Just like that, the 2021 NHL season has officially crested over its halfway point.
While madness has definitely boiled over in other sporting contests (greetings, college basketball), the NHL has also had its fair share of chaotic moments, too. On one side of the glove, there have been clutch goals worthy of the highlight reel. On the opposite side, there have been saves you would have to do a double take on to believe it actually happened.
While certainly maddening, it has also been entertaining (or at least so for the teams on the right side of the win column). No matter what the madness level is, another power ranking installment must be hashed out from all of it. Here you have it.
At the edge of the crease: Minnesota Wild (18-10-1, 37 points)
Previous ranking: 9
Record over past week: 1-2-0
If you want to know the severe swings NHL clubs tend to go through, look no further than the Wild. Less than six days ago, Minnesota looked like world-beaters. The team was sporting a five-game winning streak and was marching toward Ball Arena with the utmost confidence in their veterans and youngsters. Instead of continuing the hot stretch, the Wild got absolutely humbled by the Colorado Avalanche in two games. To keep it short, the team was outscored, outskated, outshot and simply outplayed. Minnesota will look to rebound in a big way this week, as they will host the Anaheim Ducks for a pair (March 22 and 24) before closing out the brief homestand with a date against the St. Louis Blues (March 25).
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-11-2, 40 points)
Previous ranking: +1
Record over past week: 2-2-1
Despite the relatively pedestrian week, Pittsburgh steadily remains inside this ranking installment. This does not come without a hitch in their plans moving forward, however. After sustaining an injury during Pittsburgh’s March 16 bout against the Boston Bruins, top-six forward Evgeni Malkin will be “week-to-week” with a lower-body injury. With Malkin on the sidelines, more pressure will be on the usual stars to pick up the point production. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Co. – the floor (or ice?) is yours.
9. Edmonton Oilers (21-13-0, 42 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 3-1-0
Edmonton slugs their way back into this ranking installment primarily based off of their raw scoring capabilities. After all, the team scored 16 total goals in their four games played this past week and maintained an excellent 33.3 Power Play Percentage (PP%). That will play, and it certainly has for the Oilers throughout the season. Edmonton currently ranks second in terms of goals per game averages (3.41) and fifth in PP% (27.0%). Edmonton’s most important x-factor, however, might not be from who has scored the puck, but by who has defended against it. 39-year-old Mike Smith might not be a household name when it comes to goaltenders, but he has certainly become one among Oiler fans. Among 34 goaltenders to start at least 15 games this season, Smith’s Goals Against Average (GAA) is currently ranked eighth (2.34), while his Save Percentage (Sv%) is sixth (.922). Combine this with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl scoring every other shift, and you have a winning formula north of the border.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-10-2, 42 points)
Previous ranking: 7
Record over past week: 1-1-0
Playing two lone games this past week does not tell us anything new about how Toronto wins hockey games. They will score, and additionally put together solid goaltending spurts here and there. The latter was definitely noticeable during Saturday’s home bout against the Calgary Flames, as Jack Campbell picked up his second shutout of the season after the former Los Angeles King stopped 31 shots on goal in the 2-0 win. Supplementary forward Jason Spezza also jumped in on the fun, as the 37-year-old forward had back-to-back games with a goal for the first time since 2019 (Nov. 16 and 19). Toronto’s position in this ranking installment seems low, but do not fret – they will be just fine.
7. Carolina Hurricanes (20-7-3, 43 points)
Previous ranking: 2
Record over past week: 0-1-2
Dropping three games in a row to Detroit (once) and Columbus (twice) means a dip is in order for Carolina within this ranking installment. Even still, the Hurricanes did not come out of the stretch in as poor of shape as they could have been. Despite blowing both games against Columbus, Carolina was still able to make out with two points combined (they lost Mar. 18 and 20 in overtime and a shootout, respectively). This week, Carolina will look to go back to their roots of excellent top-six scoring and sturdy goaltending when they take on Columbus again for two road games (March 22 and 25) before going to war against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena on March 27.
6. New York Islanders (20-8-4, 44 points)
Previous ranking: 1
Record over past week: 1-2-0
Adjusting without Anders Lee (knee) has been a challenge for New York. Then again, if any team lost their captain to injury, there would be an adaptation period for them, too. Such was the case for New York over their three games played last week. After faltering to Washington on Mar. 16 (3-1) and Philadelphia on Mar. 18 (4-3), New York was in need of a convincing win to get back on track. Luckily for them, Saturday’s 6-1 blowout over the Flyers provided just that, as the team got solid looks and shots from the top line down. While this was certainly a good adjustment win, New York will need to keep their foot on the pedal this week, as they will begin a five-game road trip against Philadelphia (one game), Boston (two games) and Pittsburgh (two games).
