NHL Power Rankings: Golden Knights on top; Playoff races to watch

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Golden Knights take over the top spot thanks in part to an eight-game winning streak entering the week.

They are loaded with elite players at all three levels of the roster, and seem to be destined to meet the No. 2 team in this week’s NHL Power Rankings, the Avalanche, in the Second Round. They are the two best NHL teams right now and are involved in a great back-and-forth race for the top spot.

Elsewhere around the league, playoff races are heating up in the Central, West, and even the North Divisions.

In the Central, Nashville is trying to hold off the reigning Western Conference champion Stars who are trying to overcome a slow start to the season and a number of significant injuries. Out West, nobody seems to want to claim the fourth playoff spot where Arizona and St. Louis both picked the worst possible time to hit major slumps.

Even the North Division is getting close as Calgary takes care of business against Montreal to close that gap.

We look at all of that and more in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

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To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Vegas Golden Knights. They have two No. 1 goalies (Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lener), two No. 1 defensemen (Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore), and a deep forward group led by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. They are great from top to bottom.

2. Colorado Avalanche. The back-and-forth between them and Vegas in the West is going to be fun to watch. But not quite as fun as a potential second-round matchup between them.

3. Carolina Hurricanes.  If Alex Nedeljkovic can keep playing at anything close to his current level this is going to be a ridiculously tough team to beat.

4. Florida Panthers. Still the biggest surprise in the league. Not just the fact they are going to the playoffs, but the way they have kept pace with Tampa Bay and Carolina.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are slumping over the past couple of weeks, but Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos will be back for the playoffs.

6. Washington Capitals. Their two games against the Penguins this week will go a long way toward deciding the top spot in the East Division.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins. That was a very impressive win and defensive performance on Sunday afternoon against the Bruins.

8. Boston Bruins. They finally found a second scoring line to complement the Patrice Bergeron line.

[Related: Bruins have found second scoring line]

9. Minnesota Wild. They are beating the teams they are supposed to beat. The question will be what can they do against Vegas and Colorado?

10. Toronto Maple Leafs. Goaltending has played a major role in their recent struggles. Both their own goaltending not playing well, and running into some hot goalies on the other side of the ice.

11. New York Islanders. Not sure I like the way they are trending here. They are likely to play Pittsburgh or Washington in the First Round. So far they are 4-8-3 against those two teams this season. Then again, you can never count out a Barry Trotz team from making noise in the playoffs.

12. New York Rangers. In any other division they would be a playoff team this season.

13. Dallas Stars. Joe Pavelski is having quite the age-defying season in Dallas. That contract has worked out.

[Related: Joe Pavelski’s age-defying season]

14. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid needs to average just a little more than two points per game the rest of the way to hit 100 points. Can he do it?

15. Nashville Predators. Can they hold off Dallas for that playoff spot? They have one head-to-head matchup remaining. Figure they need to win that game.

16. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck will determine what they do in the playoffs.

17. Chicago Blackhawks. They may not make the playoffs this season (nobody expected them to anyway) but it still might end up being somewhat of a success due to Alex DeBrincat‘s bounce back, as well as the development that Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, and Kevin Lankinen might have bright futures in the NHL.

18. Calgary Flames. They have a lot of work to do, but winning back-to-back games against Montreal helped a lot.

19. Montreal Canadiens. It would be really bad, maybe even embarrassing, if they do not hold on to that playoff spot given the start they had and the lead they built.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

20. St. Louis Blues. They have an absolutely brutal remaining schedule. They have won just seven of their past 22 games. Only four of those seven wins have been in regulation.

21. Vancouver Canucks. Pretty remarkable the way they came back from everything they went through and have won three of their first four games, including two against Toronto.

22. Philadelphia Flyers. Still think this team is closer to being competitive than it appears this season. Just need a big addition on defense and for Carter Hart to play like he did in his first two years.

23. Arizona Coyotes. They have an easier schedule than St. Louis the rest of the way, but they have to take advantage of it. They need to win at least five out of their six games against San Jose (four) and Los Angeles (two).

24. Buffalo Sabres. Do you know who has really looked like a different (and better) player since the coaching change? Rasmus Dahlin. That is significant.

25. Ottawa Senators. This team has not quit and is still pretty fun to watch at times given the young talent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

26. Detroit Red Wings. The Anthony Mantha trade is going to be great for both teams. Jakub Vrana‘s recent four-goal game had to be exciting for Red Wings fans.

27. Los Angeles Kings. Their next six games being against Anaheim and Arizona could help make the playoff race look a little closer if they win most of them, but they have almost no margin for error and need a lot of help from other teams.

28. San Jose Sharks. A couple of weeks ago they made it look like they were going to make a push for that fourth playoff spot, then they lost nine out of 10 games.

29. Anaheim Ducks. They just seem so far away from contending. There is no offense here. Zero. Absolutely none from anybody.

30. New Jersey Devils. The encouraging thing for the Devils is they are going to have a boat load of salary cap space in an offseason where teams are going to have to clear salary cap space and worry about the expansion draft. They could take advantage of that. They already have a few young building block pieces in place.

31. Columbus Blue Jackets. Just a forgettable season.

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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