2013-14 NHL Power Rankings: Week 3
The Colorado Avalanche are one of a number of teams making a splash early this season (and consequently climbing up these rankings). Toronto, San Jose, St. Louis and other clubs are also enjoying early success.
The trouble with early success is that, because there is so much chance in hockey, almost anything can happen in a short span. Toronto and Colorado have both had hot starts in very recent memory. In 2011-12, the two clubs combined for a 9-1-1 record early in the season; both would fall well out of playoff contention as the season wore on. San Jose's experience is even more recent. They crashed and burned last year after a perfect January (though they rebounded late in the season).
Without a crystal ball, it's not possible to know with any certainty which teams will collapse. But a good method for keeping expectations realistic is to identify things which can't last–goalies playing over their heads, teams winning despite getting hammered on the shot clock and the like.
That's one of the primary objectives of these power rankings: to try and identify those warning signs.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics come from NHL.com and are current through Sunday's games.
30. Buffalo Sabres
Last week: 30
Why they're here: Last week, Buffalo had three games and three losses under its belt; this week, both of those numbers have doubled. An overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday is the lone point the club has collected on the season.
In terms of goals against, Buffalo is actually middle of the pack, but the Sabres' inability to score has been a critical failing. The team is averaging just one goal per game, and the duo of Cody Hodgson and Thomas Vanek are the only forwards with more than one point.
By the numbers: There is no shortage of problems in Buffalo, but one that seems quickly correctable is the presence of 2013 first-round pick Rasmus Ristolainen. With Ristolainen on the ice, the Sabres are outshot 43-25; with Ristolainen off the ice, the difference is a more modest 31-27.
29. Philadelphia Flyers
Last week: 23
Why they're here: The firing of coach Peter Laviolette paid instant dividends, as Philadelphia won its first game under new coach Craig Berube, eking out a 2-1 victory over the Panthers. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, the team dropped its next two.
The most frightening prospect of all for the team's hopes the rest of the way is that it's 1-5-0 despite near-perfect goaltending from reclamation project Steve Mason (1-3-0, .935 save percentage). Mason's prior track record suggests this is an aberration; if so, the team could make a number of corrections and still find itself in real trouble when Mason's play drops off.
By the numbers: The Flyers gambled on 35-year-old defenseman Mark Streit in the offseason, signing him to a four-year contract with an annual cap hit exceeding $5 million. His minus-four rating is currently the worst on the team, but more importantly, his underlying numbers seem to indicate the Flyers have been better with him on the bench.
28. Florida Panthers
Last week: 28
Why they're here: Florida has fared pretty much as projected in the early going. The goaltending is a mess, the team is getting crushed five-on-five (both in shots and goals) and the combined special teams are below NHL average. The professional tryout brigade has had mixed results: Brad Boyes and Tom Gilbert have had early success in prominent roles, while Ryan Whitney and Tim Thomas have been ineffective.
By the numbers: As bad as Florida's been, there is some good news: It's been so percentage-driven that the club is likely to rebound, at least to some degree. With a shooting percentage well below the NHL average and a save percentage so terrible that it's hard to sustain, Florida won't stay this bad.
27. Calgary Flames
Last week: 29
Why they're here: Calgary has yet to fail to record a point in one of its games. All five of the team's contests have been one-goal affairs, with three regulation wins by that score and two losses that both required extra time.
Anybody familiar with hockey should sense the red flag there—all it takes is one bounce for a one-goal game to go the other direction. There is genuine reason for optimism here, though. Head coach Bob Hartley has the team posting reasonably solid even-strength possession numbers despite an underpowered roster.
By the numbers: The goaltending question remains the primary problem with Calgary's early success. Neither Joey MacDonald nor Karri Ramo has a particularly encouraging track record—both players have posted an .897 save percentage early. Calgary won't keep winning if that doesn't change.
