October NHL Power Rankings
by Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page NHL Expert
With the month coming to an end, NHL Expert Josh Brewster ranks the NHL teams during the first month of the season.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Most goals scored (4.1GPG) in NHL. Steve Stamkos as advertised, leads league in points. Nikita Kucherov leads in goals (11). Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy proves Yzerman right, and rookie D-man Mikael Sergachev, acquired in trade from Montreal for Jon Drouin, supplied both goals in 2-0 win at Columbus.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Paid back Kings this week for 7-0 drubbing last season. Defense iffy but goals aplenty. Any concern about youngsters stalling has been extinguished. Patrick Marleau acquisition has proven effective (4G). Depth scoring aplenty, and Frederik Andersen may not dazzle with stats (3.24 GAA; .900SV%) but he makes timely saves and wins.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Only loss came at Toronto and by just one goal. Coach John Stevens has them playing faster, allowing defensemen more latitude. Dustin Brown back where he belongs, on top line with resurgent Kopitar. Best goalie in the NHL, Jon Quick, returns big, tops in NHL.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Adjusting to loss of sandpaper forwards Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino, but usual suspects charge on. Phil Kessel supplied OT winner vs. Edmonton Tuesday. Sid Crosby (10pts) and Evgeni Malkin (11pts) show no signs of age. Bombed out of the building by Blackhawks (10-1) and Tampa (7-1), but taking on all comers otherwise.
5. St. Louis Blues
Have played only twice at home, but won both and are 4-2-1 on road to start. Jaden Schwartz emerges (6-7-13), Vlad Tarasenko (5G) in midseason form already. Defense huge, has generated 11 goals thus far, with Alex Pietrangelo leading (3). Jake Allen continues solid play in net.
6. Ottawa Senators
Bobby Ryan continues to suffer one finger injury after another, will miss a month at least. Derick Brassard starts strong (6G) and Craig Anderson (2.48; .920) second only to Quick in net. Dion Phaneuf and Chris Wideman have popped five goals between them, and now Erik Karlsson is back from injury.
7. Vegas Golden Knights
Gerard Gallant far and away the Jack Adams winner unless someone does something miraculous. At 7-1-0, only reason not ranked higher is that Knights have played only two road games. With Marc-Andre Fleury and newcomer Malcolm Subban injured, using third goalie, rookie Oskar Dansk in wins over Blackhawks and Blues.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
American rookie Sonny Milano scores five goals to top club, then sits. That’s just the way it is with tough guy coach John Tortorella. Sergei Bobrovsky continues stellar play, but while Artemi Panarin (1G) has the assists, he’s being paid for goals that have yet to come. Ditto Alex Wennberg and Matt Calvert.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
Started season by bombing champion Penguins 10-0, then division rival Columbus 5-1. Stan Bowman looking like a genius once again, with returnee Brandon Saad hot (6G). Depth scoring with another retread, Patrick Sharp (2G). Ryan Hartman looks good (3G) with Pat Kane (who doesn’t)?
10. New Jersey Devils
Will Butcher would certainly not have signed with Devils had Kevin Shattenkirk chosen Jersey over Manhattan. With nine assists due to pinpoint passing skills, University of Denver grad could be Calder material. Taylor Hall (1-8-9) energized along with top pick rookie Nico Hischier (2-5-7). A Maple Leafs-style youth movement is on.
11. Anaheim Ducks
An insane injury list now includes Cam Fowler, who could be out for weeks on end after twisting leg vs. Montreal. The Predators get lots of credit for developing defensemen, but what about the Ducks? Hampus Lindholm may be the best in the West (other than Doughty), returned Tuesday in 6-2 win at Philly. Sami Vatanen close to return. Ryan Getzlaf now off infirmary list. Ducks keep floating, 12 goals-for in last two games. John Gibson emerging in nets, Ryan Miller soon a healthy backup.
12. Vancouver Canucks
Coach Travis Green has Canucks playing tight defense. Shut out Minnesota and Ottawa on the road. Jacob Markstrom (2.48GAA; .910SV%) and Anders Nilsson (1.83; .950) must come to earth soon, but Vancouver smiles in the present, 4-1 on current road trip. Derek Dorsett (5G) and Bo Horvat (3G) new breed as Sedins fade.
