Rich 10 NHL Rankings (Feb. 22-28)

COVID-19 pauses aside, the 2021 NHL season continues to roll its way through February. In fact, for the majority of the league, a third of the season has already been completed. Time just continues to soar on, doesn’t it? 

Now, I will shoot a disclaimer right from the get-go by saying this was the toughest ranking to put together up to this point – several tough decisions had to be made. 

No matter, however. Without further ado, here is the seventh installment of Rich 10 NHL Power Rankings, 2021 edition. 

At the edge of the crease: St. Louis Blues (10-6-2, 22 points) 

Previous ranking: 8

Record over past week: 1-2-0

A collection of inconsistency, injuries and COVID-19 continue to prevent St. Louis from gaining any ground in these ranking installments. The recent victim as far as injuries go comes in the form of forward Ivan Barbashev, who will miss the next six weeks due to an ankle injury. The Blues will limp into the new week with two home matchups against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 22 and 24 before going on the road to play the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 27. 

10. Montreal Canadiens (9-5-3, 21 points) 

Previous ranking: 6

Record over past week: 0-1-1

No NHL action for approximately one week heading into the Feb. 20 matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs might have been a factor in what amounted to a sloppy 5-3 loss. To make matters worse, Jonathan Drouin left Sunday’s game against the Ottawa Senators after getting boarded in the second period. The Canadiens would go on to lose the game in overtime, 3-2. Montreal will look to overcome their recent struggles this week, as they play Ottawa on Feb. 23 and Winnipeg on Feb. 25 and 27. The good news? Montreal is currently undefeated in regulation on the road. That has to account for something, right? 

9. Edmonton Oilers (12-8-0, 24 points) 

Previous ranking: N/A

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Edmonton finds itself in this power ranking installment for the first time this season. Spoiler alert – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are pretty good. Both forwards have combined for 67 total points (22 goals, 45 assists). Edmonton’s surprise, however, might be defenseman Darnell Nurse, whose 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) are currently tied for second among all NHL blueliners (Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes leads all NHL defensemen with 20 points). When looking at Corsi For Percentage (CF%), which looks at the percentage of the time the team had possession of the puck with the skater in question on the ice (with 50% being average), Nurse has combined his potency on offense with slightly above average defensive numbers (his CF% is currently 50.4%). As long as Edmonton’s defensive pairings maintain a bend-don’t-break philosophy, they can, and will, compete at a high level.

8. Winnipeg Jets (11-6-1, 23 points) 

Previous ranking: 10

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Everything looks bleak for Winnipeg on Sunday evening. Despite scoring three unanswered goals against the Vancouver Canucks after being down 2-0 through the first period, Vancouver forward Elias Pettersson slapped in a power-play goal to tie the game with less than 45 seconds to go in the game. Then came highly touted trade acquisition Pierre-Luc Dubois, who scored less than 30 seconds into overtime to send the Jets home happy and with two critical points. Dubois, who slotted in on the top Winnipeg line, finished the game with three points (two goals, one assist). Should Winnipeg see more performances like this from the 22-year-old, the sky is the limit. 

7. Tampa Bay Lightning (10-4-1, 21 points) 

Previous ranking: 1

Record over past week: 0-2-0

Losing two in a row, coupled with losing three of their last four, plummets Tampa Bay down to fourth in the Discover Central Division and seventh in this power ranking installment. While the pieces are certainly there, Tampa Bay has not been able to put it all together over a stretch of more than one week, as the Lightning were blanked on Feb. 20 against the Hurricanes to give the latter their second shutout of the season against the former (the first came on Jan. 28, when Carolina won, 1-0 in overtime). If there was ever a need for Tampa Bay to kindle together a championship-caliber run, it would be this week, as the Lightning are slated to play the surging Hurricanes for three straight games (one at PNC Arena and two at Amalie Arena). 