26. Winnipeg Jets
Last week: 25
Why they're here: With a 3-0 win over New Jersey, the Jets ended a three-game losing streak and brought their record back up to .500. The trouble is that this is a team that struggles to outshoot the other team, doesn't have the dynamic offensive players that can make a difference on the power play (they ranked 30th last season with a 13.8 percent success rate) and doesn't have the goaltending to keep them in the mix.
By the numbers: What the Jets do have is a dynamic offensive duo on their blue line, something that has been clearly evident early this season. Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien are tied for the club's scoring lead with six points each through six games.
25. Nashville Predators
Last week: 26
Why they're here: The Predators had a pretty decent week. The team won two nail-biters, one over the Wild and one over the Islanders, but also dropped a 4-0 decision to Toronto. The team is also doing a pretty good job of winning the shots battle despite a defense that is leaning heavily on inexperienced players—especially Seth Jones, who is averaging 23:30 per game in the early going.
By the numbers: The Predators desperately need to find some scoring. With an average of 1.8 goals per game, they're ahead of only Buffalo and Philadelphia offensively.
24. Tampa Bay Lightning
Last week: 27
Why they're here: It's early, but the recent signs are encouraging for Tampa Bay. Ben Bishop has provided solid goaltending so far, and his résumé hints that he might be the solution the team has needed since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin. At five-on-five, the Lightning are within a whisker of respectability, and at some point, presumably, the team will kill more than 68.2 percent of its penalties.
By the numbers: It's been a long a wait for 2007 third-round pick Alex Killorn, but the 24-year-old made an impact last season for the Lightning in his first full campaign as a professional (38 GP, 7 G, 12 A, 19 PTS). And with six points in his first five contests, he has picked up right where he left off.
23. Edmonton Oilers
Last week: 22
Why they're here: If it weren't for Edmonton's goaltending, the team would not find itself this far down the rankings. Unfortunately for the Oilers, despite improvements five-on-fve and a strong run of goal scoring, Devan Dubnyk's implosion has put the club in a hole early and has left it with a difficult choice: take the knocks while the starter works through his problems, or try and find an impact goalie in the middle of October.
By the numbers: With a three-point game against Toronto on Saturday, Mark Arcobello reached the point-per-game mark on the season and entered into a tie for the team's scoring lead. He has been a pleasant surprise for Edmonton, winning more than 60 percent of his faceoffs in addition to everything else.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last week: 24
Why they're here: Columbus has seen dramatic improvements in its special teams in the early going. The trouble is that it is also getting outshot and outscored in five-on-five situations. The other issue is that the special teams success may well be illusory; the Blue Jackets rank 26th in the NHL in generating shots five-on-four and they're only league average at preventing shots four-on-five. In the short term, the shot data is a much larger sample than the goal data (owing to goals being much rarer than shots) and thus more likely to be indicative of the long-term trend.
By the numbers: Sergei Bobrovsky has yo-yoed between extreme competence and barely NHL-caliber play the last few years. Through four games, his .926 save percentage has to be highly encouraging for the Jackets.
21. New York Rangers
Last week: 12
Why they're here: No team really wants to start the season with a nine-game road trip, and thus far, the Rangers' journey has not gone well at all. In the last three games in particular, the club has been outscored 20-5, most embarrassingly responding to a 9-2 defeat at the hands of the Sharks by dropping a 6-0 decision against Anaheim.
The goaltending hasn't been good, but neither have the team's underlying numbers. Right now, New York is floundering.
By the numbers: While Henrik Lundqvist's .887 save percentage is perfectly miserable, it still puts him ahead of six other goalies who have played in three or more games. Martin Biron, meanwhile, ranks 55th of 56 goalies in the league (just ahead of Florida's Scott Clemmensen) with a .763 save percentage.
20. Carolina Hurricanes
Last week: 21
Why they're here: The Hurricanes rise this week more through the struggles of other clubs than through their own successes. In four games in this latest stretch, they lost three times and barely won against the Capitals. They're also generally losing the shot battle in the early going, albeit mostly against quality opposition.
By the numbers: After being bought out by the Buffalo Sabres, diminutive Nathan Gerbe (listed at 5'5", 178 pounds) signed a two-way contract with Carolina. So far, so good: He has five points in six games, which would tie him with Cody Hodgson for the Sabres' scoring lead if he still played for that team.