5. Florida Panthers (20-7-4, 44 points)
Previous ranking: 4
Record over past week: 2-2-0
This past week summarized the Florida Panthers perfectly. In their first game of the week (March 15 against Chicago), the Panthers completely overwhelmed a weak Blackhawks’ goaltending unit and prevailed, 6-3. During their two-game set against Nashville, Florida lost a 2-1 nail-biter (March 18) but bounced back by shutting out the offensively shot Predators, 2-0. Then, during Sunday’s matchup against the Lightning, the Panthers made it interesting late, only to give up two late goals in what amounted to a 5-3 defeat. If there is a team that is a wild card in not only the Discover Central Division, but in the grand scheme of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is Florida. Despite the roller coaster week, they still have a three-dimensional offense, an improved goaltending tandem and a Jack Adams Award contender in eventual Hall-of-Famer Joel Quenneville. This makes them worthy enough for a top-five spot in this ranking installment.
4. Colorado Avalanche (19-8-2, 40 points)
Previous ranking: 10
Record over past week: 3-0-0
Talk to any Colorado fan, and they will grumble the same truth. Minnesota is a tough (and annoying) nut to crack. One would have to postulate that something was in the Denver water this past week, though, as Colorado dominated Minnesota in two games played (March 18 and 20). While the return of Cale Makar was certainly well-known (he tallied one goal and one assist during the March 20 matchup), so was Philipp Grubauer’s continued excellence. The 29-year-old picked up his 16th-career shutout during the 6-0 rout on March 20. If you want to talk about a career year, well, Grubauer is having it. He is also writing himself into the franchise history books, too – Grubauer is now one of only four goaltenders in franchise history to ever amass five shutouts or more during a season. The other three? Semyon Varlamov (2014-15), Craig Anderson (2009-10) and someone by the name of Patrick Roy (1996-97, 1998-99, 2001-02 and 2002-03).
3. Washington Capitals (20-7-4, 44 points)
Previous ranking: 6
Record over past week: 3-1-0
It has to be said at this point. Vitek Vanecek deserves credit. After Ilya Samsonov was unavailable through the early stages of the season, the 25-year-old rookie goaltender stepped up and provided a nice presence between the net for a team needy for some stops. Vanecek only continued to show his expertise this past week, as the former second rounder collected his first career NHL shutout (March 15 @ Buffalo). Vanecek’s 13 total wins this season additionally lead all rookie goaltenders. Should Washington continue to run the gauntlet that is the MassMutual East Division, Vanecek will need to sponge more starts.
2. Vegas Golden Knights (21-7-1, 43 points)
Previous ranking: 5
Record over past week: 3-1-0
The Los Angeles Kings ended Vegas’s five-game winning streak with a 3-1-win Sunday evening, but no matter for the latter. Vegas’s depth has shown out all season, but most definitely over the past week, especially with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo out for the count. How so? Two defensemen for the Golden Knights in Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud each maintained a +3 plus-minus (+/-) over the past week. While they might not bring the prowess of Shea Theodore or the experience of Alec Martinez, the pair will be essential to the meat of Vegas’s blue line succeeding as long as Pietrangelo remains on the pine.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (23-6-2, 48 points)
Previous ranking: 3
Record over past week: 4-1-0
You should take it to a sportsbook at this point. If Tampa Bay has a great week, they will always find themselves in a position to take the top spot in any ranking installment. Such was the case for them this week. Five players picked up at least five points over the team’s past week of action, and of the five, there might not have been one as gritty as Alex Killorn. The versatile 31-year-old forward has put in an excellent campaign so far this season, especially in regard to puck control while on the ice. Killorn’s 55.7 Corsi For Percentage (which looks at the percentage of the time the team has control of the puck while the skater in question is on the ice) is currently a career high. Single season comparisons help show the significance of this even further. When looking at Lightning forwards aged 31 or older, Killorn’s current CF% is tied for third all-time (Jeff Halpern had a 55.7 CF% during the 2007-08 season). Turns out that when Tampa Bay has control of the puck, the pendulum swings in their favor. Who knew?