With the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline now passed, the final stretch has now begun.
Lines have been drawn in the sand (or ice), and now teams must roll their sleeves up and dig in. Less than 20 games remain for the majority of NHL teams, and if the playoff hopefuls wish to cement themselves as a surefire contender, they will need to put up convincing results.
With that said, NHL fans should be in for a treat. If historic milestones, birthday hat tricks, 360-degree backhanders and a good dose of late-season drama is any indication, the final chapter of the regular season should be very entertaining.
As the potential playoff field continues to shuffle, it is time for another installment of Rich 10 NHL Rankings.
At the edge of the crease: New York Islanders (28-13-4, 60 points)
Previous ranking: 6
Record over past week: 1-2-0
After getting dominated in two games against the Boston Bruins, the Islanders were in need of a victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday evening. Although it took an overtime finish to achieve it, New York prevailed, 1-0. Rookie Ilya Sorokin was the goaltender of record. With the shutout, the 25-year-old rookie now possesses a crisp 2.02 Goals Against Average (GAA), .922 Save Percentage (Sv%) and three shutouts in 17 games played (17 GS). In fact, Sorokin is one of only six rookie goaltenders dating back to the 1979-80 season to maintain a 2.10 GAA or less, possess a .920 Sv% or greater and tally at least three shutouts within their first 20 games played. New York is an adaptive team, but their bread and butter always comes in the form of their stingy goaltending. They might be low in this ranking installment, but they can hang their hats knowing they still have it.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (28-14-3, 59 points)
Previous ranking: 8
Record over past week: 1-1-1
Only two teams mustered more shots per game than Pittsburgh (36.3) over the past week: Carolina and Vegas (38.3 each). Even still, Pittsburgh only scraped together six goals in their three games played. Where did this rank? Tied for 22nd (New Jersey Devils). You do not have to be an expert to recognize this probably will not cut it. Losing to rebuilding teams already eliminated from playoff contention (sorry, Buffalo Sabres) probably is not wise, either. Pittsburgh luckily starts a five-game homestand this week, starting with New Jersey (three games). Following this, Pittsburgh will play a pivotal pair of contests against Boston. Pittsburgh’s 16 wins at home are tied for fifth-most in the entire NHL, so this should help ease some stress. On paper, at least.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-12-5, 61 points)
Previous ranking: 1
Record over past week: 0-2-2
The Vancouver Canucks returned to the rink for the first time since Mar. 24 and promptly took down the Maple Leafs in overtime, 3-2, on Apr. 18. Vancouver fans will certainly rejoice, but Toronto fans will not, and for obvious reasons. After allowing three goals or more only once in his first seven games, goaltender Jack Campbell has scuffled as of late. In his seven games since, Campbell has allowed three goals or more five times. Dating back to Apr. 1, Campbell’s 3.19 GAA ranks 25th out of 34 goaltenders to play in at least five games. His .890 Sv%, meanwhile, ranks 27th. You get the idea at this point. Should Campbell rebound, Toronto will pivot back toward the top of this ranking.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-13-2, 60 points)
Previous ranking: 4
Record over past week: 1-2-0
As you might have noticed, Tampa Bay has fluctuated a ton in these ranking installments. At times, they have looked like the team to beat. Then, there are other weeks where they have looked fine, but nowhere close to a club that prevailed over everyone to hoist the Stanley Cup less than a year ago. A tough division, injuries and defensive inconsistencies have played a part in the struggles. Dating back to Mar. 1, Tampa Bay has allowed 3.00 goals per game, which is tied with Detroit for 20th in the entire league. Need I say more? Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury) additionally heading onto the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) leaves Tampa Bay in a tricky situation in what is a top-heavy Discover Central Division. The good news? Forward Nikita Kucherov (hip) made an appearance at practice on Friday. The bad? The star forward is still a way off from playing in a hockey game. Can the Lightning weather the storm and pick up a favorable playoff matchup? This will be pivotal to the franchise successfully defending its title.
7. Minnesota Wild (27-13-3, 57 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 3-0-0
Minnesota soars back into this ranking installment after going undefeated last week. Leading the way on offense was the pair of Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise, who combined for nine points (seven goals, two assists) over the past week. The duo’s firepower will be pivotal should Minnesota solidify a security blanket for high-octane rookie Kirill Kaprizov come playoff time. This team seems quiet when compared to other Stanley Cup Playoff teams, but I imagine Minnesota likes it that way.