13. Philadelphia Flyers
Started hot hot hot…but goaltender Brian Elliott looking like the same dog who flamed out in Calgary last postseason. Young, inexperienced defense, but Sean Coutourier and Wayne Simmonds lead with six markers apiece, while who knew Jakub Voracek was a playmaker (0-12-12). Expect Michal Neuvirth to take over in net.
14. Nashville Predators
Mediocre offense with 23rd overall in goals, and key road losses at Bruins, Rangers, Blackhawks all winnable, with 4-0 drubbing in Pittsburgh to boot. Plus side is they’ve won both Central division games. Filip Forsberg hot (7G), P.K. Subban getting it done (1-7-8), as is Pekka Rinne, who’s always solid. Playing at Chicago Friday and home vs. Islanders Saturday. Ryan Johansen still seeking first goal.
15. Calgary Flames
Addition of Mike Smith one of best moves in many years. Flames are no offensive powerhouse, but snapped 25-game NHL record losing streak on road, then topped the Kings at Staples Center in OT. Young nucleus of successful draft picks in ascendance, with Johnny Gaudreau (2-10-12), Sean Monahan (5G), pesky Matt Tkachuk (3G) plus a solid defensive corps. May not be Cup-bound, but will be very scary opponent throughout season for all Pacific clubs (3-1-0 vs. division thus far).
16. Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebucyk (4-0-0; 2.32GAA; .930SV%) supplanted free agent signee Steve Mason and the Jets took off. Strong offense should get better as season goes on. Defenseman Tyler Myers strong return from long-term injury, and Dustin Byfuglien is keeping a lid on his emotions for now, at least. Big road tests at Pittsburgh (Thurs.) and Columbus (Fri.). Bag skate by coach Paul Maurice after 0-2 start woke up club (4-1 in last 5GP).
17. NY Islanders
Solid 3.11 Team GPG as late bloomer Josh Bailey (3-4-7) very productive. John Tavares continues his star turn (6-4-10), while Anders Lee and Brock Nelson (5G) support. Jordan Eberle has yet to find the net, and the team has trouble finishing games. But you have to like the tandem of Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss. Good, not great, but keep Islanders on target in tough Metro.
18. Washington Capitals
Inconsistent though the offense looks inspired at times, mediocre at others, led by Alex Ovechkin’s ten goals and T.J. Oshie’s six. Only 1-3 at home, and lost opportunities to make statements against Pittsburgh and Toronto. Curiously crushed by Philly, 8-2 and Florida, 4-1. Western swing at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary this week.
19. Dallas Stars
Ben Bishop (2.38; .920) has started strong, but boy was he ticked at Ken Hitchcock for being pulled at Colorado Tuesday with the Stars trailing 3-2. Jamie Benn (5-6-11) and Tyler Seguin (6G) have been hot, Alex Radulov (1G) and Jason Spezza (0G) have not. Big tests this Thursday at Edmonton and Friday at Calgary.
20. Colorado Avalanche
Very strong start for young Avs, with J.T. Compher (4pts), Sven Andrighetto (3-3-6) and Mikko Rantanen (1-6-7) plus a career resurgence (so far) from former number one pick Nail Yakupov, now on his third club. Semyon Varlamov has papered over a deficient defense. 1-4 after a 4-0 start. Reality is on the march for Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar’s club, who has yet to deal Matt Duchene, but with Montreal fading, have to wonder whether that will soon change.
21. Minnesota Wild
$98 million is money ill spent on Zach Parise. A heart-and-soul guy who can produce, yet he still has eight more seasons on his pre-lockout deal and has never matched what he had going in New Jersey. Now, he’s facing back surgery and will be out for months. The Wild lost 1-0 at home to Vancouver and the offense is inconsistent.
22. Florida Panthers
Who knows what this team is up to? Handed Tampa its only regulation loss early on, then up and down since. Roberto Luongo is on the injured list, so Panthers pull in Antti Niemi, whose struggles continue unabated. Jon Huberdeau has bounced back from an injury-riddled season (3-5-8) but no way do Panthers have organizational depth to compete. Bombed out of Bell Centre 5-1 Tuesday by struggling Canadiens.
