November 2018 Monthly Power Rankings
While the main focus of this blog is the Flyers, I want to shed some light on some of the more interesting storylines across the NHL. Say hello to the 1st edition of the Back of the Net Monthly Power Rankings. On the 1st Sunday on every month, I will release a new set of power rankings. A few guidelines to how I go about these rankings:
1. The entire body of work for a team is the main factor of the ranking, but the most recent month will naturally have a greater impact than any other month (irrelevant for now since there's only been 1 month).
2. Injuries will be taken into account for, both as an excuse for poor play and an indicator for things getting better (or worse) during the next month or longer.
3. Rankings are not purely based on record - notable individual performances, team statistics, injuries, team talent level, and other factors will be taken into an account.
5. Team stats are accurate as of Saturday, November 3rd. The only game from the 3rd influencing stats is the Senators-Sabres game (the lone afternoon game). Records and player stats are accurate as of the end of play on the 3rd.
6. If you are a fan of another team and feel they are ranked too low, it is clearly because I hate them, not because I might not feel quite as good about them as you do since I don't have the chance to watch them on a night-by-night basis.
With all that out of the way, let's begin. And yes I know it says October - it's for the month that it's based on not the day it was published.
31. Los Angeles Kings (4-8-1)
After last year's disappointing playoff effort, it seemed like the Kings might be on the downfall after winning 2 cups in 3 years. But nobody saw it coming this soon, and this dramatically. Seeing them live the other night, the Kings just looked lost in the offensive zone, like they have no plan whatsoever to do with the puck. They let the Flyers, who have the 3rd worst PK, kill off a 1:36 5-on-3 with ease. New-comer Ilya Kovalchuk has been solid, leading the team with 11 points, and Dustin Brown has 4 points in 3 games since coming back from injury, but the depth needs to pick up the slack. The Kings skaters as a whole have combined for 69 points this year. Colorado's Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line? 63. And now they've proved themselves worthy of this ranking with the hiring of head coach John Stevens.
30. New York Rangers (5-7-1)
Speaking of the Kings' former greatness, they are immediately followed up by the team they beat in the 2014 Finals. After committing to the rebuild at last year's deadline, the Rangers only hope for short-term was Henrik Lundqvist turning into a god between the pipes. He's been good, but not that good. Rangers fans are already dreaming of the returns they could get for Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello at this year's deadline.
29. Detroit Red Wings (4-8-2)
While the Rangers have been able to admit their failure, Ken Holland the fallen empire of the Wings' half-in half-out approach has stunningly not worked out. Dylan Larkin has been a beast, leading the Red Wings special teams, which believe it or not, both rank top 10. But goaltending is the problem here - neither Howard nor newcomer Jonathan Bernier has a GAA under 3. Here's hoping Filip Zadina does well enough in the AHL to earn a midseason callup.
28. Anaheim Ducks (5-6-3)
The Ducks may only be 1 game under hockey .500 but they are playing far wrose than their record shows. The Ducks are dead last in shots per game and next to last in shots against, and it's not like those haven't been quality shots either. It's basically been John Gibson against the world. Turns out that Corey Perry injury may have been bigger than we all thought.
27. Florida Panthers (3-5-3)
Clearly the Panthers did not get the memo that they were supposed to jump into the 2nd wild card spot in the Atlantic with ease as they've regressed to the basement of the league. Their top 6 is scoring as expected, but the rest of team has done little to support them (looking at you Aaron Ekblad). With Roberto Luongo on the shelf, Florida needs James Reimer to find his game, and fast.
26. Ottawa Senators (5-6-2)
*Slow clap* CONGRATULATIONS SENATORS, you're no longer the total laughing stock off the league. You've gotten off to a mediocre start which is one small step up from being the cellar dwellars we all expected of you. It looks like keeping Brady Tkachuk was the right decision right up until the part he got injured. You get to laugh at the Sharks for a moment as a struggling Erik Karlsson is having laps run around him by Thomas Chabot. If you beat the Sabres on Saturday, you could be over .500 - YOU LOST 9-2 TO BUFFALOL? Never mind this team is still mostly trash. Has anyone put the Sens jersey thrown on the ice yesterday up on Amazon yet?
