Another week, another NHL power ranking installment.
With the third week of the 2021 NHL season already upon us, trends are beginning to brew. Short and long-term storylines for legitimate playoff teams and fringe contenders are all on the board. Blockbuster trades are either being postulated or have already transpired (will anyone introduce Patrik Laine to Columbus and Pierre Luc-Dubois to Winnipeg, or do I have to?).
No matter the week, a new installment must be written that brings forth all of the variables mentioned above. Without further ado, here is the third 2021 NHL Power Ranking installment.
At the edge of the crease: Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2-0, 8 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 3-0-0
Three comeback (two 3-1 deficits and one 2-1 deficit) victories netted the Penguins an undefeated week. Among other Steel City heroes over the past week, Jake Guentzel scored his 100th career NHL goal on Jan. 24 against the New York Rangers. Goaltender Tristan Jarry also collected his first two wins of the season (both against the Rangers). Although clawing back from early holes is not a long-term strategy toward success, veteran teams find a way to get the job done. Pittsburgh definitely qualifies, and they proved as such.
10. Philadelphia Flyers (3-2-1, 7 points)
Previous ranking: 3
Record over past week: 1-2-1
Aside from a 3-0 Brian Elliott shutout against Buffalo on Jan. 19, it was a forgettable week for Philly skaters and fans alike. In their three other games this past week, Philadelphia was outscored 17-6. To keep it blunt, the goaltending left a lot to be desired. Star goaltender Carter Hart went 0-2-1, allowed 14 goals and possessed a .846 Save Percentage (Sv%). This…will not get the job done. Given the talent this team has (along with the cliché saying of it still being early), the Flyers remain in this ranking installment. Luckily, the Flyers will have a shot at turning it around this upcoming week, as the team will face off against the New Jersey Devils on the road for two games before going up against the Islanders for two meetings at home.
9. Boston Bruins (3-1-1, 7 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 2-1-0
Despite faltering to the New York Islanders, 1-0, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Boston turned it around and swept the Flyers in two games, outscoring their rival, 11-5. Although the Bruins are still trying to adjust to life without David Pastrnak (injury) and Zdeno Chara (free agency departure), supplementary forwards (including Charlie Coyle) and up-and-coming defensemen (including Jakub Zboril) have logged the necessary minutes to offset the two losses. When combined with electric performances from the usual stars (Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combined for eight points in the two-game set against Philadelphia), this team is still extremely dangerous.
8. St. Louis Blues (3-2-1, 7 points)
Previous ranking: 9
Record over past week: 2-1-1
A 6-3 defeat to the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 24 definitely left a sour taste in St. Louis’ mouths. Nevertheless, there are signs of optimism for the team moving forward. To start, defenseman Torey Krug scored his first St. Louis goal this past week (Jan. 23 against the Kings) and is starting to take more quick-paced shots. 22-year-old Jordan Kyrou is still turning heads on the second line. To cap it all off, the Ryan O’Reilly-David Perron duo might just be heating up, as the pair combined for eight points this past week. The momentum will need to continue moving in an upward direction, as St. Louis will do battle against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena for two games before heading to Anaheim to face the pesky Ducks for a two-game set.
7. Colorado Avalanche (3-3-0, 6 points)
Previous ranking: 4
Record over past week: 2-2-0
While a 2-2-0 record over the span of one mere week is not world-ending, a lot more was expected from Colorado, considering their opponents came in the form of the rebuilding Kings and Ducks. While the Nathan MacKinnon’s and Mikko Rantanen’s of the world are performing as expected, the Nazem Kadri’s and Brandon Saad’s are not. Both skaters possess the worst plus-minuses (+/-) on the team (-8 for both) and have moved down the lineup as a result. When looking on the more positive side of the ice, star prospect defenseman Bowen Byram made his debut this past week and already looks relatively comfortable. Regardless, though, the Avalanche will need to start collecting more consistent steam. While they will get the Philadelphia treatment and stay in these rankings, perhaps the breaks should be pumped just a bit on this club being a runaway Stanley Cup favorite.
