Rich 10 NHL Rankings (Feb. 16-21)

While candies, chocolates and cards might still be finding their destination, NHL skaters and their respective clubs are still checking and penalty-killing away as their sixth week of action gets underway. 

With one month of NHL action officially in the books, increased emphasis on significant strengths and potential weaknesses of teams hungry for potential playoff play are taking more form. 

While there is still a healthy way to go before any playoff talk can be legitimately discussed, another installment of Rich 10 NHL Power Rankings is here for your appetite. Let’s attempt to keep this short and sweet, shall we? 

At the edge of the crease: Washington Capitals (6-4-3, 15 points)

Previous ranking: 6

Record over past week: 0-1-0

Now, there is some reasoning for Washington plummeting all the way down to the fringes of this ranking installment. Part of it comes in the form of COVID-19, as three of Washington’s four scheduled games over the past week (Philadelphia on Feb. 9 and Buffalo on Feb. 11 and 13) were postponed due to outbreaks. Even still, the drop has more reasoning than factors simply out of the team’s control. The main culprit? The defense and the goaltending. While both positions are certainly talented enough, it simply has not shown up when it has all been said and done – Washington’s -4 goal differential ranks in the bottom third among all NHL teams. If there is some light at the end of the D.C. tunnel, it is the fact that Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID-19 protocol) made his return during Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins and promptly scored a redirected power-play goal. 

10. Winnipeg Jets (9-5-1, 19 points)

Previous ranking: 10

Record over past week: 2-2-0

While the Jets were able to soar above the Edmonton Oilers and win, 6-5 on Feb. 15, there is one unfortunate piece of news for Winnipeg fans out there. Forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was acquired in the Patrik Laine deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, suffered a lower-body injury during practice on Feb. 12 and could possibly miss a significant portion of time. The Jets will take on the Oilers again on Feb. 17 before playing against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 19 and 21 to conclude their four-game road trip. 

9. Colorado Avalanche (7-4-1, 15 points)

Previous ranking: 7

Record over past week: 0-1-0

Although Colorado lost their lone game this past week (1-0 on Feb. 14 against Vegas), the still remain in this ranking installment, albeit at a lower position. After all, the team fought valiantly on the road against the Golden Knights, despite being without Gabriel Landeskog (COVID-19 protocol), Tyson Jost (COVID-19 protocol) and Cale Makar (upper-body injury), among others. When factoring everything into consideration, a 1-0 loss is not that disappointing, given the circumstances. Regardless, Colorado will look to find the win column this week, as they will take on Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Feb. 16 before going outdoors to face off against the Golden Knights (again?) on Feb. 20 at Lake Tahoe. 

8. St. Louis Blues (9-5-2, 20 points) 

Previous ranking: 8

Record over past week: 2-1-1

With the Minnesota Wild currently sidelined due to COVID-19, St. Louis once again played the Arizona Coyotes, as the two Honda West Division clubs went at it for four total games this past week. Although St. Louis faltered to a 1-0 loss against Arizona on Feb. 15, the Blues were able to net five total points in their other three matchups (2-0-1). St. Louis will look to continue its ground-and-pound style of play against an opponent not named Arizona this week, as they will go up against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 18 and 20. 

7. Florida Panthers (9-2-2, 20 points)

Previous ranking: N/A

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Although the Tampa Bay Lightning attempted to claw back against the Cats in their Feb. 15 matchup, Florida was able to hold off the reigning Stanley Cup Champions and win, 6-4. With the victory, the Panthers capped off a three-game stretch playing the Lightning (Florida won two of those three games). While Joel Quenneville’s squad can (and will) continue to score in bunches, the Chris Driedger and Sergei Bobrovsky goaltending duo must improve should Florida have any aspirations of clinching a playoff bid. A pivotal matchup against Carolina at PNC Arena on Feb. 17 will be very telling. 

6. Montreal Canadiens (9-4-2, 20 points)

Previous ranking: 2

Record over past week: 1-2-0

A sub-par week drops Montreal to sixth in this ranking installment. Although there were glimpses of Montreal finding the necessary spark to vault ahead against the likes of the Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, it just could not light itself. No matter, though – Montreal still has Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher at their disposal. The firepower Montreal has is legit, and their roster from the top line down should halt doomsday banter Montreal fans might have right now. The Canadiens will host the Maple Leafs on Feb. 20 before facing off against the Ottawa Senators on the road the next day. 

