A little more than one month into the NHL season and we are starting to see which teams are good and which teams are … well … not.
We are still at a point where one or two teams could emerge from the bottom of the pile or fall from the top, but once the NHL season gets to Thanksgiving there typically is not much change in the standings. At least not much of a significant one.
With that said, there should be no question at this moment as to who the best team in the NHL is. It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, and really, there might not be anybody close to them.
At times this season the Lightning have looked like an on-ice version of the Harlem Globetrotters and have just been toying with their opponents. Entering the week the Lightning have the best record in the league (three points ahead of the next best team) and own a plus-25 goal differential. That is 11 goals better than any other team in the league.
Two of their four losses have come on the second end of back-to-backs (with one of them coming against a team that had been rested for three days). Their current four-game winning streak includes a perfect road trip through California that saw them beat the Kings, Sharks and Ducks (two of those teams are excellent at the moment) by a combined score of 12-4. The fourth win in that streak is against Columbus, another likely contender in the NHL this season.
They have the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Nikita Kucherov has a three-goal lead over John Tavares) and the top-two point producers (Steven Stamkos and Kucherov), both of whom are at least seven points ahead of the No. 3 scorer in the league (Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler).
As if the talent up front is not enough, their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .930 save percentage in 15 starts.
Right now in the NHL it is Tampa Bay, then everybody else fighting for second.
So where is everybody else at the moment? Let us take a look.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They are, quite simply, the best team in the NHL right now for all of the reasons mentioned above.
The rest of the best right now
2. St. Louis Blues — I had little expectation for the Blues heading into this season, largely due to their injury situation, but they still have the second best record in the league, the second-best goal differential, and one of the best lines in hockey.
3. Los Angeles Kings — Dustin Brown has found the fountain of youth. He has topped 30 points just once in the past five years with 36 being the high point during that stretch. He is pretty much halfway to that total just 18 games into this season.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs — They hit a little bit of a rut a couple of weeks ago but have come back strong with four straight wins. What is truly impressive is three of those wins heading into the new week came without Auston Matthews.
5. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are … fun?! Seriously, what is this? Who is this team? Fifth in the league in goals scored and coming off of a 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Brian Gibbons, out of the NHL for two years, somehow has eight goals so far.
6. Ottawa Senators — Everybody complains about watching them play but all they do is collect points. It is not pretty, but this is pro sports. Teams don’t have to apologize for doing what they need to do to win.
Teams on the rise
7. Winnipeg Jets — Could this be the year the Jets finally turn all of that individual talent into something good?
8. New York Rangers — What a difference a couple of weeks can make. After a disastrous start the Rangers have ripped off six wins in a row. Big time move in this week’s rankings.
9. Nashville Predators — No team improved more in the big Matt Duchene–Kyle Turris-Colorado trade than the Predators thanks to the addition of Turris at the expense of nothing significant from their roster. The defending Western Conference Champs enter the week 7-3-1 in their past 11 games.
10. San Jose Sharks — Entering Monday the only team that has beaten them over their past seven games is the Tampa Bay juggernaut. Just when you think the Sharks are going away they always find a way to still be hanging around in the Western Conference.
11. Washington Capitals — Don’t look now but here come the Capitals! After a slow start they are starting to look like the team that has dominated the regular season the past two years. Entering the week 6-2 in their past eight games while only allowing 16 goals during that stretch.
12. Montreal Canadiens — The overall record still stinks, I get it, but like the Rangers the Canadiens are starting to erase all of the memories from a miserable start to the season with wins in seven of their past 10 games. That qualifies as a team on the rise even if there are a lot of teams in the league that still have a better overall record.
Teams still looking good
13. New York Islanders — Nikita Kucherov’s start has kind of hidden the fact that John Tavares is scoring goals whenever he feels like it as well. Mighty fine time for a contract year, eh?
14. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith is giving the Flames exactly what they need in net. If he can continue to do that they are going to be a tough out in the Western Conference with that defense and that young talent up front.
15. Dallas Stars — I may have underrated them a bit a couple of weeks ago. They are solid, and in a bizarre twist from recent Stars teams are 20th in the league in goals scored and third in goals against. John Klingberg is playing fantastic hockey right now.
Teams on the decline
16. Columbus Blue Jackets — I still like this Blue Jackets team an awful lot and think they can be right there at the end of the season when it comes down to winning the Eastern Conference, but they have slipped a bit in recent weeks with just five wins in their past 12 games.
17. Vegas Golden Knights — Being down to their fourth and fifth goalies is not helping, but they are starting to expansion team results in recent weeks. They still have a lot of forwards playing really well and producing.
18. Philadelphia Flyers — Brian Elliott has started to look better in his recent starts. With their top forwards going the way they are this could still be an interesting team if they can get that goaltending spot solidified.
19. Chicago Blackhawks — After starting the season 3-0-1 with 21 goals in their first four games the Blackhawks are just 5-8-2 with only 32 goals in the 15 games since.
20. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries have decimated this team this season and they just keep getting worse with Ryan Getzlaf being sidelined for another two months.
Still need some work
21. Pittsburgh Penguins — The schedule with all of these back-to-backs is hurting them. So is the bottom of the roster. The depth problems that plagued them from 2010 through 2015 are back in a bad way.
23. Carolina Hurricanes — Everything about this team looks good. They are exciting. They play hard. They once again have dominant underlying numbers. But there is still something missing.
24. Vancouver Canucks — They had a great start to the season that seemed to have them exceeding expectations but things are starting to return to normal for the Canucks. The early start was a mirage.
26. Detroit Red Wings — Anthony Mantha has been a nice bright spot so far this season with a team-leading 16 points. He has been especially strong lately with eight points, including four goals, in his past seven games.
27. Colorado Avalanche — They picked up some intriguing young players in the Matt Duchene trade but an already bad team ended up getting worse in the short-term.
28. Buffalo Sabres — They have scored more than two goals just twice in the past seven games.
30. Florida Panthers — Only two wins in their past nine games with 37 goals against.
31. Arizona Coyotes — In their first 19 games of the season the Arizona Coyotes have exactly zero wins in regulation. Their only two wins, as of Monday, coming by way of overtime or a shootout. That is … really something.