19. Dallas Stars
Last week: 17
Why they're here: The Stars are .500 in the early going and one of the tougher teams in the league to get a read on. While the five-on-five results seem to be coming around, the underlying special teams data is miserable—they're near the bottom of the league both at shot generation five-on-four and shot prevention four-on-five.
An added difficulty: Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who has been excellent since coming to Dallas, is listed as day-to-day after suffering an injury in the Star's 4-1 win over Winnipeg.
By the numbers: So far, the new coaching staff has been remarkably even-handed in handing out ice time for defensemen. Sergei Gonchar leads the team with an average of just over 20:00 per game, while sixth-ranked Stephane Robidas has averaged 18:32 per night.
18. Washington Capitals
Last week: 11
Why they're here: Washington is another team in desperate need of a change in fortune. The team's only win on the season was a shootout victory over the Flames on October 3. The club has dropped three straight since that point, including the first two contests in a five-game homestand.
The good news is that it should come. The Capitals can't buy a goal five-on-five, the team's goaltending has been weak early and it is doing a nice job generating shots five-on-four and preventing them four-on-five. In short, the underlying numbers suggest that this is a team primed for a breakout.
By the numbers: Alexander Ovechkin is averaging more than seven shots per game in the early going, totals that are reminiscent of his 50-plus goal seasons. Whatever has ailed him the last few seasons does not seem to be slowing him down now.
17. New Jersey Devils
Last week: 14
Why they're here: New Jersey has yet to win a game this year. The team has come close repeatedly. Two of its losses happened in the shootout, another in overtime and still another with a game-winning goal from Sean Monahan with less than three minutes to go in the third period. The losses also need to be considered in context: The Devils have played just one home game so far this season.
Even so, the risk the Devils (and a few other teams) are running is digging a hole too deep to recover from.
By the numbers: Ryane Clowe isn't shooting enough. In his best years with the Sharks, the power forward was averaging better than two shots per game; so far, he has just four in six contests, which is roughly one-quarter as many as he should have fired by now.
16. Colorado Avalanche
Last week: 20
Why they're here: Frankly, goaltending is the biggest reason the Avs have had so much success in the early going. The team is a little better five-on-five than last season, and a little worse on special teams, but will win a lot of games with a .977 save percentage from its goalies.
The good news is that this is a young team playing under a new head coach, and there's obviously room for the Avs to improve in other areas when the goaltending inevitably cools.
By the numbers: Nathan MacKinnon is playing less than 14:00 per game, but he leads Colorado in scoring with one goal and five assists through five contests.
15. New York Islanders
Last week: 16
Why they're here: Like a lot of teams on this list, the majority of the Islanders' games (both wins and losses) have been decided by a razor-thin margin. Other than a 6-1 beatdown of the Coyotes on Tuesday, all of the Islanders' contests have come down to a single goal, with two of those going to the shootout. Put another way, the Isles are plausibly only three goals away from having a perfect record on the season.
By the numbers: It's hard not to marvel at the impact Michael Grabner has had on the Islanders since getting claimed off waivers. Through five games, he leads the team with seven points despite playing just 15:00 per game, with none of that ice time coming on the power play.
14. Minnesota Wild
Last week: 15
Why they're here: Minnesota has been a favorite target of statistically-inclined hockey commentators for a few years now, owing to a penchant for getting outshot badly in the post-Jacques Lemaire era. Five games in, the team seems determined to change that. The Wild have one of the best score-close Fenwick ratings in the NHL (a fancy way of saying that they take more unblocked shots than their opposition with the game still in reach), which is generally seen as a critical indicator for future success.
By the numbers: It almost certainly won't last, but Matt Cooke has been awfully good early for Minnesota, leading the team with five points in five games.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last week: 19
Why they're here: Toronto keeps winning hockey games. The Leafs now have a 5-1-0 record on the season, and given what parity has done to the league, those 10 banked points could well mean the difference between the postseason and golfing in mid-April.