6. Winnipeg Jets (4-2-0, 8 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 3-2-0
Look out, folks. The Jets might be finding a groove, even when you take into account Edmonton’s buzzer-beating goal against them on Jan. 24. Scoring 18 goals this past week can definitely visualize the trend the Jets are setting here. Exhibit A: the Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler line that has already combined for 26 points this season (10 goals, 16 assists). Then, there is Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second line, who have combined for half a dozen goals scored. Then, there is the brand-spanking-new elephant in the room in recently acquired forward Luc-Dubois from the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will slot somewhere among these top skaters. While Laine was traded away to bring in the 22-year-old, this team is still very, very deep. They just might be showing it off, too.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1-0, 6 points)
Previous ranking: 1
Record over past week: 1-1-0
A split with a familiar foe in the Blue Jackets this past week keeps the Lightning inside the top five. Leading the way on offense this past week was a defenseman, as Victor Hedman collected three points in the two-game set (one goal, two assists). He also made an extremely early case for the best goal of the year, as the 30-year-old did a nifty 360-spin, backhand shot between the legs in the slot during the Jan. 23 matchup.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (5-2-0, 10 points)
Previous ranking: 6
Record over past week: 3-1-0
After the Maple Leafs took care of business against the Jets to start the week off, everything seemed to take a turn for the worst Jan. 20 against the Edmonton Oilers, as an ugly, Medusa-caliber 3-1 loss was only further exacerbated by the loss of top lineman Joe Thornton for the next month (rib fracture). News then came out that Auston Matthews was nursing an upper-body injury. Not to worry, however, as Toronto was able to dish out two straight victories to close out the week. In their 3-2 Sunday road win against the Calgary Flames, Wayne Simmonds scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf, which just so happened to be on the man-advantage to give the 32-year-old 100 career NHL power play goals. Oh, and Matthews returned to the lineup after missing one game and scored a goal as well. Sure, Toronto could use a little more supplementary help from their bench skaters, but as of right now, the apocalypse is on hold.
3. Washington Capitals (3-0-3, 9 points)
Previous ranking: 5
Record over past week: 1-0-2
While Washington’s depth showed out against the Buffalo Sabres in their past two games just enough to garner points, it was not by precise design. After all, the big news of the week regarding the Caps came from four of their major players in Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov were found to be violating COVID-19 protocol. As a result, the team was fined $100,000. Additionally, the quartet will have to quarantine and miss four games. The four players will be slated to return on Jan. 30 against the Bruins at the earliest.
2. Montreal Canadiens (4-0-2, 10 points)
Previous ranking: 10
Record over past week: 3-0-1
After toiling around the power ranking fringes last week, Montreal vaults all the way to the runner-up spot in this ranking installment. A speedy, balanced attacking front from their entire roster has been pivotal toward Montreal’s scoring spree, as 16 different skaters have at least one goal this season. Free agent acquisition Tyler Toffoli leads the way, as the 28-year-old forward already has eight points (five goals, three assists) this season. Goaltender Carey Price, meanwhile, picked up his 350th career win on Jan. 23 against Vancouver. The win gives Price the recognition of being one of only 23 NHL goaltenders to collect at least 350 victories.
1. Vegas Golden Knights (5-1-0, 10 points)
Previous ranking: 2
Record over past week: 3-1-0
This team just continues to show its sheer amount of depth off. A smoldering start to the season has continued for the Golden Knights, as they currently sit at 5-1 and hold the best goal differential (+7) in the Honda West Division. While Marc-Andre Fleury might not be the starter he once was, he can still defend the pipes quite well. The 36-year-old netminder picked up his first shutout of the 2021 NHL season Jan. 24 against the Arizona Coyotes. It was his first shutout during a regular season since Feb. 26, 2020 against the Oilers. The shutout additionally gives Fleury 62 in his career, which puts him in sole possession of 17th among all-time goaltenders.