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (11-3-2, 24 points)

Previous ranking: 3

Record over past week: 2-1-1

The loss of Wayne Simmonds for the next six weeks at the minimum (broken wrist) hurts, no pun intended. Reinforcements are on the way for Toronto, however – Joe Thornton returned to the top line and promptly tallied two points (one goal, one assist) on Feb. 15 against the Senators. Additionally, forward Alex Galchenyuk was acquired from the Hurricanes on the same day and provides a solid depth option for a team attempting to bring the bulk of its chips to the table. Toronto definitely needs to have all of its assets at full strength, considering they blew a 5-1 lead to Ottawa on Feb. 15 and lost in overtime, 6-5. Barring any astronomical collapse, Toronto is a practical lock to make the playoffs, but still. Ouch. 

4. Carolina Hurricanes (10-3-0, 20 points)

Previous ranking: +1

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Carolina can score. In four games over the past week, the Hurricanes totaled 18 goals. Seven of those goals came in a 7-3 revenge game against the Columbus Blue Jackets after the latter defeated the former, 3-2, on Feb. 8. What made the slaughter even more surprising was the fact that Carolina was down 3-1 midway through the first period. The top line of Brock McGinn, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen combined for 10 points during the contest (four goals, six assists). When combining Carolina with Florida and Tampa Bay (more on them down below), the Discover Central Division is becoming a much more entertaining story. 

3. Boston Bruins (10-2-2, 22 points)

Previous ranking: 1

Record over past week: 2-1-0

Boston’s 4-2 regulation loss to the New York Islanders on Feb. 13 snapped a 10-game point starting back on Jan. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers (Boston pulled ahead to win, 5-4 in the shootout). Dating back to Jan. 18, Boston ranks second among all NHL teams in terms of team GAA (2.17). While Jaroslav Halak has maintained a shiny 1.38 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .938 Save Percentage (Sv%), Tuukka Rask has gotten the job done as well, as the 33-year-old has a 2.51 GAA and .906 Sv% this season in nine games played (nine games started). While Rask allowed four goals in the Feb. 13 bout against the Islanders, he did what was needed against the New York Rangers on Feb. 10 when he allowed only two goals in what eventually amounted to a 3-2 overtime win. However, it might be best if Rask does not do this again. 

2. Vegas Golden Knights (10-2-1, 21 points)

Previous ranking: 5

Record over past week: 3-1-0

OK, he may or may not have been discussed in these rankings before, but gee whiz, how about Marc-Andre Fleury? After blanking Colorado on Feb. 14 and collecting his second shutout of the season, the 36-year-old is now 7-1-0 this season and possesses a 1.38 GAA and .944 Sv%. In fact, Fleury’s numbers through a team’s first 13 games of a season puts him in select company – Fleury is one of only nine goaltenders aged 36 or older to ever possess a GAA under 1.50 and maintain a Sv% greater than .940 over the same span. Of those nine, Fleury’s eight games played (eight games started) is tied for second (Nikolai Khabibulin during the 2011-12 season with Edmonton) and is only behind Tim Thomas’s nine games played to start the 2010-11 season with the Bruins. Perhaps the rumors of Fleury’s relegation to backup duty were too soon.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (10-3-1, 21 points)

Previous ranking: 4

Record over past week: 3-2-0

Dropping two out of three to the Panthers certainly was not ideal. Playing better quality opponents over the past week, however, gives Tampa Bay the razor thin edge over Vegas to claim the top spot in this ranking installment. While the expected skaters in Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Co. have definitely shown their worth time and time again, Tampa Bay’s supplementary skaters have continued to show the league why this is in fact the deepest team in the NHL’s entirety. Enter the stage, Alexander Volkov. The former second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft quickly made his presence known on the fourth line over the past week, as the 23-year-old winger collected his first, second and third career NHL goals. The latter two goals came in the same game (Feb. 15 against the Panthers) and netted Volkov his first career multi-goal game at the NHL level. Tampa Bay just develops skaters differently. 

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