NHL Power Rankings: The Good and Bad Edition

Shawn McKenzie is joined by Chris Johnston and Steve Dangle to break down the positives of the Leafs strong start to the 2021 season. Plus, areas that still need fixing, the improvement of Frederik Andersen and more.

It’s hard to believe, but we’re quickly coming up to the quarter mark of the season.

Fourteen games will mark that in a 56-game season and the North Division will all get their first as COVID protocols have forced teams in other loops to postpone games. That is a situation worth keeping an eye on and, we wonder, at what point does it become more plausible for a division to play less than 56 games, or have to have an order decided by points percentage?

We’re not there yet, and there is an extra week the NHL can use at the end of the regular season (and has already started to with Dallas) but the schedule is already condensed enough.

We’re also not “there yet” on making any final conclusions on teams. Sample sizes are still small enough to wonder how much is real and how much is being propped up by hot streaks. There is a bit of good and bad in every team, and that’s the focus of this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

1. Montreal Canadiens
The good: Pretty much everything. With a PP and PK that are both top 12, Montreal has also outscored opponents 23-12 at even 5-on-5, tied with St. Louis for the league lead at plus-11 in that situation. At 5-on-5, Montreal averages the highest danger chances for, and fewest high danger chances against, per game in the North Division, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bad: Getting a trade request from a 22-year-old defencemen — who you actually have plans for — is a tough pill to swallow. Depth is a team strength, but it has forced Victor Mete to the sidelines for most of the season. He was back in the lineup in Monday’s win (17:45 TOI, 46.67CF%) and GM Marc Bergevin said he doesn’t want to trade the player, but there would be interest.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning
The good: The defending champs haven’t really missed a beat, and are rolling along without Nikita Kucherov. No team generates more high danger chances per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play and Andrei Vasilevskiy has stayed hot with a 2.14 GAA and .926 save percentage.

The bad: Really nit-picking here, but Tampa has only played one game against the three teams in their division who are equal to or better than them in points percentage — Dallas, Carolina, Florida — and they are 0-0-1. Not that we’re doubting the champs, but they haven’t played much against the teams we would consider the top contenders in their group yet.

3. Boston Bruins
The good: It’d be crazy to bet against the Bruins. After a slow start scoring at 5-on-5, Boston has picked up the pace. They got 13 of a possible 14 points from Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia over the past two weeks as a reminder that they’re still here. Despite losses on the back end over the off-season, they remain one of the best defensive teams and — as Sportlogiq explored — their expected goal percentage vs. actual goals indicates more offence is likely to come.

The bad: Tuukka Rask hasn’t been great yet (which has been a reminder as to how valuable Jaroslav Halak is to the team). At 5-on-5, Rask has allowed nine goals, over two more than his “expected” goals against rate.

4. St. Louis Blues
The good: Running hot, the Blues are one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the league. Jordan Kyrou’s breakout season is happening, as he’s already set new personal bests and leads the team with 12 points in 10 games.

The bad: There are high hopes for Ville Husso to at least be a stable backup to Jordan Binnington (especially for this condensed schedule), but he hasn’t been up to the task so far. He allowed four goals to Colorado in relief during an 8-0 loss, then allowed five goals against the Kings. Husso’s meeting with Anaheim’s hapless offence was much better, allowing one goal. Also, both special teams units rank outside the top 20 and could stand to be better.

5. Colorado Avalanche
The good: The Bowen Byram-Cale Makar era as a pair has begun and it’s everything we hoped it would be (so far). Just an exciting 1-2 punch on the back end that should blossom into a nearly impossible duo to contain. Losing Phillip Grubauer to injury in the bubble last summer was a significant blow, so to see him at or near the top of the league in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts is a welcome sight.

The bad: Nathan MacKinnon is such a bull on this team, so having to go on without him for the next few weeks will be a test for the roster. And it’s not just him — a bunch of injuries will test their depth.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs
The good: The power play is humming, they’re taking — and holding — leads, the off-season additions are fitting in seamlessly and contributing, and Frederik Andersen seems to be (mostly) settling in after a brief rocky start. Toronto, along with Montreal, seems to be separating from the rest of the North Division group.

The bad: Their 5-on-5 play, where they’ve outscored opponents by only one so far, needs improvement for when the special teams units have a cold spell. They’re taking too many penalties. It has been a great start for Toronto but, as Luke Fox pointed out this week, there are still a few areas of concern to focus in on.

7. Carolina Hurricanes
The good: It’s a fun team. The Corsi Kings are back at it, leading the way in the most popular “analytics” stat out there at 5-on-5. The Vincent Trocheck trade is working out nicely as he has five goals and seven points so far, tied with Andrei Svechnikov for the team lead in both. They’re a perfect 3-0 against Tampa and Dallas and have a top three penalty kill and top 10 power play.