And yes, Toronto is still life and death for the playoffs. Fans can be as jubilant as they like given the record, but this is a team that has surrendered 30-plus shots in every game it has played. So far, the club has had either the goaltending or the goal scoring to outpace its shot troubles, but that is not a plan that's going to work long term.
By the numbers: Toronto is getting offensive production from all over in the early going. Three centers have at least four points in six games (Nazem Kadri, Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak), and with wingers like Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Mason Raymond all producing at the point-per-game rate or better early, there are lots of options.
12. Phoenix Coyotes
Last week: 18
Why they're here: Phoenix had a pretty good week, reeling off three consecutive wins after a lopsided loss at the hands of the Islanders. Like Minnesota, the Coyotes have also done a nice job of outshooting the opposition at even strength (a hallmark of Dave Tippett-coached teams) and seem to be getting reasonably solid goaltending from both Mike Smith and Thomas Greiss.
By the numbers: Of the 10 forwards on the Coyotes to play in all six games so far, all of them have picked up a point at even strength except for captain Shane Doan, who has two points on the man advantage but is still looking for his first at five-on-five.
11. Ottawa Senators
Last week: 8
Why they're here: Ottawa has had its share of early-season troubles. With its 4-1 loss to Anaheim on Sunday, the team fell to 1-2-2 on the season and is currently on a four-game losing streak. On the other hand, road trips through the Pacific can have that effect on teams; Ottawa lost by close scores to Los Angeles and San Jose before that loss to the Ducks.
Then again, this is a team that has surrendered 106 shots against in its last two games.
By the numbers: Joe Corvo hasn't been used much, but he's provided offense when he's been given the chance: In three contests (during which he averaged just 14:36 per game), he has three assists for the Sens.
10. Vancouver Canucks
Last week: 9
Why they're here: A three-game homestand did not work out the way the Canucks had doubtless hoped that it would. They squeaked out a 3-2 overtime win over the Devils before dropping consecutive 4-1 finals to San Jose and then Montreal.
Part of the problem has been an impotent power play, which, while generating shots, has converted on a surprisingly low percentage of its shots. After firing at an 11.7 percent clip last year, the Canucks are down to half that this year; it's likely just a temporary cold streak.
By the numbers: There have been some concerns about the slow starts of Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins. Given that the duo has combined for 40 shots through six games, it's not something worth worrying about. Eventually, they will get the bounces and some of those shots will start going in.
9. Anaheim Ducks
Last week: 13
Why they're here: The Ducks have reeled off four consecutive wins after dropping the season opener, the last two of them by a combined score of 10-1. It's not entirely a case of a team making their shots, either. The Ducks put together an impressive 56-31 shot differential against a pretty good Ottawa team on Sunday and have generally done a good job of controlling the shots battle five-on-five.
If this is more than an aberration, the Ducks could be really scary this season. They've long had potent special teams and if the even-strength play has caught up, they will contend.
By the numbers: Dustin Penner has been a part-time Duck, playing in only three games and averaging right around 10:00 per game in those, but so far, he has three points, a plus-five rating and the Ducks are outshooting the opposition by more than a 2-to-1 margin with him on the ice.
8. Detroit Red Wings
Last week: 7
Why they're here: Detroit swapped wins this week, picking up a decisive victory over the Flyers and losing a close one to Phoenix (3-2 before Antoine Vermette finished the Wings with an empty-netter). More interesting is going to be how the team responds on Monday when it visits Boston (the Bruins dominated Detroit in a 4-1 win last weekend).
So far, the Red Wings have got by thanks to special teams, with even-strength play being a little weaker than usual; it's early enough and the team is close enough to the break-even mark that it's reasonable to expect it to rebound.
By the numbers: The Red Wings are one of only two teams (the Islanders are the other) yet to record a major penalty this season. Detroit has ranked either last or second to last in the NHL in that category every year since 1998-99 when it ranked fourth last.