6. Washington Capitals (29-13-4, 62 points)
Previous ranking: 7
Record over past week: 2-2-0
Many clubs do not move up in the ranking after a .500 week, but exceptions are made when digging into context. Acquiring Anthony Mantha in a deadline day blockbuster gives Washington the final piece to their top-six puzzle that includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Slotting Mantha into the second line has already turned heads. With the 26-year-old’s goal scored against the Bruins on Apr. 18, Mantha is the only Washington skater to tally at least one goal in his first four games with the franchise. Many critiques think Washington overpaid to net his services, and in due time it could be the case. For now, however, the trade has worked out quite well for Washington.
5. Boston Bruins (25-12-6, 56 points)
Previous ranking: N/A
Record over past week: 4-0-0
I know what you are thinking. Placing Boston inside the top five might seem like a stretch. However, everything seems to be clicking for the Bruins, and they are not not even 100% there yet. The “Perfection Line” is doing its usual damage. The goaltending, led by rookie Jeremy Swayman, has been sturdy. Tuukka Rask returned to action on Apr. 15 against the Islanders and promptly picked up a win. Then, there is the squad’s recent trade acquisition in Taylor Hall, who scored a goal in each game against the Islanders on Apr. 15 and 16. This might seem like a bold placement, but if Boston’s production moving forward is anything like it has been as of late, there is not a more potent team than this one. You want youth? Boston has it. You want experience? Boston has it. They have everything.
4. Florida Panthers (28-12-5, 61 points)
Previous ranking: 9
Record over past week: 2-0-1
The box score might not suggest it, but Florida’s 5-3 road victory against Tampa Bay might have been one of their more impressive wins this season. It is not solely because they beat Tampa Bay, but also because the performance showed the league what their true potential is come playoff time. After being acquired on Apr. 10, defenseman Brandon Montour tallied a goal in only his second game with the team. Nikita Gusev, in his second game with team, picked up his first point after tallying a secondary assist on Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal during the first period. Then there was Sergei Bobrovsky, who defended the net just enough to make the offensive production matter. In years previous, this team leaned heavily on offense because it had to. Now, it might not need to. Florida’s roster balance is legit.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (29-10-4, 62 points)
Previous ranking: 3
Record over past week: 2-1-0
Carolina capped off their eight-game stint at PNC Arena with two resounding wins against Nashville on Apr. 15 and 17. Everything is starting to come together for Carolina. Why? Well, their forward depth (and star power within it) is extremely deep. So much, in fact, that even fourth liners are creating excellent scoring chances. Such was the case for defenseman Jaccob Slavin on Apr. 17, who from the slot was fed the puck via 22-year-old fourth-liner Morgan Geekie on the far wing. Every single skater will need to put forth their best effort this week, as Carolina will play two each against Tampa Bay and Florida. On the road. It does not get any more exciting than this.
2. Colorado Avalanche (30-9-4, 64 points)
Previous ranking: 2
Record over past week: 2-0-0
If you assumed COVID-19 finished rearing its ugly head, you would be sorely mistaken. Colorado picked up two more victories this past week before COVID-19 postponed all Avalanche games through Apr. 20. Collectively, three games were put on hold (two against the Los Angeles Kings and one against the St. Louis Blues). Colorado will look to return to action on Apr. 22 when they (hopefully) play the Blues at Enterprise Center.
1. Vegas Golden Knights (31-11-2, 64 points)
Previous ranking: 5
Record over past week: 4-0-0
The Kings and Anaheim Ducks are certainly not world-beaters. However, should Vegas be docked for playing what their schedule dictates? You know the answer to this. The theme of this power ranking installment has been balance, and if you disregard all other teams and their balance, that is OK, because this team might be the most well-rounded of them all. They score, kill penalties and defend the pipes. When specifically discussing goaltending, it is not a Marc-Andre Fleury one-man show anymore, as Robin Lehner picked up his first shutout of the season on Apr. 16 against Anaheim. Despite battling through injury issues this season, the 29-year-old was acquired during the trade deadline last season to back up Fleury or even take the over the helms from him. Whatever Vegas decides to do with the pair is anyone’s guess. It is a good problem to have, though.