NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche starting to hit their stride

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Colorado Avalanche make a jump into the top-two thanks to a pretty dominant stretch of games during the month of March.

Colorado is 10-2-3 over its past 15 games, but even that does not fully tell the story of just how good they have been over the past calendar month. They have not only had the second-best goal differential in the league this month (trailing only Pittsburgh), they have been the league’s most dominant team when it comes to tilting the ice and controlling shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances.

From the very beginning of the season the Avalanche were viewed as one of the league’s top Stanley Cup contenders, and now that they are starting to get healthy and closer to a full complement of players they are starting to play like it. They have a trio of All-Stars (Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog) at the top of the lineup, a very deep group of forwards behind them, and what might be the best defense in the entire NHL. As long as they get even average or slightly above average goaltending this team is capable of something special.

They climb to the second spot in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

Where does your team sit?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. Bet against Alex Ovechkin in the goal scoring race if you must, but you could also just save yourself some time and simply flush that money down the toilet.

2. Colorado Avalanche. This might be a wildly crazy hot take, but Cale Makar might end up being the best player on this team in short order. Yes, that includes MacKinnon.

3. Carolina Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton still plugging along as the completely underappreciated No. 1 defenseman that he is with a point in 14 consecutive games and helping to control every game when he is on the ice.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning. They closed out the week with back-to-back losses but I do not worry about this team and you should not either. They are still a force.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. Just a hunch but I could see this team figuring out a way to make another big addition before the trade deadline. Yeah, I know. The salary cap. When has that ever stopped them?

6. Minnesota Wild. Through 12 games they were a completely forgettable 6-6-0. Since then they are 15-4-1. They have a new star (Kirill Kaprizov), a good defense, and two outstanding goalies. Good combination.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins. Even with five of their top-nine forwards injured they are still finding ways to win a lot of games.

8. New York Islanders. Lou Lamoriello has been very patient when it comes to retooling this roster. How active will he be at the trade deadline this season?

9. Florida Panthers. The Aaron Ekblad injury is brutal news for both him and the team. He is having a fantastic season.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs. The Frederik Andersen situation has to be a concern. Jack Campbell is playing great for now, but he is not going to stay unbeaten forever.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

11. Edmonton Oilers. Tyson Barrie made a smart decision to sign here and stack up a bunch of points with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

12. Winnipeg Jets. With these forwards and goaltenders they are going to be a tough team to deal with in the playoffs.

13. Boston Bruins. They simply can not score goals right now. There is nothing else to say about them at the moment.

14. Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros started stopping everything and the Predators played their way back into playoff contention.

15. Arizona Coyotes. Not sure if you have noticed, but the Coyotes start the week just one point back of the St. Louis Blues for a playoff spot in the West Division

16. Montreal Canadiens. With Eric Staal and presumably Cole Caufield on the way they are getting even more help at forward.

[Related: Canadiens acquire Eric Staal from Sabres]

17. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad just needed a couple of games against the Philadelphia Flyers to turn his season around.

18. St. Louis Blues. You can not lose back-to-back games to the Anaheim Ducks when you are competing for a playoff spot.

19. Chicago Blackhawks. They have only won four games in the month of March and their upcoming schedule features two against a great Carolina team and three games against Nashville and Dallas, teams they will be competing with for a playoff spot. Seems like a big stretch for their season.

20. Philadelphia Flyers. They allowed at least four goals on 10 of their first 15 games in the month of March. That is not a winning formula.

21. Vancouver Canucks. Every team is streaky to a certain degree, but this team is taking it to an extreme this season.

22. Calgary Flames. When you are trying to make up ground in the playoff race you can not punt two games against the Ottawa Senators.

23. Dallas Stars. Their reason for optimism is the fact they have so many games in hand on their competition and they have a bunch of upcoming games against the teams they are chasing. There is an opportunity to make up ground. If they can win, that is.

24. New Jersey Devils. Mackenzie Blackwood showed on Sunday why he is such a big part of the Devils’ future.

25. Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have not won a game in regulation since March 4, a stretch of 11 games. The two games against the Detroit Red Wings this weekend were ugly.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2020-21 NHL Trade Tracker]

26. Los Angeles Kings. It will be interesting to see if they move a veteran before the trade deadline. Looking at you, Dustin Brown.

27. Ottawa Senators. They open the week on a six-game point streak (nine out of 12 points) that has seen them collect seven out of eight points in four games against Calgary and Toronto. They can be a thorn for teams.

28. San Jose Sharks. It is stunning how quickly Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson declined.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Filip Hronek still leads the team in points. He has not scored a goal against a goalie this season (his only two goals are empty net goals).

30. Anaheim Ducks. They have won just seven of their past 29 games, and only three of those wins have come in regulation.

31. Buffalo Sabres. It is really difficult to go 17 consecutive games without winning even one of them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today

    TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

    Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

    Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

    Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

    Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

    Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

    Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

    Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

    “My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

    Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

    This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

    Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

    “We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

    Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

    “It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

    Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

    The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

    “We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

    The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

    “He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.


    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.


    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.


    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.