7. Montreal Canadiens
Last week: 10
Why they're here: The Habs are showing no signs that the team's 2012-13 performance was a fluke. They easily passed what should have been their stiffest test of the season to date on Saturday with a convincing 4-1 victory over Vancouver. The young guns are firing on all cylinders, Carey Price is off to a solid start and, perhaps most importantly, the team is soundly outshooting its opposition.
By the numbers: Montreal finished 25th in the NHL last year in the number of power plays it gave its opposition, averaging 3.6 per game. This year, the club is even worse, surrendering on average 4.4 power plays per game. The team's saving grace? It led the league with 203 power-play opportunities of its own and is in the top 10 already this year.
6. San Jose Sharks
Last week: 6
Why they're here: The obvious reason to rank San Jose this high would be the five consecutive wins the club has strung together to start the season. The Sharks haven't actually faced the soft parade, either; four of the five games the team has played came against playoff participants from last season.
By the numbers: This is the most dominant performance to start the season for San Jose since, well, last year. In 2012-13, the Sharks strung together a 7-0-0 record in the campaign's opening month before falling hard with a single regulation win in 12 February games, a fall which should stand as a cautionary tale for both San Jose and the other teams enjoying fantastic starts.
5. Los Angeles Kings
Last week: 4
Why they're here: The Kings haven't really looked like the dominant team of the last few postseasons yet. Three of the team's four wins have come in overtime or the shootout; the two losses have been to weak-ish opponents (Winnipeg and the struggling Rangers). Sunday saw the Kings' first really dominant performance, a 3-0 win over Florida.
Even so, this is the same team that's been so deadly the last few years. So far, the record may not be particularly impressive, but that's bound to change.
By the numbers: Ben Scrivens got his first start of the season on Sunday and looked pretty good, turning aside 25 shots in the shutout victory over the Panthers.
4. St. Louis Blues
Last week: 5
Why they're here: St. Louis is 4-0-0 on the season, outscoring its opposition by a spectacular 19-7 margin in the early going. Some of that is the result of the team shooting the lights out (with a 14.6 shooting percentage so far, the Blues are well above NHL average), and some of it the result of exceptional goaltending, but a good portion of it comes from honest domination of the shot totals—something the team has been exceptionally good at since the arrival of Ken Hitchcock.
By the numbers: Jaroslav Halak has played all four games for St. Louis and thus far has a .934 save percentage. Last year's Blues had to struggle with uncertain goaltending, so if Halak is back to his 2011-12 form, it will remove one of the Blues' critical weaknesses.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 1
Why they're here: Chicago has been OK in the early going, but it would not have taken much for the team to be staring at an ugly deficit early. The club's three wins were all really by one goal (it added an empty-netter against Washington) despite the Blackhawks playing at home against a middling group of teams.
By the numbers: Marian Hossa has just one goal (the aforementioned empty-netter) in the early going, but he's averaging nearly three shots per game. That's the same range Hossa has been in for several seasons now. In other words, there's no reason to worry about it.
2. Boston Bruins
Last week: 2
Why they're here: The defending Eastern Conference champions have lost only one of their first four games, dropping a 2-0 decision to Colorado on Thursday in which Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 39 saves. In other words, so far, the record stands at three wins and one game where the opposing goalie stood on his head. That's not a bad start to the season.
By the numbers: Claude Julien has showed no hesitation in leaning on a pair of new additions. Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson rank third and fourth, respectively, in ice time among Boston's forwards, ahead of returnees Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last week: 3
Why they're here: Pittsburgh hasn't exactly faced a murderers' row early in 2013-14; all five games the team has played have been against clubs that missed the postseason last year, and three of the five contests were at home. Even so, not only are the Penguins 4-1 on the season, but they've dominated the possession game. Doubtless they will falter a bit against better competition, but they have been so dominant against the dregs that it's hard to imagine the Penguins won't be excellent in that category—something the team was unable to manage last season.
By the numbers: Jussi Jokinen, who cleared waivers last season before being acquired from Carolina, has enjoyed an exceptional start to the season with five points and 15 shots in his first five games.
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