Darcy Kuemper out of action, 23-year-old Adin Hill has stepped in as the backup goaltender behind now-starter Antti Raanta. Through two games played, the 2015 third-round pick has 30 saves on 32 attempts (2.07 GAA). With Arizona thriving off solid goaltending, expect Hill to see more ice-time in order to counteract the Kuemper injury. On the offensive side of the puck, trade acquisition Taylor Hall picked up two points this past week. With six points through nine games played, the soon-to-be free agent (pending a potential extension) will be expected to increase his production as Arizona vies for a playoff spot. 

9. New York Islanders (26-12-3) 

  • Previous ranking: 4
  • Record over past week: 1-2-0
  • After breezing through the competition through the first couple months, the Islanders find themselves as a mediocre team in regard to the win-loss column, as they have only won five of their last 10. While this is not as catastrophic as it sounds, it shows that this team is not invincible. In particular, Semyon Varlamov (who started all three games this past week and collected a shutout against his former Colorado Avalanche last night) over his past nine games has a 2.42 GAA and .915 Sv%. While those are solid numbers, it unfortunately becomes an eye-sore when offensively the Islanders are averaging less than 2.50 goals per game in that span, which ranks in the bottom-10 in the entire NHL. Even still, this team has too much talent on all sides of the ice for this to become too much of a detriment as the last half of the season progresses. It will be something to keep an eye on, though, especially if the problems on offense continue as the trade deadline comes closer. 

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (25-12-5) 

  • Previous ranking: 5
  • Record over past week: 1-1-1
  • The Penguins have bigger issues than losing two out of three this past week, as top scorer in forward Jake Guentzel will be out four to six months following shoulder surgery after sustaining a shoulder injury against the Ottawa Senators last Monday. With a team plagued with injury, it will now be up to Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust (who are second and third on the team in points with 39 and 34, respectively) to pick up the slack. The good news? Superstar Sidney Crosby might be nearing a return, as he has begun to take part in practice again (albeit in a non-contact form). 

7. Tampa Bay Lightning (24-13-4) 

  • Previous ranking: NR
  • Record over past week: 3-0-0
  • The temperature of lightning can surpass 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That might be as hot as Tampa Bay is playing right now, as the Lightning are currently riding a seven-game winning streak. In that span they are averaging 4.14 goals per game. Goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney has also been sharp, with the pair averaging only 2.14 goals against in that span. With playmakers on offense all over the ice, this team is finally playing like the Presidents’ Trophy winner from last season. With a tough slate of games this week against Stanley Cup Playoff hopefuls in the Canucks, Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers, the Lightning look to continue their winning ways. 

6. Vegas Golden Knights (24-15-6) 

  • Previous ranking: 10
  • Record over past week: 2-0-0
  • The Golden Knights find themselves in a similar position as Tampa Bay, as the Sin City prideful have also cranked up the heat as of late, winning four straight games. The epitome of those victories came this past Saturday against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, as Vegas quickly found themselves in a 3-0 hole after the first period. After Vegas clawed back to take the game into OT with the score sitting at 4-4, Chandler Stephenson stole the puck away from Robert Thomas to skate away on a breakaway, shooting a nifty backhander through Jake Allen for the 5-4 victory. With the forward role-player picking up his fifth goal on the season, he is one away from tying his season-high of six achieved with the Washington Capitals during the 2017-2018 season, with one of those six goals coming against Vegas. From table-setters to star players, this team is clicking. That is dangerous for the rest of the Western Conference. Better yet, the entire NHL. 

