NHL Power Rankings: Thumbs up, thumbs down …
The NHL season has hit the quarter pole, a time team executives typically use to assess what’s right and what’s wrong since 20-odd games is reasonable sample size.
We’ll use this time to assign a thumbs up if the team is at least meeting expectations, or giving a thumbs down if a team is struggling more than expected.
1. Washington Capitals (17-6-2, Previous: 1) – Thumbs up: Yes, the real focus of the Caps’ season will be how they fare in the playoffs, but getting results and establishing good habits now is important.
2. Detroit Red Wings (15-4-2, Previous: 2) – Thumbs up: We had an inkling a fast start (and a great regular season) was possible considering the roster and more offseason rest last summer than the previous couple years.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-2, Previous: 9) – Thumbs up: Regardless of where or when they play, the Pens are very much a marked team thanks to all their stars so it’s never an easy ride. Sure, they’d like more balance through the ranks, but Sidney Crosby(notes) is overshadowing those problems for now.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (15-6-4, Previous: 5) – Thumbs up: OK, so maybe that run to the final last spring wasn’t a one-time fluke. Balanced scoring up and down the lineup and the emergence of rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky(notes) is a pleasant surprise.
5. Montreal Canadiens (15-8-1, Previous: 8) – Thumbs up: No one, and I mean no one saw this coming from Carey Price(notes). Does he have any choice in Montreal but to keep it up? Good luck. But give him credit for dealing with the offseason scrutiny to get the job done – so far.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (13-11-2, Previous: 10) – Thumbs up: It’d be easy to bag on these guys for a barely .500 record, but the fact is they’re finding the replacements for the nine departed regulars are pretty good and they’re really happy they found a way to keep restricted free agent Patrick Sharp(notes).
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (13-8-3, Previous: 14) – Thumbs up: Two words – Steven Stamkos(notes). Hey, he’s only got 18 more goals than Vincent Lecavalier(notes). But seriously, the team is responding to a new coach, a new GM and a new attitude. And it’s coming together maybe quicker than expected.
9. St. Louis Blues (12-7-3, Previous: 6) – Thumbs up: Love the way Jaroslav Halak(notes) has taken the bull by the horns here, a defense-oriented team. They’d like to have more than one skater with more than five goals at this point, but overall it’s so far, so good.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets (14-8-0, Previous: 19) – Thumbs up: So where exactly did all this come from? It starts and ends with goaltending for this team, and they’re getting it so far from a nice pair – Steve Mason(notes) and Mathieu Garon(notes) – who work well together.
11. Dallas Stars (14-8-1, Previous: 22) – Thumbs up: This has got to be the biggest surprise of the first quarter. Hate to sound like a pessimist, but how long can it last?
12. Los Angeles Kings (13-10-0, Previous: 4) – Thumbs down: Everything was rosy early on, but the Kings have given almost all of that big lead on San Jose back – no disrespect to Phoenix and Anaheim – and the Sharks aren’t even playing well.
13. Boston Bruins (12-8-2, Previous: 12) – Thumbs down: How can this team be in eighth place when their save percentage is .943? No team will ever get better goaltending, and it’s sure not to maintain this pace all season so the Bruins better figure out a way to score.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (11-6-5, Previous: 20) – Thumbs, um, up and down: Beware of streaky teams. Sure, the ‘Yotes have been ridiculous of late, but don’t let that cloud the situation. They’ll need more than middle-of-the-road goaltending and special teams to hang in the West.
16. New York Rangers (14-11-1, Previous: 15) – Thumbs up: They’re not great, but they’re not bad and they’re a lot better than expected … so far. Special teams and Henrik Lundqvist(notes) are going to have to be better to hold on to a playoff spot.
17. Anaheim Ducks (12-11-3, Previous: 11) – Thumbs down: Look, we knew it would be a struggle with a depleted defense – losing Chris Pronger(notes) one season and Scott Niedermayer(notes) the next – but there’s a weird vibe that maybe everyone’s not on the same page.
18. San Jose Sharks (11-7-4, Previous: 7) – Thumbs down: Inconsistency is the early-season theme. Antti Niemi(notes) has been surprisingly bad, the power play is up and down and the defense isn’t chipping in enough on the scoresheet.
19. Colorado Avalanche (13-9-1, Previous: 13) – Thumbs up: The biggest challenge facing the Avs was learning to deal with success and heightened expectations after last year’s surprising turnaround. Not only that, they’ve dealt with a bevy of injuries.
20. Minnesota Wild (11-10-2, Previous: 18) – Thumbs down: The Wild don’t have the depth to contend with injuries that keep cropping up to players who aren’t good enough to get them in the playoffs anyhow (save for Niklas Backstrom(notes)). And they’re hurting the development of the team’s future by not allowing them to progress appropriately in the minors.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (10-11-3, Previous: 25) – Thumbs down: You decide to go cheap, this is what you get. Hey, at least they won a Cup a few years ago. You know how long they’ve been waiting in Los Angeles or St. Louis for that to happen?
22. Nashville Predators (9-8-5, Previous: 16) – Thumbs down: Tough call here because they don’t really have as much to work with as others in the West. Then again, only one team in the conference had fewer regulation wins in the West, and that’s not what the Preds are used to.
23. Ottawa Senators (11-13-1, Previous: 21) – Thumbs down: Team owner Eugene Melnyk is giving a vote of confidence to GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston. How convenient to let the players off the hook.
24. New Jersey Devils (8-14-2, Previous: 27) – Thumbs down: All of the early-season focus is on Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) failing to score 75 goals by Nov. 1, but the problem is the Devils don’t develop defensemen like they used to.
27. Florida Panthers (10-12-0, Previous: 26) – Thumbs down: Just thumbs down, that’s all there is to it. Nine straight years without a playoff appearance, 11 of 12 years with early tee times. It’s just flat-out thumbs down all the time.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (8-11-3, Previous: 28) – Thumbs down: That 4-0-0 start is a distant memory now, eh?
29. Edmonton Oilers (7-12-4, Previous: 29) – Thumbs up: No, that’s not a typo. They don’t have to worry about living up to expectations because there are no expectations and the young players actually are showing glimpses.
30. New York Islanders (5-12-5, Previous: 30) – Thumbs down: The lesson to learn here is don’t wear orange and blue, it’s just not working for the two teams with those colors this year.