Let’s hop in our time machine and go back one month when the Florida Panthers were just starting to string together a couple of wins.
That little surge, combined with the fact that they still had a ton of games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference, sparked a bit of a conversation that maybe they could still make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.
It seems I may have underestimated their chances.
All the Panthers have done since then is go 9-2-0, win six in a row, and climb to within a single point of a Wild Card spot entering play on Monday.
Let’s take a look at that race now, and notice not only the games played column, but also the fact the Panthers have more regulation/overtime wins than every team they are competing with, which would be very important for potential tiebreaker situations.
So maybe I was wrong.
This doesn’t mean they are going to make the playoffs (again, games in hand are not necessarily wins in hand) and they still have to maintain at least a similar pace the rest of the way (and probably get some help), but I was definitely wrong to underestimate their chances because they are still very much in it.
Their hot streak helps them make a big leap in the Power Rankings this week.
We also have a new team in the top spot as well as a new team in the basement.
To the rankings!
1. Nashville Predators — They have the best points percentage in the NHL, they enter the week having won eight games in a row, they just added Ryan Hartman and Mike Fisher to a team that was already loaded. Find a better team in the NHL right now. You can not.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They didn’t get Erik Karlsson, but Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller are two pretty big additions to a team that is already as good as it gets on paper (and on the ice). Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are crushing everybody right now.
3. Boston Bruins — That 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was pretty impressive. Even more impressive: They did it without Patrice Bergeron.
4. Winnipeg Jets — One of the best offensive teams in the league managed to get a little more powerful after adding Paul Stastny without giving up anything off of its roster.
5. Vegas Golden Knights — They hit a little bit of a rough patch recently and lost their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference, but they are still running away with the Pacific Division crown.
The rest of the contenders
6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are 13-3-2 in their past 18 games and are currently without their best player, Auston Matthews. Scary deep offense and a fun team to watch. As long as Frederik Andersen keeps doing what he is doing (maybe rest him a bit?) they will be a tough team to knock out.
7. Philadelphia Flyers — How will the goaltending hold up is a question that always gets asked regarding the Philadelphia Flyers. It is still true this season. Elite skill players up front and a lot of good young talent on this roster. This team has been on a roll for the better part of the past three months.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Without a healthy Matt Murray in net they are in trouble. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are not going to get them through a playoff series the way Marc-Andre Fleury did in relief a year ago.
9. Washington Capitals — Alex Ovechkin is closing in on 600 career goals, another 50-goal season, another goal-scoring crown. He very well could be the greatest goal scorer of all time. Tell me why I am wrong.
10. Minnesota Wild — I think, just like the Capitals just ahead of them, they are probably a little worse than their record might indicate, but you can not change the results that already happened. And hey, Eric Staal is incredible again.
All of these teams seem the same
11. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov is one of the best two-way players in hockey.
12. San Jose Sharks — It is a little surprising they are as high up in the standings as they are. Neither goaltender has been great (nor have they been bad; they have just been pretty good), their top players are not having great seasons offensively, and Joe Thornton has already missed more than a quarter of the season. Yet here they are, second place in the Pacific Division, on their way to the playoffs (probably).
13. Dallas Stars — John Klingberg should be getting more consideration for the Norris Trophy. He is having a stellar season for the suddenly defensive Stars.
15. Anaheim Ducks — The two-headed monster of John Gibson and Ryan Miller has been nothing short of sensational in net for the Ducks this season. They have matching .925 save percentages and played a big role in keeping the team afloat while they dealt with injury after injury earlier this season.
16. Los Angeles Kings — Sometimes they look like a force. Sometimes they look boring and dull. This is what they are. A mediocre, middle of the pack team that has a good system in place but just lacks talent beyond its top four or five players.
17. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having one of the best offensive seasons of the past 10 years. Even though he has been around for a while it is important to keep in mind he is still only 22 years old.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets — Overall they have been a disappointment this season. One player that has not been a disappointment, however, is Artemi Panarin. Electrifying every time he has the puck.
19. Calgary Flames — Since Mike Smith went out of the lineup they are just 3-6-1 and falling back in the playoff race.
20. Carolina Hurricanes — With only two wins in their past nine games they are hanging on by a thread in the playoff race.
21. St. Louis Blues — The Blues are falling apart. They are losing games, they traded one of their top players at the deadline, they lost two more players to injury on Monday.
22. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist won back-to-back games where he had to make 50 saves. This is the 2017-18 New York Rangers in a nutshell.
23. Detroit Red Wings — Sometimes I look at their team page on CapFriendly and wonder how in the world they will get better in the coming seasons.
24. Chicago Blackhawks — They have only won four of their past 16 games. The only reason I do not have them lower is because so many teams below them have been even worse.
25. Arizona Coyotes — Hey, give them some credit, they have gone on a bit of a roll here recently with an 8-2-1 mark in their past 11 games. Young team gaining some confidence? Just a blip on the radar at the end of the season that doesn’t really mean anything? That is all still yet to be determined, but they definitely have played better recently.
27. Buffalo Sabres — They might actually be the worst team in the NHL, but they have won managed to win three of their past five games, including games against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. So points for that.
28. Ottawa Senators — The good news is Senators fans get a few more weeks to watch Erik Karlsson before he gets traded this summer. So at least they have that going for them.
29. Montreal Canadiens — They have three wins in their past 11 games. Two of them came against an Islanders team that is circling the drain. The other came against a Rangers team that was in the process of trading most of its roster.
30. Edmonton Oilers — Milan Lucic has one point — an assist — in his past 17 games. That is an ugly, ugly, ugly contract.
31. New York Islanders — Are they actually *the worst* team in the NHL?
No, they are not. But my goodness are they tough to watch right now and deserve to be in the basement this week. Stick with me here for a second: They have lost six in a row. They have only won four of their past 16 games. They have given up 50 shots in a game four times during that stretch (only one other team in the NHL has given up more than 50 shots in a game more than twice all season) and Doug Weight seems to be, I don’t know, totally out to lunch behind the bench.
After Saturday’s loss in Pittsburgh he called out rookie Mathew Barzal by name for staying on the ice too long during a power play in overtime (even though he had called a timeout just before that power play started, presumably to give his top players a rest so they could be on the ice for that power play). When asked about another 50-shot debacle he wrote it off as being no big deal because of where the shots were coming from and referenced a 5 p.m. ET start time after playing at 7 the night before and called it a “good effort by the guys.” The reality is had it not been for rookie goalie Christopher Gibson, making his first start of the season, standing on his head for most of the game they would have been obliterated on the scoreboard. The only two goals the Islanders scored that day were because the other team’s goalie literally fell on his butt while a weak shot was sliding toward the net and then later because an opposing defender accidentally kicked the puck in his own net.
It was not a good effort.
Worst team overall? No. A deserving spot in the basement this week for the way the past few weeks — and the season as a whole — have gone? Yes.