The bad: Though the goalies got off to a strong start, that was an area of concern long-term this season for the team. And now Petr Mrazek, who led the league in save percentage and GAA, is out after needing surgery on his thumb. It all falls on James Reimer now, which will put more of a strain on the position in general.

8. Dallas Stars
The good: One of the best defensive teams in the league last season, Dallas’ domination at that end continues, but if they ever figured out how to score at a decent level they could really become a handful. Well, led by Joe Pavelski’s outstanding seven goals and 14 points in seven games, the offence is starting to come. Dallas’ power play is third-best in the league (40.6 per cent) after finishing 13th a year ago and their 4.14 goals per game as a team trails only Montreal in the NHL. And they’re doing it without Tyler Seguin, sidelined to injury.

The bad: This offensive outburst may only be temporary. The Stars average the second-fewest shots on net per game and their expected goals for rate per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play is currently sixth-worst in the league. That’s not necessarily a backbreaker since they had scoring issues last season and went to the Cup final, but it could hold them back from breaking through.

9. Vegas Golden Knights
The good: Before they were shut down due to COVID-19 protocols last week, if you were to name a one-seventh season MVP (OK, yes, that’s ridiculous, get with the times) Mark Stone would have been a contender with 11 points in seven games. Shea Theodore, a bit of a dark hose Norris pick pre-season, was making his case early. Their depth was shining and Vegas looked like who we thought they were.

The bad: An 11.5 per cent power play tied with New Jersey for 27th in the league is less than ideal. Their biggest test so far on the schedule resulted in an overtime loss to St. Louis and they hadn’t played Colorado yet.

10. Washington Capitals
The good: They’ve been getting through a stretch without some key player (due to COVID-19 protocol) fairly well and goalie Vitek Vanecek has been a nice surprise. He wasn’t even supposed to be on this team< after Henrik Lundqvist was signed, but when The King was sidelined an opportunity opened. Vanecek, 25, has a .913 save percentage and 2.94 GAA that has helped the Caps through a weird time. The bad: Only Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit have a worse shots for percentage at 5-on-5 than Washington and blowing back-to-back three-goal leads against Boston was a bad look. Only five teams have a points percentage under .500 when leading after the first period so far: Detroit, Ottawa, Nashville, NY Rangers and… Washington.

11. Philadelphia Flyers
The good: The ageless Brian Elliott has had a great start in four games. It’s been great to see Nolan Patrick put up five points in 11 games after having to miss all of last season. James van Riemsdyk is off to a hot start and his four power play goals is one off the league lead.

The bad: Haven’t won in three tries against Boston, including blowing a two-goal lead in the second half of the third period Wednesday. They also have the worst Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 in the league and, as Sportlogiq explored this week, have an expected goals to actual goals ratio that indicates an offensive slow down is coming. The Flyers may be tied with the Bruins for the points lead in the East Division at the moment, but it seems the other shoe will drop eventually.

12. Florida Panthers
The good: They’ve only played six games so far, but the Panthers haven’t lost in regulation yet. Carter Verhaeghe, Patric Hornqvist and Anthony Duclair — three off-season pickups — have all been productive. The best of all, though, is that they have the lowest average high danger chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, a major improvement from last season.

The bad: Chris Driedger and Sergei Bobrovsky have split starts so far and the guy making $850,000 against the cap has the better numbers. Long-term trade speculation beginning to percolate around Aleksander Barkov is alarming. The start is great, but Chicago, Columbus and Detroit are not going to measure much.

13. Minnesota Wild
The good: We won’t blame you if Minnesota Wild hockey hasn’t drawn your attention for the past few years (or, ever, to be harshly honest) but pay attention now. Kirill Kaprizov is fun to watch and has so far lived up to the hype as an electric player, the type that can reset a franchise. With three goals and nine points in 11 games, he’s your rookie scoring leader. Between him, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway, the Wild’s top three scorers are all 23-years-old.

The bad: They have the worst power play in the league at 7.1 per cent, which is a shame because even a small improvement would really rise the Wild up in the offence rankings league-wide. And how often can you say that?

14. Winnipeg Jets
The good: Nikolaj Ehlers continues to come out of his shell and emerge as a real scoring star in this league — and with Patrik Laine now gone they’ll need him more than ever.

The bad: Defence continues to be an issue, as the Jets allow the second-most high danger chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 — right where they were in this area a season ago. By the numbers, Blake Wheeler’s defensive game has not been where it usually is yet — just don’t let Paul Maurice hear you say that.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins
The good: Sidney Crosby is still magical and the defence has actually been decent, ranking sixth in average shots against per game. Two wins in two games over arch-rival Washington is a nice feather in the cap.

