In any other year, the “dog days” of the NHL campaign, in terms of games played, would still be well off in the distance. COVID-19, a 56-game schedule and anything but the sense of normalcy, however, has already jolted the nitty gritty aspect of the season to life.
As teams vie to maintain consistency as the meat of the schedule begins to get underway, tough questions will need to be answered brutally and honestly. Will the supplementary lines hold their own weight? Will the goaltending remain stable? Do trades need to be made? Are we good enough?
As NHL general managers continue to find the million-dollar answers to these seemingly impossible riddles, another installment of Rich 10 NHL Rankings is here for your analysis and enjoyment.
At the edge of the crease: Carolina Hurricanes (7-2-0, 14 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 2-1-0
Why, hiya, Carolina. Just like the Winnipeg Jets (more on them down below), the Hurricanes, through their homegrown talent, might be starting to find a groove. When talking about this homegrown talent Carolina has at its disposal one has to bring up 20-year-old forward Andrei Svechnikov. The former second-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft collected four points over the past week (two goals, two assists) and currently leads the team in total points (10). While Svechnikov and the rest of the offense will do their part, the goaltending will need to as well – 28-year-old Petr Mrazek (who possessed a .99 GAA in four games started this season) underwent right thumb surgery on Feb. 3 and will be out indefinitely.
10. Winnipeg Jets (7-3-1, 15 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 2-0-1
Winnipeg finds itself back in this ranking installment after netting five total points this past week. A steady diet of homegrown talent getting the job done has always been Winnipeg’s forte. While the defense from their top forwards still needs to be hashed out (Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler have a combined plus-minus of -14), the Jets are starting to look dangerous. Add in the fact that Pierre-Luc Dubois took part in his first official practice with the team on Feb. 7, and signs might be pointing in an upward direction for Winnipeg fans out there.
9. Philadelphia Flyers (8-3-2, 18 points)
Previous ranking: 9
Record over past week: 1-1-1
While Philadelphia continues to be one of the top NHL teams in terms of points, another mediocre week keeps them in the latter half of these rankings. Philadelphia’s issues this season have been all too noticeable. Philadelphia’s 3.08 goals allowed per game ranks 19th among all NHL teams. Additionally, Philadelphia is allowing the third-most shots per game (33.2). Their 70.5 Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%) also ranks 29th. You get the basic gist at this point. There is some good news, though – top line forward Sean Couturier was activated off of the injured reserve Sunday and promptly scored two goals in Philadelphia’s 7-4 win against Washington on the very same day. Third liner Scott Laughton tallied his first career hat trick as well. Philadelphia’s forward depth is deep from the top line down, and with Couturier back, it will only get deeper.
8. St. Louis Blues (7-4-1, 15 points)
Previous ranking: 7
Record over past week: 1-2-0
The good news for St. Louis? Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was activated off of injured reserve on Feb. 7. The bad news for St. Louis? Forward Robert Thomas was placed on injured reserve after the 21-year-old broke his thumb in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat against the Arizona Coyotes. While the veteran stardom and depth is there for this team, everything has not clicked yet. The Blues will look to gain momentum this upcoming week when they face off against the Coyotes and Minnesota Wild for three combined games (two against Arizona and one against Minnesota).
7. Colorado Avalanche (7-3-1, 15 points)
Previous ranking: 5
Record over past week: 1-0-0
We all see it. Yes, another team has been bitten by the COVID-19 bug. This time, the Avalanche have fallen victim. Several positive tests (including Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Jost) will mean games through Feb. 11 will be postponed. The earliest Colorado will play an NHL game will come on Feb. 14, when they will (hopefully) go up against the Vegas Golden Knights. While rust will definitely be apparent whenever the team takes to the rink again, the pause in activities will provide an opportunity for a banged-up Colorado team to get healthier, too. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, among others, are all week-to-week, while Pavel Francouz and Devon Toews are currently on the injured reserve.
