Rich 10 NHL Rankings (May 3-9, 2021)

The final month of the 2021 NHL regular season is finally here, and we all know what that means. 

Yes, the smell of the postseason is in the air. 

With postseason hockey right around the corner, teams must crack down and not only attempt to clinch a playoff berth, but also position themselves in a way favorable to them once it is time to drop the puck for the opening round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

They must also position themselves favorable to where I inevitably slot them in this week’s edition of Rich 10 NHL Rankings. So, where does the field stack up at the start of May? Let’s take a glimpse, shall we? 

At the edge of the crease: New York Islanders (31-15-5, 67 points)

Previous ranking: +1

Record over past week: 2-1-0

New York Ranger fans will be ecstatic to hear that the New York Islanders are not on the schedule for the remainder of the season. This is not solely because their in-state rival in the Islanders swept them in two games (Apr. 29 and May 1), but also because goaltender Semyon Varlamov shut them out in both games. The 33-year-old has been a sensation for the Islanders this season, as he has seven shutouts to his resume this season, first among all NHL goaltenders. Four of those shutouts have come against the Rangers, which, per NHL Public Relations, gives Varlamov the recognition of being the first goaltender in the expansion era (since the 1967-68 season) to record four shutouts against one team in a single season. Varlamov might not be playing the Rangers come playoff time, but it might not matter. He has been that good. 

10. Washington Capitals (32-14-5, 69 points)

Previous ranking: 7

Record over past week: 1-1-1

An average week in Washington’s mind makes sense, given the fact that Alex Ovechkin (lower-body injury) has not played in a game since Apr. 22. The team captain, however, did return to the ice on Friday for an optional team practice, and while he did not play in the team’s 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, he has made progress. The Capitals will attempt to hold the fort without Ovechkin or defenseman John Carlson (lower-body injury) for as long as needed, even if it trickles into this week when they play the Rangers (two games) and Philadelphia Flyers (two games). 

9. Minnesota Wild (32-14-4, 68 points)

Previous ranking: 6

Record over past week: 1-1-1

If there was ever a roller coaster week for the Wild, this past week was most certainly it. To start, they blew a 3-1 lead against the St. Louis Blues and inevitably lost against them, 4-3, on Apr. 28. Minnesota then came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Blues less than a day later, only to lose in overtime via a Ryan O’Reilly breakaway backhander in the slot. With two defeats in as many days, Minnesota needed a win, even if it was only a moral one. And so came their third game in a row against St. Louis, this time on May 1. After falling behind 2-0 through one period of play, Minnesota grinded away and scored the game-tying goal via Jonas Brodin with a minute to go in regulation. In overtime, it would be Kevin Fiala who netted Minnesota with the win, as his slap shot from the right circle could not be stopped by Jordan Binnington. Tumultuous stretches happen, but they build character. Minnesota is now that much more resilient as a result. 

8. Boston Bruins (30-14-6, 66 points) 

Previous ranking: 10

Record over past week: 3-0-0

Beating up on Buffalo is one way to let off steam after dropping two straight to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Getting a hat trick from a second-line skater in Craig Smith on May 1 will also give Boston fans reason for optimism come playoff time, especially if the “Perfection Line” is not playing to the level they are used to playing at. Regardless of who scores, Boston will look to sharpen up their offensive level of play this week when they play the New Jersey Devils (two games) and Rangers (two games). 

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-3, 71 points) 

Previous ranking: 4

Record over past week: 2-1-0

The Capitals might have briefly taken back the reigns to the MassMutual East Division, but they were not able to hold onto it. Not if Pittsburgh had anything to say about it. And something to say about it the Penguins most certainly made known, as they blanked Washington on May 1 (3-0). It was the team’s first regular season shutout against their rival since Mar. 11, 2014 (2-0) and their first shutout on Washington’s home ice since Nov. 20, 2013 (4-0). With the shutout, Pittsburgh closed out the four-game gauntlet that was Boston (two games) and Washington). Pittsburgh will conclude its regular season with two games apiece against Philadelphia (May 3 and 4) and Buffalo (May 6 and 8). 