The bad: Tristan Jarry has been mediocre and Evgeni Malkin (one goal in 10 games) is in one of his funks that’s starting to run a bit long (and he recently talked about how this year was especially difficult to keep in shape over the off-season). A new GM will come in and have a mandate to build a win-now team, but as the core ages, very real questions are being asked about if the window is still really open with this team.

16. Calgary Flames
The good: Johnny Gaudreau’s nine-game point streak to start the season has at least begun to start to shift the conversation around him and his place with this team — though Flames fans would largely acknowledge what he does in the playoffs matters most. At the same time, a new first line is emerging, led by Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk, and the pairing of Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin only allowed its first goal against at 5-on-5 this week. Jacob Markstrom has been everything they’d hoped he would be.

The bad: You never know what Flames team you’re going to get one night to the next. Sometimes they play with noticeable passion and fire, and that they could join Toronto and Montreal in the North Division’s top tier. Other nights, they look bland, bored and almost uninterested. Slow starts in particular have become too common as the Flames have been outscored 12-6 in the first period.

17. Edmonton Oilers
The good: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl owned the Ottawa Senators this week and are now on such a pace (in such an offensive division) that we wonder if 100 points in a 56-game season is actually attainable and not just a fun thought to have. Jesse Puljujarvi arriving on the top line and scoring a couple of times is a splendid development.

The bad: Scoring depth remains a major hole here. The third and fourth lines are having trouble scoring and controlling play. The blue line misses Oscar Klefbom a lot and healthy scratches to the likes of Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones were not ideal.

18. New Jersey Devils
The good: After a 21-point rookie campaign, Jack Hughes is making all his doubters eat their words with eight points in his first nine games this season, where he’s generally looked like a much different, better and more confident player. Defenceman Ty Smith may be the early favourite for the Calder Trophy.

The bad: Count me among those who took a flyer on a P.K. Subban bounce back of sorts in fantasy hockey. He’s minus-five with three assists so far and now it seems that may never come. The Devils also allow far too many high-quality scoring chances and while Mackenzie Blackwood covered some of that up in his three starts (before going on the COVID-19 protocol list) he won’t be able to sustain a .948 save percentage all season. Scott Wedgewood allowed three goals or more in four of his five starts and New Jersey won just one of those games.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets
The good: The Patrik Laine era didn’t start with the cannon fire we’d hoped, but he will be a game-changer for the team. Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have picked up from last season and shown well backstopping a defence that has allowed the fourth-most average shots against per game.

The bad: The Blue Jackets have been outscored 12-4 in the second period, so sometimes a full 60-minute effort hasn’t come through yet. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, both Norris hopefuls every season, are struggling to start. When they have been on the ice at 5-on-5 the Blue Jackets as a team have controlled less than 45 per cent of the shot attempts and they have combined for two goals and five points in 11 games.

20. NY Islanders
The good: Mathew Barzal continues to crush it, doubling the point output of the next-highest scoring Islander. Semyon Varlamov has been mostly good (though a couple of recent starts put a damper on it), and the team is still one of the better teams (eighth) in shots against per game, and high danger chances per game at 5-on-5 (third). Barry Trotz is the head coach, so bet against them turning around at your own peril.

The bad: It’s now five straight losses for the Islanders, two in extra time, so they’ve sunk to the bottom of the East Division with the other New York-based team. Both their power play and penalty kill are in the bottom-third in the league, and whether or not they have the game-breaking scorers necessary will continue to be a question. They are 1-1-2 in one-goal games.

21. Buffalo Sabres
The good: Well, you can always put Jack Eichel in this slot. Buffalo controls 60 per cent of the shots when he’s on the ice and he leads the team with 11 points. Victor Olofsson is building off a strong rookie season with a point per game start.

The bad: Though they showed decently well at the start of their tough schedule against Washington and Philadelphia, the Sabres weren’t able to command the next stretch against the Rangers and Devils (though they did get five of a possible eight points so it wasn’t terrible). Goaltending, at least behind Linus Ullmark, has been a sore spot. You just feel like this division is not setting up well to allow Buffalo to take a step.

22. Vancouver Canucks
The good: Quinn Hughes has been exciting. Brock Boeser looks like his rookie self with eight goals in 12 games. It looked like Thatcher Demko may be taking hold of the No. 1 job there for a bit, and if he can find that for a sustained stretch it would be a real boon for the team.

The bad: Not every game can be against Ottawa. The Sens allowed the Lotto Line off the mat and got them into a groove, and put the Canucks on a four-game winning streak. But they are 3-7-0 against the rest of the North Division. If Demko is to settle in, the defence in front of him needs to be much better. No team allows more shots against than the Canucks, and they are fourth-worst at allowing high danger opportunities. Outside of games against Ottawa, Elias Pettersson has three points and is a minus-six.

23. Los Angeles Kings
The good: Anze Kopitar has as much star power as ever and he is a key piece for the team at 5-on-5 — the Kings have scored 70 per cent of the goals when he’s on the ice. Their 87.9 per cent penalty kill is fourth in the league. Cal Petersen has showed well and should earn more starts.