23. Detroit Red Wings
The Wings’ offense is 24th in the NHL, but somehow the club started 4-1, and has the distinction of being the only team to defeat the just-hatched powerhouse Vegas Golden Knights. After the Sin City victory, the Wings lost to Tampa, Toronto, Washington and Vancouver before the “come-and-meet-Jesus, dear Little Caesar,” moment came in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss on national television at struggling Buffalo. Andreas Athanasiou came back from with his tail between his legs, fresh off bad advice, signing a 1-year deal for $1.3M when he could have earned $3.8M over two.
24. Carolina Hurricanes
The team you want to like, with that young, upstart defense led by Jaccob Slavin, are the Winnipeg Jets in reverse: Their longtime netminder, Cam Ward, looks far better than free agent signee Scott Darling. It is still early, though, and Jeff Skinner has five goals. But Sebastian Aho has been invisible (0G) and Justin Williams (1G, a game winner) has rarely been a solution. Little ability to compete in Metro thus far, Tampa bombed them 5-1 at home Tuesday.
25. Edmonton Oilers
Woeful start for a club that has obviously read its good reviews. Pat Maroon (2G) and Milan Lucic (1G) have been brutal and playoff stud Zach Kassian has been invisible (0G). The club gets Leon Draisaitl back from an eye injury, so things should start to pick up. Blew an opportunity Tuesday for a road win at Pittsburgh but Connor McDavid did get his fourth goal.
26. San Jose Sharks
It’s all about depth in San Jose. Simply put, the club’s midsection has not come through. Joonas Donskoi (2G), Tomas Hertl (2G) and Mikkel Boedker (1G) have failed to keep the club floating through the departure of Patrick Marleau. Bright spot is Kevin Labanc (3-3-6). On the top of the lineup card, Joe Pavelski has been subpar, as has Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. Martin Jones (2.35; .930) has been the glue. Lost on the road to the Devils and Islanders before winning at Madison Square Garden. On to Boston and Buffalo next.
27. Buffalo Sabres
A fragile team, unsure whether they can generate offense, but a comeback overtime win at Boston and an oh-so-tight victory over Detroit has them picking their heads up off the carpet. A brutal 0-4-1 start to the season, but wins over banged-up Anaheim and an OT loss at Vegas gave hope. When and if 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart will ever live up to his promise is the key question in Buffalo. Jason Pominville, Evander Kane and Jack Eichel (11 points apiece) offer bright spots. Goalies Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson take a good amount of heat, but a defense that doesn’t play as a unit must improve.
28. Boston Bruins
Scoring, but not defending. The club certainly missed Patrice Bergeron due to injury, but he has returned. The defense is not deep enough, and a concussion to Tuukka Rask did not help. Rookie forward Anders Bjork (3G) started hot but has cooled off. David Pastrnak is living up to his big-money deal, and Brad Marchand is always tough. Both have six goals. Blew a 4-1 lead to Buffalo in loss at home. Now face Sharks and Kings this week.
29. NY Rangers
Tire fire. 2-6-2 and 0-2-2 against own division. Offense producing only 2.5 goals per game, and Henrik Lundqvist can only do so much: The defense is 25th in the NHL. Weak at center with the departure of Derek Stepan, but Mika Zibanejad has pulled his weight (6G). Depth here is the real issue, as sophomore Jimmy Vesey has but one goal, as do Chris Kreider and Michael Grabner.
30. Montreal Canadiens
Dumpster fire with 1-6-1 start halted only by 5-1 victory over struggling Florida Tuesday. GM Marc Bergevin should be surprised to still be employed, as his offense is second-to-last and none of his stars have come through. Goalie Carey Price has looked brutal, and defenseman Shea Weber is the lone bright spot on this club.
31. Arizona Coyotes
A defense like this one, with newcomer Jason Demers looking good alongside underrated Oliver Ekman-Larsson, also Nik Hjalmarsson, Alex Goligoski and Luke Schenn. But defense can only do so much when the goaltending is so poor. Louie Domingue (4.36; .860) has been awful, Antti Raanta, the big summer acquisition, has been injured, and the team has had to look to rookie Adin Hill, to little effect. Meanwhile, Mike Smith tears it up in Calgary. The offense is dreadful, with Anthony Duclair flaming out, Max Domi sputtering. Only bright spot is rookie Clayton Keller as coach Rick Tocchet leads the NHL’s only winless club.
For more on the NHL, visit Josh’s author’s section at Buffalo Sports Page.