The NHL features great storylines and heroes across the league, and after another week of action here are my takeaways and power rankings; but first, we’ll speculate about the playoffs for each division.
It’s a drag race in Canada…
After just three weeks of play, the much anticipated North division exclusively featuring Canadian teams is shaping up to be a two-team tango. As of Tuesday morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a one point lead over the Montréal Canadiens, who have one game in hand, followed by the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators in that order. I do not believe the current standings reflect where we will sit at the end of the season given the current discrepancy in games played. Vancouver sits at twelve games played while Calgary has only eight, for example.
Just as I raved about the kids from Montréal last week, I again have nothing but positive things to say about them. They sport a 6-2-1 record, an astounding +15 goal differential and have been wiping the floor with their opponents, including a 6-2 sucker punch to the Canucks on Feb.1. Keep an eye on Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry as the season progresses; he is a dark horse candidate for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s best defenseman.
The Maple Leafs have looked strong so far, gathering points in eight of their first 10 tilts. When healthy, they field the best roster in the league, and they have added some key grit to their forward group in the form of Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds, who the Leafs are hoping to have guide this team to its first postseason series victory in eons. The Maple Leafs’ biggest question remark remains their defense, which has been leaky at times — see the gash that Connor McDavid opened on Saturday night when he scored an early goal of the year candidate en route to an Oilers overtime victory.
Speaking of McDavid, the NHL’s most talented forward and his teammate Leon Draisaitl, the reigning MVP, were nothing short of unstoppable, earning NHL honors as the second and third stars of the week. The Oilers remain inconsistent and streaky, but are always fun to watch nonetheless.
Look for Montréal and Toronto to run away with this division. The rest is a mystery (besides Ottawa — they are just bad).
The beasts of the East…
Many folks — myself included — are intrigued by the East division this year, seeing as though only the top four teams can qualify for the playoffs. There are five legitimate playoff teams in this division, but the other three aren’t far behind. The five I speak of are the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins; the first three I see as locks for the playoffs, but I consider the final spot to be wide open.
The Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins went head-to-head twice in the past four days. In both games, the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and in both games they squandered that lead. In his return from COVID-19 protocol, Alex Ovechkin lifted the Caps to an overtime win in the first game, but the Bruins were too much to handle in game two, reeling off five straight goals and winning 5-3.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers have continued their strong play this week, going 4-0 and defeating both the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders twice in the process. Philadelphia, Washington and Boston are powerhouses and should continue to lead this division throughout the season. The fourth spot in this division will go to whichever of the remaining teams can get the best goaltending.
The West is not the best…
Expectations were not high for the West division, with exception to the top three teams: the St. Louis Blues, Las Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. The Wild will probably earn the fourth playoff spot here, because the three California teams — the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks — are simply bad. The Arizona Coyotes also play in the West, but they suffer from terrible management and a roster plagued by mediocrity.
Last week I chose the Blues and Knights game as the game of the week, and it lived up to the hype. The Blues defeated the Knights and their former captain, Alex Pietrangelo, in a shootout thriller which saw Max Pacioretty net a hat-trick in a losing effort. Unfortunately, we were not treated to game two of this series due to COVID-19 protocols, which have resulted in the Knights being out of action until this Friday — a week and a half after their shootout loss to the Blues.
The Panthers run the Central…?
The Florida Panthers, a team stuck in mediocrity for so long, have had an excellent start to the season, earning points in all six of their games. They have been playing with no fans for years, which might explain their hot start. Look for them to fall off a cliff when they play some tougher competition.
All jokes aside, the Panthers have a chance to do something this year in a division where I see another top three as locks for the top four spots. The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning lead the pack, followed by last year’s runner-up, the Dallas Stars and lastly the Carolina Hurricanes. The Chicago Blackhawks have one of the worst rosters in the league and are depleted even further due to injuries, and the Detroit Red Wings are in the midst of a rebuild.
The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets should compete with the Panthers for the fourth spot in this division.
Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.
- Montréal Canadiens
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Boston Bruins
- Washington Capitals
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Colorado Avalanche
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Dallas Stars
- St. Louis Blues
What to watch this week…
This Saturday the Blues will play the Avalanche for the first time since the Avalanche embarrassed them in an 8-0 shutout victory. I expect this to be a feisty game.
Speaking of feisty, the Oilers and Flames will meet in the first installment of the Battle of Alberta this season. This is the most entertaining rivalry in hockey.
Avalanche at Blues: Saturday, Feb. 6 at 12 p.m. PT.
Oilers at Flames: Saturday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. PT.
Contact Peter Knowles at pknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.