The bad: Any faint hope of a Jonathan Quick rebound have faded with his .885 save percentage and 3.54 GAA. This is a league whose contenders are built on star power and while the Kings have a promising prospect pipeline to get excited about, there’s not enough “wow” on this roster to get them through.

24. Anaheim Ducks
The good: John Gibson has been absolutely fantastic behind a team that has allowed a lot of scoring chances against. His .924 save percentage and 2.34 GAA are among the league’s best.

The bad: They can’t score at all. Anaheim has scored less than three goals in nine of their 11 games and average just 1.73 per game, a league-low. Their leading points-getters are a group tied at five points, and their goal scoring leaders all have only three. You’d like to think Gibson could do for this team what Connor Hellebuyck did for the Jets last season, but at least Hellebuyck had scoring support. He’s keeping them alive for now, but how long can it last?

25. NY Rangers
The good: Nothing can stop Artemi Panarin, who has 12 points in nine games to lead the team. He always performs. And the early returns on 21-year-old K’Andre Miller are all positive — four points in nine games, 64.29 on-ice goals for percentage at 5-on-5, and an increase in workload.

The bad: Just a reminder that, no matter how optimistic you want to be about the future, getting out of a rebuild is tough. It will be bumpy. The Rangers have had some good wins along the way, but haven’t been able to string together two in a row yet.

26. Arizona Coyotes
The good: The team’s penalty kill ranks 11th in the league and is the best on the road to this point. Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak have scored in every game but three so far and they, along with Conor Garland, have become the best offensive players.

The bad: The goaltending is this team’s strength, but Darcy Kuemper hasn’t been as good as we’ve come to expect. The Coyotes are also bottom-10 in goal scoring and need a Clayton Keller breakout, but he has a single point in his past seven games (though his shot metrics suggest more is to come). Aside from the penalty kill, there’s nothing that’s making the Coyotes stand out at the moment. They are 1-3-1 in one-goal games.

27. San Jose Sharks
The good: Considering they haven’t been able to play at home yet, that the Sharks are 3-5-0 isn’t really a bad thing. It is hard to get a good measure of a team that’s started in such a unique way as these Sharks.

The bad: Unsurprisingly, goaltending has been an area of pain for this team. Between Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones, the Sharks have the second-worst 5-on-5 save percentage in the league. It isn’t all on the goalies, though, as San Jose allows the fifth-most high danger chances at 5-on-5 and the eighth-most shots overall, on average.

28. Nashville Predators
The good: Eeli Tolvanen, a prospect hyped for seemingly all-time, scored his first NHL goal since 2019 this week and the Preds will be happy to see that. For the most part, Nashville has controlled shots at 5-on-5, ranking seventh in the league, and are 12th in goals for percentage at 5-on-5.

The bad: Special teams have been a disaster, with a league-worst PK (64.9 per cent) and the fourth-worst power play (11.1 per cent). Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene have combined to score as many goals as goalie Juuse Saros (0, for the record).

29. Chicago Blackhawks
The good: Shoutout to goalie Kevin Lankinen who has come in from left field for a 3-1-3 start with a .935 SV% and 2.09 GAA. The power play has been humming at 34.4 per cent, sixth in the league.

The bad: It’s actually kind of incredible that Lankinen has allowed more than two goals only twice in seven games, and yet has more losses than wins. Defence remains a concern as Chicago allows the second most shots against per game (though we should note the rate at which they allow high danger opportunities has improved a bit). Their 42 per cent goal share at 5-on-5 is one of the lower marks in the league.

30. Detroit Red Wings
The good: Dylan Larkin’s nine points in 11 games to lead the team is exactly what you want to see from him after he regressed in offence last season. And Bobby Ryan’s season start deserves a nod.

The bad: They’re still in for a long season. Neither of the two goalies who’ve played more than one game has a save percentage over .900, their power play and penalty kill units are both third-worst in the league, and they have an overall goal differential of minus-19 — better than only Ottawa, and still 10 behind the next-worst team.

31. Ottawa Senators
The good: When they were together, the line of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk was mostly a good story and had positive shot differentials at 5-on-5. And Nick Paul has been buzzing — if you choose to watch a Sens game you’re probably going to notice this guy. And, hey, we all know it’s been bad, but at least Erik Brannstrom is coming into the lineup for the first time, so maybe youth will get more opportunity and that will shake a few more wins loose.

The bad: Woof. Where to begin? Matt Murray has been underwhelming and his contract is quickly becoming a prickly point. The defence, built up to be tough to play against but better designed for a bygone era, is being skated circles around. They have a single standings point since their opening night win, and anyone struggling in the North Division circles this team on the calendar. It’s going to be the longest short season on record.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.