6. Vegas Golden Knights (10-4-1, 21 points)

Previous ranking: 2

Record over past week: 0-2-0

While Vegas going winless this past week definitely means a drop in the ranking is in order, Golden Knight fans should not fret. Cold stretches happen and sometimes you simply have to tip your cap to the opponent. Although Colorado’s defensive pairing and goaltending were on another level, Vegas still made some plays worthy of the highlight reel. I mean, watch this. Vegas will attempt to reverse their fortunes this week against Colorado on Feb. 22 in Denver before continuing their road stretch on Feb. 25 and 27 against the Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, respectively. 

5. Colorado Avalanche (9-4-1, 19 points)

Previous ranking: 9

Record over past week: 2-0-0

Playing only 14 games at this juncture of the season might seem a little low, but when setting COVID-19 aside, Colorado vaults up to fifth in this ranking due in part to going perfect against Vegas this past week. While Colorado’s potential game in and game out is most certainly impressive, their grittiness should also be noted. Although their Saturday date at Lake Tahoe was delayed for 10-plus hours at the conclusion of the first period, Colorado’s clogging of the passing lanes at even strength and on the penalty kill shut down any Vegas pressing attempts. Colorado can steamroll teams, but when it is all said and done, they can also roll up their sleeves and grind out wins, too. Although they rank third in the Honda West Division in terms of points, this team is simply on a different level as it currently stands. 

4. Florida Panthers (11-3-2, 24 points)

Previous ranking: 7

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Fun fact: two of Florida’s three regulation losses this season are against the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings. All humor aside, I said in last week’s ranking that the Feb. 17 matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes would be very telling in regard to Florida’s playoff legitimacy. Florida coming from behind to win the game in overtime, 4-3 should scare every team in the NHL, especially considering the fact they are averaging 3.40 goals per game since Feb. 1, sixth among all NHL teams. The Panthers will begin a pivotal five-game homestand this week, where the team will take on the Dallas Stars (three games) and Hurricanes (two games). 

3. Boston Bruins (11-3-2, 24 points) 

Previous ranking: 3 

Record over past week: 1-1-0

Boston unleashed their anger on the banks of Lake Tahoe on Feb. 21, as the Bruins scored seven goals in a runaway 7-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The goal total against Philadelphia marked the first time Boston scored seven or more goals against them since April 30, 2011 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (Boston also won that game by a score of 7-3). David Pastrnak, after scoring only one goal in his past five games after scoring five in his first three, tallied together a three-goal performance to net the 24-year-old forward his second hat trick of the season (his other came against Philadelphia on Feb. 3) and the 11th of his NHL career. The moment you sleep on Boston’s offense is the moment they maul you. Take note. 

2. Carolina Hurricanes (12-3-1, 25 points)

Previous ranking: 4

Record over past week: 3-0-1

Blowing a two-goal lead against Florida on Feb. 17 is the difference between the silver and gold medal in this power ranking installment. Nevertheless, a gut-punching defeat was more than made up for after Carolina blanked the Lightning on Feb. 20. 25-year-old goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic collected the first NHL shutout of his career in the contest. In fact, Nedeljkovic is the first goaltender in franchise history to tally a shutout within the first 10 games of his career (it happened during his tenth career game). With Petr Mrazek out indefinitely (thumb surgery), Nedeljkovic’s services will be needed now more than ever. This was a good start (no pun intended). 

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (14-3-2, 30 points)

Previous ranking: 5

Record over past week: 3-0-1

Collecting points in all three games against Ottawa last week certainly helps their case, but a solid 5-3 win against Montreal cements Toronto atop this ranking installment. This team is scary simply based off of the fact that the Joe Thornton-Auston Matthews-Mitchell Marner top line is continuing to bring elite production to the rink every single game. However, this team could be even scarier should William Nylander find a jolt of life on the second line – the 24-year-old winger possesses only 14 points (five goals, nine assists) to his name in 19 games this season and has been held without a point in seven of nine games this month. Nylander was even benched for the final eight-plus minutes in Saturday’s matchup. If Nylander can clean up the loose level of play he has performed at on both sides of the ice, Toronto can potentially solidify their spot atop this ranking installment for the foreseeable future. 

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