2023-24 NHL Power Rankings: Where Bruins stand in Eastern Conference originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We've reached an important point in every NHL season -- U.S. Thanksgiving.
This is the time of the season when teams, especially those out of a playoff spot, give themselves an honest evaluation and determine what steps to be taken to see on-ice improvement.
Since the 2005-06 season, 75 percent of the teams in a playoff spot at U.S. Thanksgiving ultimately reached the postseason. It's possible to engineer a midseason turnaround and have success in the spring. The St. Louis Blues were in last place in January of 2019 and won the Stanley Cup five months later. But that's a pretty rare outcome, so for the teams on the outside of the playoff picture, the time to make changes is right now.
Here's our first Eastern Conference power rankings of the 2023-24 season.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (4-11-4)
It's not going well in Columbus.
Star forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine were both benched recently. Laine was even a healthy scratch last Sunday. The Blue Jackets sit at the bottom of the East standings and their minus-19 goal differential is the second-worst in the league. It's going to be another long season of losing in Columbus.
15. Montreal Canadiens (7-9-2)
The Canadiens were a fun surprise early in the season with a 5-2-1 record. But they've gone just 2-7-1 since, including an ugly 6-5 loss to the Golden Knights and a 5-2 defeat to the Bruins over their last two games.
The goal for the Canadiens this season was always developing their young players, most notably Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and 2022 No. 1 pick Juraj Slafkovsky. If those guys and others take positive strides in their development, then this season will be considered a success in Montreal.
14. Ottawa Senators (8-7-0)
There's been a lot of off-ice distractions for the Senators over the last year. The most recent drama was general manager Pierre Dorion resigning Nov. 1 after the NHL docked the Senators a future first-round draft pick as punishment "for their role in the July 2021 trade of Evgenii Dadonov from the Senators to the Vegas Golden Knights and the subsequent, invalidated March 2022 Dadonov trade between the Golden Knights and the Anaheim Ducks."
The Senators have failed to impress on the ice, too, and they came into Tuesday tied for the second-worst record in the East. Fans in Ottawa are hoping the team's three-game win streak can spark a run up the standings, but that could prove challenging for the Senators when you consider their upcoming schedule includes matchups versus quality opponents such as the Panthers, Rangers, Leafs, Kraken and Hurricanes.
13. Buffalo Sabres (8-9-1)
The Sabres barely missed the playoffs in 2023 for the first time since 2011 last season, so the expectation in Buffalo coming into the year was the team would build on that momentum and end the league's longest playoff appearance drought. They are only three points out of a playoff spot, but there's already a bunch of teams above them in the standings.
The key for Buffalo will be scoring more goals. This team ranks 25th in goals scored per game, and a big reason for those struggles offensively is a power play that ranks 27th with a 11.5 percent success rate. The Sabres play in a division with several of the league's most skilled teams, and they don't have good enough goaltending to overcome bottom-third offensive production. Buffalo has to correct these scoring issues or it'll slip further down the standings and eventually back into the draft lottery.
12. New York Islanders (6-6-5)
The Islanders have a few issues. For starters, they rank 27th in goals scored. They also have the league's second-worst penalty kill. It's hard to imagine this team getting into the playoffs without adding a top-six forward at the trade deadline.
The Islanders just don't have enough scoring depth to compete in a loaded Eastern Conference. Making matters worse is starting goalie Ilya Sorokin's performance dropping from Vezina Trophy-caliber last season to just average so far in 2023-24.
11. Detroit Red Wings (8-6-3)
The Red Wings were aggressive in the offseason in adding reinforcements to their roster, and it's worked out fairly well so far. Detroit has a 8-6-3 record with the seventh-highest scoring offense led by Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Larkin pacing the team with 17 points apiece. Goaltending has the potential to sink the Red Wings, though, evidenced by their .888 save percentage, which ranks 22nd.
10. New Jersey Devils (8-7-1)
The Devils went through a tough rebuild from 2018-19 through 2021-22, but last season they finally put it all together and made the playoffs with a young, exciting roster led by new superstar center Jack Hughes.
Expectations were very high for the Devils coming into the season, and they were a trendy Stanley Cup pick as well. After a 6-2-1 start, the Devils have lost five of their last seven games, including a 5-3 defeat at home Saturday night to the rival Rangers.
"They played physical and we didn't match that," Hughes told reporters postgame. "It's something we're gonna have to be, not more emotionally involved because we were, but we just gotta be physical in our own way."
Goaltending has been a major issue for New Jersey -- the team's .847 save percentage ranks 29th out of 32 teams.
The Devils are a mostly young team that hasn't learned how to win yet. It'll be interesting to see how they weather this stretch of bad results.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (9-8-0)
The Penguins started out 3-6-0, but they've won six of their last eight games, highlighted by an impressive 3-0 win over the defending champion Golden Knights on Sunday. Sidney Crosby is still an elite player at age 36 with 22 points in 17 games. His 12 goals are two off the league lead.
One bright spot for Pittsburgh has been its goaltending. It was a weakness for them over the last couple of years, but the Penguins' .912 save percentage is the eighth-best in the league right now. They've also allowed the eighth-fewest goals (46). Any Penguins team with this caliber of goaltending and Crosby playing like a superstar is going to be a tough out.
8. Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-1)
It's been a rollercoaster season thus far in Philly. There was plenty of optimism after a 3-1-0 start, but that was followed by a run of seven losses in the next nine games. But the Flyers have won five games in a row entering Tuesday and sit in second place in the Metropolitan with a 10-7-1 record.
Travis Sanheim is having a career year with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 18 games. The 27-year-old defenseman tallied just 23 points in 81 games last season. Goaltending remains a concern for the Flyers, but they do have a lot of offensive firepower and rank No. 9 in goals scored.
7. Washington Capitals (9-4-2)
The Capitals were sellers at the trade deadline last season and moved a couple veterans. It appeared that Washington was in the midst of a transition period while Alexander Ovechkin continued his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record. But the Capitals are off to a great start, and with a 9-4-2 record they qualify among the league's most surprising teams.
They also overcame a poor start. After beginning 1-3-1, the Capitals are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They are the second-lowest-scoring team in the league with 39 goals, but they've given up just 40. Backup netminder Charlie Lindgren is 4-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA and a .940 save percentage.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (10-7-0)
The Hurricanes are still a tough team to play against as a physical, hard-working group with a relentless forecheck and a well-structured defensive identity. Carolina, as it often does, ranks top four in shot attempt percentage, shots on net percentage and scoring chance percentage at even strength.
One of the keys to the Hurricanes success in the next couple months will be getting Andrei Svechnikov firing on all cylinders offensively. The star winger, who suffered a season-ending knee injury just after the trade deadline last season, has zero goals in his first nine games this year.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (9-6-4)
The Lightning aren't the same super deep and loaded they were during their runs to the Stanley Cup Final from 2019-20 through 2021-22, but underestimate them at your own peril. Tampa Bay is still a tough team to beat, and superstar right wing Nikita Kucherov is on fire to begin the season with 27 points. His 13 goals are tied for the league lead.
Tampa Bay, with its 5-4 overtime win over the Bruins on Monday night, is one of just two teams to score more than four goals against Boston this season.
— Lightning Audio Network (@BoltsRadio) November 21, 2023
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (10-5-2)
The Leafs didn't get off to the best start, but a four-game win streak has Toronto right back in the mix for a top three spot in the Atlantic Division.
William Nylander still doesn't have a contract extension, but the star winger is making a strong case for a major pay day with a team-leading 27 points in 17 games. The longer the Leafs wait to sign Nylander, the more expensive it's likely to get.
WHO ELSE BUT NYLANDER TO CALL GAME IN OT 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Lf3QcBBQV3
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 19, 2023
3. Florida Panthers (12-5-1)
The Panthers have been one of the league's hottest teams of late. They've rocketed up the standings with a 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games and sit just four points behind the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic.
The good times should continue for Florida as the team gets healthier. The return of center Sam Bennett and defensemen Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad over the last week is absolutely massive for this team.
The challenge for the Panthers was staying above water over the first month of the season as important players worked their way back from injuries and offseason surgeries. Mission accomplished for the Panthers in that regard.
2. New York Rangers (12-3-1)
The Rangers have the look of a top contender for the Stanley Cup, although their 6-3 loss to the Stars on Monday night was pretty ugly.
The key to their early-season success has been goaltending. Former Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin is 7-3-0 with a 2.60 GAA and a .908 save percentage, while veteran backup Jonathan Quick has revitalized his career in New York with a 4-0-1 record, a .928 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA.
The Rangers blue line has impressed, too, helping the team rank in the top 10 in shot attempts allowed, shots on net allowed and scoring chances allowed at even strength. New York's 39 goals allowed in all situations are two above the Bruins for the league low.
The one concern with the Rangers is scoring depth. They rank 23rd in goals scored despite superstar winger Artemi Panarin posting 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) through 16 games. If the Rangers add a middle-six forward before the trade deadline, this will be a very dangerous team come playoff time.
1. Boston Bruins (13-1-3)
The Bruins weren't expected to be the top team in the East at Thanksgiving week after they lost so many good players over the offseason, most notably their top two centers in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. But thanks to elite goaltending, David Pastrnak playing like an MVP, Charlie McAvoy taking his scoring production to a higher level and a couple young players making a strong impact, they own the league's best record at 13-1-3.
The Bruins rank No. 1 in save percentage and goals against because of their goaltending. Jeremy Swayman has posted a 7-0-2 record with a .933 save percentage and a 2.09 GAA. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Linus Ullmark, is 6-1-1 with a .928 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA.
Pastrnak is on track to be a Hart Trophy finalist for the second consecutive season with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 17 games. He's two goals away from the league lead and one point behind the league scoring leader.
The Bruins' offense has improved of late -- four or more goals scored in four of the last five games -- but they're still probably a forward short, so that would be an area to upgrade before the trade deadline.
Third period execution is among the team's primary concerns, as we saw Monday night when the B's blew a late lead in an overtime loss to the Lightning. Almost half (18) of Boston's 37 goals allowed this season have come in the third period. The B's need to show a little more poise and focus late in games if they're going to make a deep playoff run.