25. New Jersey Devils (5-5-1)
Well we may have all been wrong about Florida being good but at least we were right about the part of New Jersey falling off. The league's last undefeated team is now 1-5-1 in their last 7 games. I'm honestly not too sure what the culprit is - Taylor Hall is doing well (but not Hart repeat well), Keith Kinkaid has been solid, and their PK is nearly top 10. But if I had to guess, it's one again the defense. I'll admit this might be a little low for the Devils, but they need to turn things around from this 2 week nightmare for them to move up.
24. St. Louis Blues (4-5-3)
Thank god the Erik Karlsson trade made me rescind the Blues as my dark horse Stanley Cup pick. St. Louis has struggled mightly to keep the puck out of their net as Jake Allen and Chad Johnson turned in extremely subpar opening months. New acquistion Ryan O'Reilly has been great offensively but the Blues could probably use his 2-way prowess a bit more right now. All I know is that when your head coach basically says he deserves to be fired, there's a serious problem going on.
23. Philadelphia Flyers (6-7-1)
So the Blues have bad goaltending, spotty defense, and an incompetent head coach? Where have I seen that before - oh that's right every Flyers game ever. The Flyers desperately need stars like Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov to wake up from their early season slumps if the team is going to have any shot at turning things around. Their special teams are trash, with a power play under 16% and the league's 3rd-worst PK that just keeps getting worse. I'd have them lower, but getting 5 points on the California road trip may have been the wake up call this team and Dave Hakstol needed, and those aforementioned players have looked better as well. Here's hoping it has a similar effect as last year's Western Canada trip.
22. Vegas Golden Knights (6-7-1)
The Golden Knights finally look like an expansion team - only problem is they're doing it 1 year too late. After riding a 6-0-0 start last year to dominance, the Golden Knights began this year just 1-4-0 as the team looked like it had taken a massive drop off. However, the Golden Knights have recovered and could have Paul Stastny and Nate Schmidt back by the time the next set of rankings come out. That being said, Max Pacioretty, it is time to step up.
21. Chicago Blachawks (6-6-3)
After a decent start, the Blackhawks are just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and look like they did last year. Corey Crawford may be back from vertigo but it hasn't shown. The Hawks have plenty of talent up front and it shows in the point totals of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, but they're going to need to improve their 13% power play to have a chance to cover up their weak defense.
20. Carolina Hurricanes (6-6-2)
No I did not but the Hurricanes this low because I hate fun. Post-game rituals aside, I don't know what to do with the Canes. They take the most shots and give up the fewest, but are dead last on the power play and penalty kill. I'd put them higher if I had any faith that their goaltending could help them out. 3 goalies have played this year for Carolina - all of them have a save% under .900.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (7-6-0)
Just like the Blackhawks, it's been all offense for the Jacket so far this season. Sergei Bobrovsky is clearly unaware that the playoffs have ended and he's in a contract year as he's turned in a subpar opening month. Newcomer Anthony Duclair has provided nice numbers so far, but his 20.8 shooting% is probably not sustainable. All things considered, not a bad opening month for Columbus, but they definitely could use more from Alexander Wennberg going forward.
18. Washington Capitals (5-4-3)
Clearly Alex Ovechkin did one too many keg stands with the Cup because the Stanley Cup hangover is alive and well in D.C. The Caps already have 5 players with double digit points, including one defenseman (John Carlson), but the problem has been defense. Braden Holtby like the form that lost him the starter's spot going into the playoffs last year, but with no safety blanket in Philipp Grubauer to fall back on. They'll probably break out of it soon enough, but we'll worry about that when it happens.
17. Buffalo Sabres (7-5-2)
For the the first time in forever we can finally detach the extra "L" at the end of Buffalo (formerly BuffaLOL). Jeff Skinner has been the boost the Sabres needed and has flourished on a line with Jack Eichel and (checks notes)... Jason Pominville? Buffalo has also had the benfit of great goaltending early on, both from free agent signee Carter Hutton and backup Linus Ullmark. But the Sabres stats are a bit skewed by the 9-2 beatdown of Ottawa and their special teams need to improve, but at least they're out of the basement.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (6-3-3)
There's a big bunch of teams in my opinion that could fall between 16 and 6, and right now that's hurting the 2016 and 2017 champs. Don't get me wrong - the Penguins are a good team, but after losing back-to-back games to the suddenly good Islanders and a 5-0 drubbing to the Leafs (at home nonetheless), I had to drop the Pens a little bit. But once Matt Murray gets going (he's going to, right?), the Pens should be fine.