6. Washington Capitals (6-3-3, 15 points)
Previous ranking: 1
Record over past week: 0-3-0
Do not panic, Washington fans. Your team is still formidable. They are still in this ranking, aren’t they? Why? Well, Alex Ovechkin continues to be a goal-scoring machine (he scored three goals on five total points this week). The scoring depth behind the star continues to hold as well, even without the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID-19). The defense, however, while nasty in its checking ability, needs to refine itself just a bit, as the team is allowing a meager 31.9 shots per game, 23rd in the NHL. While the goaltending will need to improve as well (it should once Ilya Samsonov returns), the defense must be able to clear pucks better moving forward. The talent is there. Now is the time to execute the fundamentals with it.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (7-1-1, 15 points)
Previous ranking: 4
Record over past week: 2-0-0
The Golden Knights, after dealing with COVID-19 issues of their own, returned to action this past week and promptly swept the Los Angeles Kings in two games (Feb. 5 and 7). Although defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was put on the COVID protocol-related absence list on Feb. 5, the offense Vegas was able muster together (five goals) made the absence moot. 26-year-old Chandler Stephenson, meanwhile, scored two goals in the Sunday matchup while on the top line with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. It was Stephenson’s second multi-goal game of his career and his first since Jan. 31, 2018. Once it gets going, Vegas’s flexibility from top to bottom is extremely hard to match.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (7-1-1, 15 points)
Previous ranking: 8
Record over past week: 3-0-0
Beating up on the underperforming Nashville Predators and rebuilding Detroit Red Wings vaults the Lightning up to fifth in this ranking installment. The usual suspects have helped show what the Lightning can do on a game-to-game basis, as Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman combined for nine points last week (four goals, five assists). Tampa Bay’s supplementary group of skaters, however, just makes them more lethal. Third liner Barclay Goodrow’s four points (two goals, two assists) this past week led the team, as did his plus-minus (+/-) of +4, which he shared with three other skaters (Jan Rutta, Mikhail Sergachev and Callan Foote). Should Tampa Bay go streaking, Discover Central Division teams could be in trouble.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (9-2-1, 19 points)
Previous ranking: 3
Record over past week: 2-0-0
The Maple Leafs maintain the third spot in this ranking installment. Toronto did what was expected against a disjointed Vancouver Canucks this week, as they found the back of the net 12 times on 68 total shots. While the likes of Jason Spezza definitely played a part in the scoring barrage (his hat trick on Feb. 4 was eighth career hat trick and his first since April 9, 2016), Auston Matthews has continued to do Auston Matthews things. The 23-year-old collected four total goals this week (two in each game). The goal-scoring streak for Matthews has now reached seven games, dating back to Jan. 20 against the Edmonton Oilers. This scoring streak is a career high and cements the forward as a Rocket Richard and Hart Memorial Trophy contender this season. Matthews and his Leafs will look to keep the puck rolling this week, as they will take on the Canucks once more before doing battle with the Montreal Canadiens for two games (one home and one away).
2. Montreal Canadiens (8-2-2, 18 points)
Previous ranking: 2
Record over past week: 3-1-0
Montreal maintains the runner-up position for the third week in a row. While the team holds the silver medal in this article, all is still currently well for the Habs faithful – defenseman Jeff Petry leads the team in points (six goals, eight assists). The 33-year-old, along with his fellow blue liner in Joel Edmundson, lead the entire NHL in +/- (+14 each). Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson have continued to impress their new club, while Nick Suzuki collected five points over the past week (one goal, four assists). His 12 total points this season (three goals, nine assists) rank second among all skaters aged 21 or younger this season (Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes has 16). Oh, just one more factoid – Montreal is the only remaining team in the NHL to not lose a road game in regulation yet (they are 5-0-2). Pretty solid, wouldn’t you say?
1. Boston Bruins (8-1-2, 18 points)
Previous ranking: 6
Record over past week: 3-0-0
The argument for Boston being numero uno in any power ranking installment, let alone this one, is an extremely strong one. After all, the team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win, 5-3, against the Capitals on Feb. 1. Sweeping two games from the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center (Feb. 3 and 5) should also be taken into account. The defining factor that gives them the top spot in this ranking installment, however, comes in the form of David Pastrnak. The 24-year-old winger, after missing the team’s first seven games of the season (hip surgery recovery), had a week to remember, as he combined for five goals in three games. This included a hat trick against the Flyers on Feb. 3. The five-goal performance this past week even found its way into the history books, as Pastrnak is the only Bruins’ skater to ever tally five or more goals between the team’s eighth game of the season and its 11th. This team is scary, and they will only get better as Pastrnak continues to find his skating legs.