Ahead of this season, I picked the Montreal Canadiens to win the North division in an upset over the Toronto Maple Leafs. And for the opening month of the campaign, that looked like a pretty solid pick. The Habs got off to a blazing hot start, picking up points in nine of their first 10 games (7-1-2), dominating in a lot of possession numbers and staying tight with Toronto at the top of the division.
But as we’ve seen many times in the NHL, things can come apart quickly. Since those initial 10 games, Montreal is 2-5-2 and has looked pretty ugly in the process — ugly enough that, this week, they elected to fire Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller. Now, it’ll be Dominique Ducharme’s job to pick up the pieces of a Habs club that showed so much promise at the start of the year.
Around the same time that Montreal started sliding, the Edmonton Oilers began to hit their stride. After a shaky start to the year (and some very familiar problems surrounding depth, defense and goaltending), the Oilers have tightened up and found success in recent weeks. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games and have charged up the North standings.
Now, as they head into a three-game series with the Maple Leafs, they could potentially overtake Toronto at the top of the division if all goes well. Huh. Things sure do change quickly. And it’s important to remember that, while every NHL season is a story of ups-and-downs, this condensed season puts even more emphasis on each and every streak, for better or for worse.
Let’s get to this week’s power rankings.
They have yet to fall out of this top spot since the start of the season. Six straight weeks looking like the class of the league. They beat a very good Hurricanes team in three of their four matchups this week.
Auston Matthews (18 goals in 20 games) and Mitch Marner (30 points in 21 games) continue to be absolute monsters for the Leafs.
They crushed the Flyers 7-3 at Lake Tahoe, but then were promptly humbled by the Islanders 7-2 in their next game. Let’s call it a wash.
Marc-Andre Fleury has fully reclaimed his net in Vegas and it’s probably time to start talking about him as a legitimate Vezina candidate. He’s got a .942 save percentage and 10.0 GSAA through his first 11 games.
After shutting out the Lightning in their first meeting of the week, they then dropped the next three. Still, they managed to still look quite good and remain Tampa’s toughest competition in that division.
The Panthers might be the most “are they for real?” team in the league this season, and a lot of the signs point to yes … especially if they can continue to get good goaltending. Unfortunately for the Cats and their salary cap situation, that good goaltending is coming from Chris Driedger and not Sergei Bobrovsky.
They’ve lost three of their last five but those losses came against good teams (Vegas twice and Minnesota) they’ve also only played six games this entire month due to COVID stoppages. It’s hard to hold it against them.
Pierre Luc-Dubois seems to be getting acclimated to this team while playing on the wing, picking up three goals in four games. Winnipeg’s top-six is cruising, the only question is whether the back end and blue line will be able to keep it together.
Here come the Oilers! Edmonton has won five in a row and 11 of their last 13. Suddenly, they’re within striking distance of the Leafs at the top of the North division.
I’ve been extremely impressed with Mat Barzal’s growth this year. He was always extremely gifted but his shot seems to be snappier this year and he’s willing to use it a lot more, and that’s good news for the Islanders. And even on nights where he’s quiet on the scoresheet he finds a way to make an impact with his skating.
Are the Wild…good? And dare I say…exciting? They’ve largely been held back by a lack of finishing power but this week they exploded for 20 goals in four games (all wins). They’re still playing very well defensively too, giving up just six goals in those four contests.
They’ve been smoked by COVID this month and the Lake Tahoe game turned into a disaster for them, but they managed to get back in the win column (for the first time in 17 days) by beating the Rangers.
If you’re wondering how this team keeps winning so many games, the goaltending is probably a great place to start. Kevin Lankinen has gotten a bunch of well-deserved praise, but Malcolm Subban also has a .952 save percentage in his last four starts.
They’ve been crushed by injuries but they also need their top vets to start carrying a bit more weight. They also rank near the bottom of the league in both power play and penalty kill efficiency, so they need to get that sorted out.
What a mess it’s been in Montreal lately. After a tremendous start to the year, the Habs have lost six of their last seven and they promptly fired head coach Claude Julien this week. Maybe the coaching change will spark something in this team but the biggest key to recovery might lie in Carey Price being able to find a few saves here and there.
They haven’t been overly impressive and it feels like they’re treading water a bit but they’re at least managing to keep their head above the surface. Even with how shaky they’ve looked at points, they’re still within striking distance of the top of the division.
They’re starting to clean it up a bit on the back end and the turnaround could be in motion. It’s tough to fully gauge this team but they won three in a row (and five of six) against pretty good teams before dropping Thursday’s game in Washington.
They won four straight to start the year but have won just two games since (2-5-4). They’re still solid defensively and in net, which is a big reason why many of their losses are so close, but lack of offensive production at 5-on-5 is killing them.
Things have not been going especially well for Calgary. They’ve lost five of their last six and have scored exactly one goal in each of those five losses. Many of their underlying offensive numbers are solid but they just can’t score. They could be a candidate for Claude Julien’s next gig.
They finally won a seven-game series (albeit a regular season one) but then immediately dropped two straight to the Kings and won two nailbiters against the Ducks. I wouldn’t say I’m all that impressed.
I wouldn’t exactly say they’re “for real” yet but their surprisingly solid start to the season should inspire some confidence in where this ship is headed, especially with some young pieces playing well.
Don’t look now but the Kings have won six in a row. Sure, they lost five in a row before that but…whatever! Recency bias!
The last thing this team needed was Artemi Panarin stepping away to deal with personal matters in Russia but, welp, here we are. If they don’t start picking up the pieces soon then David Quinn might be out of a job.
They’ve lost five of six and it doesn’t look like they’re having too much fun in Columbus.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Thatcher Demko in his first season as “the guy” in Vancouver. The Canucks are getting run over defensively and Demko still has a .913 save percentage while facing an average of 31 shots in his last 11 appearances.
Things are spiraling in Buffalo, both on and off the ice. Jeff Skinner is apparently in Ralph Krueger’s doghouse and has been a healthy scratch for three straight games. Rasmus Ristolainen hasn’t recovered from COVID yet. Jack Eichel is hurt. Linus Ullmark is hurt. This is a mess.
Erik Karlsson continues to battle injury issues and it’s sad that his story has basically become a tragedy at this point. One of this generation’s most impactful defensemen has basically been reduced to an anchor thanks to his body not cooperating.
This team is steadily cruising toward the start of a rebuild, and it should probably begin at the trade deadline this year. They’ve been downright embarrassing and it’s time to hit the reset button.
They still stink but…at last…TREVOR ZEGRAS TIME!
Three wins in a row! Unfortunately, they’re still eight games under .500 and have a league-worst goal differential (-27). Don’t plan the parade just yet.
The Red Wings’ power play has gone 0-for-their-last-39. That’s 14 straight games without a goal. The man-advantage conversion rate is now down to an incredibly pathetic 6.1%.
Published: 2021-02-26 19:15:54
Tags: #NHL #Power #Rankings #Oilers #replace #Canadiens #lone #threat #Maple #Leafs #North #division