Power Rankings: Blackhawks are back on top
As the 2016-17 regular season enters its final stretch, it’s time to get serious. There’s been a lot of moving and shaking within the rankings over the past couple of weeks, but this time I’m taking a hard look at which teams are really the best of the best — and which ones are spinning around the drain. We have a new No. 1, which shouldn’t be a surprise, as the rest settle into position. It’s no longer about winning streaks or losing skids, but more about consistency and the likelihood of winning the Stanley Cup.
Thanks to a five-game winning streak, the red-hot Blackhawks became the first Western Conference team to lock down a Stanley Cup playoff berth. It’s Chicago’s ninth consecutive postseason appearance, and this was the earliest it has clinched during that run. The Blackhawks are playing inspirational hockey at the right time and look like a legitimate Cup contender.
The Capitals were the first team to clinch a berth this season, beating the Blackhawks to the punch by a day. Washington has earned 100 points and qualified for the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Since captain Alex Ovechkin snapped his 10-game goal drought, he’s gone another pair of games without scoring one. Ovi needs to find some consistency before the postseason.
When the best player in the world is playing up to his title, his team feeds off his energy and commitment. Sidney Crosby became the first player to reach the 40-goal plateau this season and is tied with the Edmonton Oilers‘ Connor McDavid for the league lead with 80 points. This is only the second time in his career that Crosby has scored 40 goals, while the Penguins are 7-1-1 in their past nine games.
The Blue Jackets reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in franchise history and also clinched a postseason berth for the third time in 17 seasons. Columbus has the potential to be a dangerous team in the playoffs, thanks in large part to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 7-0-0 with a 1.14 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage in March. He also leads the league with 39 wins.
Forward Eric Staal has been an important guy for the Wild this season both on and off the ice during his first season in Minnesota. The veteran — who has found new life with the Wild and has 24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points in 71 games — recently played in his 1,000th NHL game.
After a successful six-game homestand (4-2-0), the Sharks remain atop the Pacific Division. Next up, they embark on a four-game road trip through Dallas (two games), Minnesota and Nashville.
Rangers forward Chris Kreider is in the midst of a five-game point streak, with two goals and four assists for six points during that span. He’s been New York’s best player at times this season, and New York needs more performances like that from Kreider it it’s going to make a deep playoff run.
The addition of Jordie Benn at the trade deadline has paid dividends for the Canadiens. His timely offensive production has helped Montreal open a four-point lead on the Ottawa Senators for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
The hottest team in the league is playing its best hockey at the most opportune time. The Flames are 13-1-1 in their past 15 games and have regained sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division. Calgary has goalie Brian Elliott to thank for this string of victories. He has won 11 in a row and has a 1.70 GAA and .942 save percentage during that span.
Back-to-back losses to the Canadiens should serve as a reminder what’s at stake for the Senators, who have 11 games remaining in the regular season. Recent defeats at the hands of the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning shouldn’t sit well either. The Sens will aim to get back in the win column against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
11. (8) Boston Bruins, 38-27-6
While all eyes are on forward Brad Marchand (37 goals) and his attempt to keep pace with Crosby (40) for the league lead, the Bruins’ David Pastrnak has been on an offensive tear of late too, with six goals and nine assists for 15 points in his past 11 games.
Forward Rickard Rakell is getting hot at the right time for the Ducks. He has goals in four consecutive games and has a total of five points during that span. The 23-year-old forward has reached the 30-goal plateau this season, which is the kind of production Anaheim needed from him.
McDavid is tied with Crosby for the league lead in points, with 80. The Oilers captain has 25 goals and 55 assists — but he isn’t the only player pumping in the goals for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl (24 goals and 39 assists) has surpassed the 60-point mark for the first time in his NHL career.
Forward Vladimir Tarasenko continues to entertain and put up prolific numbers. His 34 goals and 63 points have kept the Blues in the playoff picture.
This team will be a lot of fun to watch if it does make the postseason. The Maple Leafs are the first team to have three rookies reach the 50-point mark in a season since the Jets did so in 1992-93. Toronto’s William Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have all accomplished the feat this season.
17. (19) Tampa Bay Lightning, 34-28-9
The return of captain Steven Stamkos depends on several factors, including his team’s ability to stay in the playoff hunt. The Lightning captain had knee surgery in November and recently returned to the ice for skating sessions. The schedule’s not helping either. Because of Tampa Bay’s lack of upcoming practice time, Stamkos has not been able to fully test his knee in game-like situations.
Since arriving in Los Angeles at the trade deadline, veteran forward Jarome Iginla has produced for the Kings. He has three goals and one assist for four points in eight games as L.A. attempts to stay in playoff contention.
Only 10 games into his NHL career, prospect Josh Ho-Sang has three goals and three assists for six points. Islanders GM Garth Snow was shopping the 21-year-old forward at the deadline, but Ho-Sang has shown his potential to make an impact in Brooklyn.
The Jets’ chances of earning a postseason berth are dwindling, but the team has a bright future. Captain Blake Wheeler reached the 500-point plateau over the weekend.
The Flyers aren’t completely out of playoff contention — and they’re showing some grit down the stretch. Case in point: Philadelphia tied Sunday’s game in the final minute of regulation before Brayden Schenn scored 38 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maybe Jaromir Jagr will keep going until he’s 50. The 45-year-old forward played in his 1,700th NHL game on Sunday, becoming the fourth player in NHL history to reach that mark, joining Gordie Howe (1,767), Mark Messier (1,756) and Ron Francis (1,731).
The Hurricanes are mathematically still in contention. If they don’t earn a playoff berth this season, this deep, young team should enjoy many trips to the postseason in the future.
Maybe it’s time for a coaching change in Buffalo. In spite of their young and talented roster, the Sabres will miss the postseason. Maybe head coach Dan Bylsma’s message is not getting through to the players, because his team has missed out on more than a few chances this season.
It’s been a tough year in Hockeytown. The Red Wings are on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 25 years.
Another disappointing season in Vancouver could only get worse down the stretch. The Canucks face the Blackhawks, Blues and Wild this week.
There should be a sign on GM Jim Nill’s door that reads: Goalie wanted. Statistically, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are two of the worst netminders in the league, which does not bode well for the team moving forward. Nill must figure out the goaltending situation or next season will feature much of the same in Dallas.
The Devils’ chances of finishing strong don’t look promising. In the midst of a 1-8-1 stretch in its past 10 games, New Jersey is now the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
I can’t wait to see how this organization grows under GM John Chayka.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the Avalanche as GM Joe Sakic rebuilds the team.
31. (N/A) Vegas Golden Knights
GM George McPhee and his staff continue to prepare for the expansion draft.