NHL Power Rankings: Hurricanes’ surprising strength; Rangers on the rise

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we look at one team that is a legit Stanley Cup contender, and another that could be one in very short order. Maybe as soon as a year or two from now.

In Carolina, the Hurricanes remain a top-five team  thanks to a great core of young talent, an exceptional defense, and a surprising strength in goal. For years the biggest question mark with them was always whether they could get enough goaltending. Right now, they boast one of the best goaltending performances in the league with the trio of Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic, and James Reimer combining for a .915 all situations save percentage (per Natural Stat Trick). That is one of the best marks in hockey, and combined with their defense makes them one of the toughest teams to score against in the league.

That can take you a long way.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are starting to see their pieces all come together for an impressive 13-4-3 stretch over their past 20 games. They are not only winning, but they have been one of the NHL’s most exciting teams. They are top-10 in goals per game and goals against per game; have the fifth-best goal differential, and a core of talent that is rapidly improving. It may not be enough to get them in the playoffs this season, but they are not far away. They are closing in on the top-10 this week.

Where does your team sit in this week’s NHL Power Rankings?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. They have not played in a while and are on pause for the next couple of days, but they have the NHL’s best points percentage, an insane plus-53 goal differential in 43 games (also best in the league) and are 17-1-2 in their past 20 games. The best team in hockey.

2. Vegas Golden Knights. No weakness here. Right there with Colorado among the league’s top teams. They could meet in the Second Round.

3. Carolina Hurricanes. Their goaltending has been insanely good this season. Third-best team save percentage in hockey, behind only Vegas and the Islanders. Scary team.

4. Washington Capitals. Anthony Mantha has been an incredible fit so far with four goals in his first four games.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning. They have been a little off for a couple of weeks now, but that is not a huge concern. It happens to even the best teams at some point in a season.

[MORE: Steven Stamkos placed on LTIR by Lightning, out until May]

6. Florida Panthers. Carter Verhaeghe has been one of the best stories in the NHL, so his injury is tough to see.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby just keeps rolling along with 50 points in 44 games and another top-10 year in the scoring race.

8. Boston Bruins. Do not count them out in the East. They could still win it. With the way they are playing right now and their remaining schedule, they might.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs. When this team is playing well it looks unbeatable. But it also has stretches where it looks very beatable. Little bit of a concern for the playoffs.

10. New York Islanders. Just 13 goals in the past eight games is not ideal. They have won two games during that stretch by a 1-0 score. That might be Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz’s dream situation, but you are going to need more than that in the playoffs

11. New York Rangers. You can see the potential in this group. It is scary. Also one of the most exciting teams in the NHL right now. They jump from No. 17 in last week’s NHL Power Rankings.

12. Minnesota Wild. Their reward for a strong season that has seen them take a big leap forward is going to be a First Round matchup with Vegas. Congratulations!

13. Winnipeg Jets. With those forwards and that goaltending you do not want to count them out. The right ingredients in the right division in the right season to maybe surprise you.

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

14. Edmonton Oilers. Mike Smith has been great this season. Can he maintain that? It seems like the Oilers are banking quite a lot on his ability to do just that.

15. Dallas Stars. They are not going away quietly. A couple of rookies (Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger) are helping to lead their playoff push.

16. Nashville Predators. They have four head-to-head matchups with Chicago (three) and Dallas (one) the rest of the way. Winning at least three of them would do wonders for their playoff chances.

17. Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks probably have the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams fighting for that fourth playoff spot in the Central. If they get in, they will have definitely earned it.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Given their record before and after the coaching change it seems that this is just a middle of the pack team.

19. Calgary Flames. That little three-game winning streak this past week was way too little, way too late. Very disappointing season here.

20. St. Louis Blues. That loss to Arizona this past week could loom large. They play the top-three teams in the division in nine of their remaining 12 games.

21. Arizona Coyotes. Beating St. Louis in regulation to snap a five-game losing streak was massive. While the Blues finish the season playing Vegas, Minnesota, and Colorado in most of their games, the Coyotes finish while playing the Sharks and Kings.

22. Philadelphia Flyers. A Carter Hart bounce back next season would produce a Flyers bounce back.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Credit to them for coming back and beating Toronto. It still seems like it was too soon for them to be back on the ice.

24. Buffalo Sabres. Credit to them for not mailing in the rest of the season. They look like a wildly different team under Don Granato. Not really a particularly good team, but definitely better. Also no longer a pushover.

[Related: Coaching change helping Sabres finish strong]

25. Detroit Red Wings. Like the Sabres, the Red Wings have also been surprisingly competitive down the stretch. I want to see what Jakub Vrana can do with an increased role.

26. Los Angeles Kings. Keep your eyes on the future, Kings fans. It is bright.

27. San Jose Sharks. They played their way back into the playoff race and then lost six out of seven, including four losses to Anaheim and LA. You just can not let that happen.

28. Ottawa Senators. Hopefully that shutout against Montreal is something Matt Murray can build on. He needed a positive game. The Senators need him to be good.

29. Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks seem further away from seriously contending than any almost other team in the league.

30. New Jersey Devils. It has been a struggle lately, but there is some very good young talent here.

31. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may not be the worst team in the league, but nobody is playing worse than them right now. Only two regulation wins since March 5, and they’re tied for the lowest total in the league. The team they are tied with, Vancouver, has only played 11 games during that stretch. Columbus has played 21 games. Overall the Blue Jackets have lost eight of their past 10 games and looked bad while doing so.

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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    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.