6. Tampa Bay Lightning (35-14-3, 73 points)

Previous ranking: 9

Record over past week: 3-0-1

Now, that is more like it. A nearly spotless week in Tampa Bay’s favor is certainly something the club will certainly build on as they begin the final leg of regular season play, even if it was against weaker competition in the Discover Central Division. Nevertheless, it has been a different hero in every game for Tampa Bay, and their collective hero over the past week was Blake Coleman, who led the team in points (five) over the stretch. While the forward might not be the 20-goal scorer like he was with New Jersey several years back, he can still reinforce the supplementary lines with offense when needed. My case in point? His quick snapper in the slot less than 16 seconds into the May 2 contest against the Detroit Red Wings. 

5. Colorado Avalanche (33-12-4, 70 points)

Previous ranking: 5

Record over past week: 2-2-0

Philipp Grubauer’s return from COVID-19 protocol was certainly a memorable one. After he missed the previous two+ weeks of NHL action, the 29-year-old goaltender picked up a 21-save shutout against the San Jose Sharks on Apr. 30. The performance gives Grubauer six shutouts on the season, fourth-most among all Avalanche/Quebec Nordique netminders in a single season, per NHL Public Relations. The other infamous netminders, you ask? Patrick Roy (seven during the 1996-97 season and nine during the 2001-02 season) and Craig Anderson (seven during the 2009-10 season). Grubauer will be an important piece should Colorado make a deep push come time for the playoffs. What an analysis. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (33-13-5, 71 points)

Previous ranking: 8

Record over past week: 3-0-0

As I have mentioned before, this team fluctuates in these rankings, but not because of their grossly inconsistent play, but because teams ahead of them are just that good. If anything, Toronto has been consistently electric in scoring goals, especially if it is a skater by the name of Auston Matthews. With his second of two goals scored against the Vancouver Canucks on May 1, the 23-year-old center became one of only seven Toronto skaters to ever tally 38 goals or more in a season before they turned 24 years old. Of those seven skaters, Matthews is the only one to ever have three such seasons like this (he scored 40 goals during the 2016-17 season and 47 during the 2019-20 season). 

3. Florida Panthers (34-14-5, 73 points)

Previous ranking: 3

Record over past week: 3-1-0

In case you thought Florida could not be more lethal of a club, let me introduce you to goaltender Spencer Knight. Although the 20-year-old first-round pick out of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft made his NHL debut almost two weeks ago, he made two road appearances this past week (Apr. 27 against Nashville and Apr. 29 against Chicago) and picked up a win in both. In three total games played (two GS), Knight has compiled a 1.67 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .943 Save Percentage (Sv%). Per NHL Public Relations, Knight, after his victory against the Blackhawks on Apr. 29, became the second-youngest goaltender (20 years, 10 days) to win each of his first three appearances. The youngest was Bill Ranford (19 years, 110 days) for the Bruins during the 1985-86 season. Think of this for a second – Joel Quenneville now has another weapon at his disposal. In other seasons, this might have been enough to give Florida the nod for the top spot in this ranking. Alas…

2. Vegas Golden Knights (36-12-2, 74 points) 

Previous ranking: 1

Record over past week: 2-1-0

While Vegas had its franchise record 10-game winning streak snapped on Apr. 30 against the Arizona Coyotes, they will still be OK, I reckon. The line combination is flexible as it is three-dimensional, and if their Frank J. Selke Trophy contender in Mark Stone is not getting the job done, the Max Pacioretty’s, William Karlsson’s and Jonathan Marchessault’s of the world are. The 30-year-old center in Marchessault picked up his 25th game-winning goal of his career Saturday after his one-timer from the left circle found the back of the net of the Arizona Coyotes. His 18 game-winning goals with Vegas lead all skaters on the team since the inaugural 2017-18 season. Over the same span, Pacioretty, Karlsson and Stone have combined for 43. You get the basic gist – this team is not a one-man show when it comes to tallying the goal that broke the opponent’s back. 

1. Carolina Hurricanes (34-10-7, 75 points) 

Previous ranking: 2

Record over past week: 3-0-1

It was inevitable. Carolina’s torrid production on all sides of the ice meant it was only a matter of time before they eventually perched themselves atop this ranking installment. And, well, here we are, aren’t we? At this stage of the season, everyone knows what Carolina is, but to keep it simple, they are pretty much everything. They score, defend, goaltend out the wazoo and win while doing all of it. The usual stars perform and the supporting players chip in when needed. This sounds cliché, but in all honesty, a brief excerpt about Carolina’s potency will not do them enough justice. Watch a period or two and you’ll quickly get the idea that this team is a legit Cup contender. While you are on the Hurricane binge, watch this. Nothing beats a perfectly positioned block. Well, maybe this does. 

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