15. Montreal Canadiens (7-4-2)
As always, there are a few teams that defy expectations and start the year at the top of the standings. Even fewer stay there. I'm not sure the Habs will finish in the latter group but they're definitely in the former. And it's how they're doing it that's surprising. Carey Price has been good, but not great. But through a balanced attack lead by newcomer Max Domi (13 points in 13 games), the Habs are averaging 3.25 goals per game (11th) and are top 10 in shots per game as well. They also set a new NHL record for the quickest 2 goals in NHL history, scoring 2 in 2 seconds in a late win over Washington.
14. New York Islanders (8-4-1)
To the surprise of everyone, the Isles have gotten off to a hot start, currently 1st in a sputtering Metro division. Who knew the return of the greatest 4th line in hockey was enough to offset losing John Tavares. But I'm not still not convinced the Islanders are for real. They're having a hard time scoring goals so far, both at even strength and on the power play, and being an offensive juggernaut is the only way I can see the Islanders being good long term. There's just no way Robin Lehner and Tomas Greiss will both have save percentages over .925 for much longer. Call this spot the "I see you, but I don't believe you" ranking.
13. Edmonton Oilers (8-4-1)
The Edmoton McDavid's, er, Oilers, are facing more pressure than any non-playoff team last year to return to the playoffs in an effort to avoid becoming hockey's Los Angeles Angels. McDavid's line is producing as advertised, but the Oilers are going to need more from youngsters Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, not to mention Milan Lucic needs to average less than $600,000 per goal like last year. But it there's one player that could make or beak the Oilers (other than McDavid), it's Cam Talbot. He's got a mediocre .904 save% so far, but the Oilers need better.
12. San Jose Sharks (7-4-3)
What the hell was that Sharks? I thought Erik Karlsson was supposed to give the Sharks the best backend in the league, but he's yet to score and has looked lost on numerous occasions. Captain Joe Pavelski has yet to record an assist. Starter Martin Jones has recorded a mediocre at best .900 save%, failing to mask these slow starters, unlike a fellow Californian starting goalie (cough cough John Gibson). No wonder why you guys haven't won a cup yet. Sorry that was so negative, but you need to get going. This is not a year to be good, it's THE year to be great. Take a note from Timo Meier - the 2015 1st rounder has broken out, with 11 goals in just 14 games.
11. Winnipeg Jets (8-5-1)
Same message for you too Winnipeg, but with a little less urgency. The Jets are still stacked on paper and are off to a good start record wise, but still have some concerns to manage. Patrik Laine got off to a slow start, but may be back on track after a hat trick in his native Finland as part of the NHL's Global Series. But Nikolaj Ehlers has just 5 points so far and Connor Hellebuyck has failed to return to his Vezina-nominee form early on. But despite the fact the Jets are 23rd in goals per game (2.93), like a lot of teams in this region, I think they'll be fine.
10. Boston Bruins (7-4-2)
The one-line machine of the Bruins is back and looking to give insufferable Boston fans everywhere another undeserved ring. That top line is as hot as ever, but they could use a little more from their young depth players, although the return of Torey Krug should held. Boston is a bit weird stastically - they're middle of the road at scoring overall but gods on the man advantage, and are excellent at keeping the puck out of their net despite a bottom-3rd ranked penalty kill. But they've been helped out, unlike some other teams, by the stellar goaltending of... Jaroslav Halak? Is it 2010 or something?
9. Arizona Coyotes (7-5-0)
You may be wondering why I have the Coyotes so high despite being lower in the standings than 7 teams already ranked. But oh what a difference 2 weeks can make. The Coyotes were shutout 3 times in their first 4 games and averged just 1.6 goals per game in their first 7 contests. Since Alex Galchenyuk returned 5 games ago? An average of 4.8 per game, scoring at least 4 in all 5 games. Their goaltending has been amazing throughout - the Coyotes had high hopes for Antti Raanta when they acquired him at the 2017 draft, but no one saw him being this good - a .924 save% so far after a .930% a year ago.
8. Vancouver Canucks (9-6-0)
This brings us to the biggest surprise of these rankings, Vancouver. I was very critical of their moves in the offseason and saw them as at least 2 years away from being anywhere close to a return to the playoffs. Elias Petterson may wind up being the best player of the 2017 draft class (at least that's what every Canuck fan thinks), and is hot right now playing alongside other young talent in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Of all the team stats I compiled, the Canucks only finished top 10 in one (PK - 8th), and looking at their roster I'm still skeptical this hot start is anything but. But I've got to respect their record - we'll see where they stand next month.