5. Colorado Avalanche (25-14-4) 

  • Previous ranking: 6
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • I don’t have to hype up of this offense. Led by the homegrown trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche average 3.63 goals per game, first in the entire NHL, even after their shutout loss to the New York Islanders last night. Every game has a different hero, with one of the heroes this past week coming from Rantanen, who picked up his second career hat trick against the New Jersey Devils (his first career hat trick came against Montreal in 2017). While the offense has been electric, the goaltending leaves a lot to be desired at times. Between the shaky duo of Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer, the GAA and SV% average sit at 2.60 and .920. While decent, will it be enough to bring Colorado the Stanley Cup? This, combined with leaky defense in transition, could lead to the Avalanche dipping into their deep prospect pool to alleviate these problems. Keep a watchful eye on this as the trade deadline comes closer. Until then, Colorado continues its East Coast trek as it takes on the New York Rangers and Penguins this week. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (24-15-5) 

  • Previous ranking: NR
  • Record over past week: 2-1-0
  • The Toronto Maple Laughs? Hardly. This team has transformed from a buckling mess into a well-oiled and blossoming machine everyone should take notice of. While talk for Auston Matthews being a potential contender for the Hart Memorial Trophy will pick up, other players on the team should be recognized for the turnaround the team has undertaken under head coach Sheldon Keefe. In particular, 23-year-old and former 2014 first-rounder William Nylander is on pace to shatter his former point record of 61 points attained in both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. With 19 goals and 19 assists on the year, the winger has become an intricate piece to the three-dimensional offense taking everyone by surprise. After losing to the Edmonton Oilers 6-4 last night, the Maple Leafs look to turn a better leaf by going against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. They then go on a quick one-game road trip to take on the Florida Panthers this Sunday. 

3. St. Louis Blues (26-10-7)

  • Previous ranking: 2
  • Record over past week: 0-1-1
  • After getting shellacked by the Avalanche 7-3 and blowing a three-goal lead to the Golden Knights and losing in OT 5-4, the Blues have a winless week for the third time this season (the other two times came October 13th-19th and November 12th-16th). Nevertheless, the Blues maintain a five-point lead for the best record in the Western Conference (Colorado and Vegas are the next closest with 54 points each). At this point one year ago, the St. Louis Blues would begin writing the chapter of the biggest storyline in the NHL. Now sitting in a better position in the standings this time around, the Blues must maintain the production that vaulted them from the bottom of the barrel to Stanley Cup champions last season. With their next five games at home (with four of those games coming against sub-.500 opponents in the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks), the Blues have a prime opportunity to get back on track. 

2. Boston Bruins (24-8-11) 

  • Previous ranking: 3
  • Record over past week: 0-1-1
  • The number two and number three position in this ranking was a coin-flip, with the Bruins winning out based off the sheer scoring talent they possess over the Blues (although that should not be a knock against St. Louis). However, the blemish of failing to achieve overtime and shootout success is quickly transforming into an inoperable tumor, with the Bruins losing another overtime game this past week, this time against the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. Boston is now the first team this season to reach double-digit overtime/shootout losses (11). While steadfast in regulation, goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask possess a .615 and .545 S/O Sv%. That ranks 19th and 21st among 29 goaltenders with at least two games in the shootout this season, respectively. 

1. Washington Capitals (29-9-5) 

  • Previous ranking: 1
  • Record over past week: 2-0-0
  • With less than a minute to go in regulation, it looked like the Capitals were about to drop a Sunday home game 4-2 against the San Jose Sharks behind a hat trick by Evander Kane. Instead, a hard wrister in the slot by Jakub Vrana with 47 seconds left, in addition to a snapping one-timer by T.J. Oshie in the right faceoff circle with 15 seconds left sent the game into overtime. Two minutes in Washington would cap off the miraculous comeback, with John Carlson shooting the puck across the offensive zone to Lars Eller, who would in turn wrist the puck through goaltender Martin Jones for the winning goal. With the 5-4 thriller victory, the Capitals have won nine of their 14 overtime/shootout games, the best in the NHL. Eye-popping, sure, but it can be seen as something expected from the Capitals. Overcoming a multi-goal deficit with less than a minute left, though, is something even the Capitals have never done in franchise history until now (per NHL Public Relations). Clutch and historic. That is a good combination to maintain the number one spot in this ranking, I’d say. 

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