7. Minnesota Wild (8-3-2)
"The Wild are going to be be trash while the Blues are going to be a powerhouse in the Central and make it to the Western Conference final" thought September me. It's a long season and hindsight is 20/20, but I'd like to have that pick back already. To the surprise of many, the Wild have not regressed from last year and are actually 4th record wise so far this season. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, both injured for their playoff run last year, are desperate to make their contracts not look like albatrosses, with 12 points each so far. Led by goalie Devin Dubnyk, another regression pick I missed, the Wild have been great defensively early on, but are going to need to improve their depth scoring if they hope to stay in contention (looking at you, Nino Niederreiter).
6. Calgary Flames (9-5-1)
The Flames have always been a team that has frusturated me. For the last few years, the Flames have looked stacked both up front and on the back end on paper, with their only "weakness" being average goaltending. Yet Calgary hasn't won a playoff game since 2015. But this years Flames are out for revenge - Calgary is on fire (no pun intended) so far, but what's most surprising is most of their major acquistions haven't played much of a role. Elias Lindholm is the exception with 17 points so far, easily on pace for a career high. But James Neal, Derek Ryan, and Noah Hanifin have combined for just 10 points thus far, with Neal the biggest concern with only 4. But assuming those guys (especially Neal) heat up (ok that one was intended), and Mike Smith improves to the point where he's not going to get jumped by David Rittich, Calgary could finally be ready to do damage this year.
5. Dallas Stars (8-5-0)
I myself was surprised to see the Stars as high on this ranking as I have them. I kept looking for a reason to bump them lower but couldn't realy find one. Their overall scoring is a bit low, but they've got 5 players in double digit points, including a reemerging Jason Spezza fresh off his 1000th NHL game. Their special teams are good, and they've gotten great goaltending from Ben Bishop and free agent backup Anton Khudobin. I'm excited to see what Miro Heiskanen can do as well - he's got a shot to give the Stars maybe the best pairing in the NHL alongside John Klingberg.
4. Colorado Avalanche (7-4-3)
The Western Conference version of the Boston Bruins with slightly less depth (on paper) is another team in the Central making me look stupid as the Avs try to prove last year's playoff run was not a fluke. So far, so good - as mentioned earlier, the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line is playing out of their minds, with Rantanen taking the lead early on. A bit surprising is Seymon Varlamov taking control of the Avs goalie tandem - his .936 save% is a big reason for Colorado's early success, even if his record doesn't show it.
3. Nashville Predators (11-3-0)
The defending Central Divison champs, President's Trophy winners, and regular season Western Conference champs have picked right up from where they left off, as they have the best record in the NHL as of the time of these rankings. Smashville is being carried by incredible goaltending from both Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros, making it surprising the former was recently extended for 2 more years. The reason they're not higher is special teams - the Predators are tied for 29th on the man advantage and 22nd shorthanded thus far. Now they get to raise a "Highest Ranked Western Conference Team on Initial BOTN Power Rankings" banner to the rafters at Bridgestone Arena as well. Try not to throw any catfish at it, please.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (9-5-0)
Even with Auston Matthew sidelined and William Nylander still unsigned (I can safely say the latter won't be the case by the next rankings), the Leafs are still a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because John Tavares is a Leaf, that's why. The Leafs have plenty of forward depth to make it for it and have alleviated a lot of their defensive concerns behind the stellar start of Frederik Andersen and Morgan Rielly's 1st Norris push of his still young career. Besides, if the Leafs can be this good missing 2 of their best fowards (although Matthews has only missed 3 games so far), imagine what they'll be at 100%.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (9-3-1)
Rounding out the list are the defending regular season Eastern Conference Champions, the Lightning, who are successful again for most of the same reasons. Nikita Kucherov and much of their forward talent is going off, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is looking for more than a Vezina nomination with a ridiculous 1.98 GAA and .935 save%. Even with minor injury concerns to Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman, the Lightning are as stacked as ever. Time to get to work on molding Danick Martel into the next Yanni Gourde, Jon Cooper.
Well, that just about does it. Thanks for reading. Below I'll link to a spreadsheet I made to compare each team's statistics in several major areas, which I used heavily in determining these rankings. I'll update it with a new tab for each coming month's rankings. Sorry I haven't figured out a way to use a hyperlink on Wix yet.