NHL Power Rankings: Golden Knights climbing; Rangers slide

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we start to see some of the expected contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the league.

The Carolina Hurricanes are back in the top spot, the Tampa Bay Lightning inch closer to the top spot, and the Vegas Golden Knights make a return to the top-10.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers all hit their first slumps of the season and see a little bit of a slide.

It has been a wild couple of weeks in the NHL as more than 30 games have been postponed and some teams have their seasons put on hold until after the Christmas break.

We will be taking a look at all of those teams and more.

Where does your team sit this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 2). Frederik Andersen‘s resurgence has been one of the bigger surprises in the NHL this season, and it is making the Hurricanes a clear Stanley Cup favorite.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 5). Nikita Kucherov has played only three games and Brayden Point has played in only 16 games. They are two of the top players in the league. Even without them the Lightning still have the league’s second best points percentage and are 17-3-3 in their past 23 games since start the season 2-3-1. An insanely deep organization. Keep in mind that along with the absences of Kucherov and Point they also had to replace their entire third line this offseason.

3. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 3). Before their season was paused they were one of the best teams in the league. They still are.

4. Florida Panthers (LW: 1). The Panthers have lost four out of their past five games including an ugly 8-2 loss to the Senators this past week.

5. Washington Capitals (LW: 6). Alex Ovechkin is going to add another record to his collection soon (power play goals) and perhaps another MVP award.

[Related: Ovechkin ties Andreychuk for all-time power play goals record]

6. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 9). They are on a roll right now (12-2-1 past 15 games; seven game-winning streak) thanks to some great offseason additions that slid under the radar and some underrated and overlooked depth. They also seem to be getting closer to an Evgeni Malkin return.

7. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 11). Sometimes easy to forget this team still has a Jack Eichel return/debut looming in the second half of the season.

8. Nashville Predators (LW: 10). Not only did they need Juuse Saros to repeat his 2020-21 performance they needed some big bounce back seasons from their big money players. All of that is happening.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 8). One of the many teams put on pause. Their dropping one spot is more of a reflection of the teams ahead of them simply getting a chance to play and keep winning.

10. Minnesota Wild (LW: 4). This is a steep drop from the top-five, but it is the confluence of a three-game losing streak for the Wild meeting at a bunch of winning streaks for a lot of other teams. The Wild are not going away, though.

11. New York Rangers (LW: 7). They are simply a different team with Igor Shesterkin in the lineup.

12. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 13). Still the biggest surprise in the NHL this season for a lot of reasons. But man are they fun to watch thanks to Trevor Zegras.

13. St. Louis Blues (LW: 14). Vladimir Tarasenko‘s rebound has been signifiant, but so has been the addition of Pavel Buchnevich. What a steal.

14. Boston Bruins (LW: 12). They still have some big questions to answer with this roster when their season resumes after Christmas.

15. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 18). When Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl help set up three or four goals per game, they win. When those two do not do that, they lose. It is that simple.

16. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 15). Paul Maurice basically firing himself was not something we expected this season.

[Related: Maurice resigns: ‘They needed a new voice’]

17. Calgary Flames (LW: 17). The overall record is strong but they were trending in the wrong direction before they started having games postponed.

18. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 23). The playoffs still seem like a real long shot but Bruce Boudreau might make this interesting.

19. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 19). Whether they make the playoffs this season or not is not really important. What is important is they have a real core of young stars to build around for the next decade and beyond.

20. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 24). Losing 10 in a row followed by a five-game point streak (4-0-1) is exactly what you should expect from the Flyers. It is their identity every single season.

21. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 21). They are hanging in the playoff race and have not yet seen their impressive prospect core get a chance to make a major impact yet. Future is bright here.

22. Dallas Stars (LW: 16). Every time it looks like their season is going to go in some direction, either positive or negative, they completely reverse course. No idea what they are.

23. San Jose Sharks (LW: 20). James Reimer‘s performance and Erik Karlsson‘s bounce back are keeping them in it more than anybody expected.

[Related: Erik Karlsson is back]

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 22). They have just two wins, and only one regulation win, over the past month.

25. New York Islanders (LW: 26). Assume it takes 95 points to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. That means the Islanders need 73 points in their remaining 56 games. That would be a .651 points percentage. The Islanders’ cumulative points percentage between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 seasons (when they made the playoffs all three years, won seven playoff series, and reached the past two Conference Finals/Semifinal rounds) was .617. So in other words, for the remainder of the season they have be better than they were over the past three full seasons just to have a shot at the playoffs.

26. Ottawa Senators (LW: 27). They have been really competitive lately against some of the best teams in the league.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 24). They are better defensively since the coaching change but the offense is lousy and non-existent every single night.

28. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 30). Malcolm Subban made the save of the year so far, so they have that going for them this week.

29. Seattle Kraken (LW: 29). They never should have been expected to duplicate what the Golden Knights did but this season still seems like a bit of a disappointment.

30. New Jersey Devils (LW: 28). Disappointing lack of progress here this season.

31. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 31). The best development here is that maybe some players have lifted their trade value this season.

32. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 32). Difficult to find many positives here this season.

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

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today
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    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.

    STREAKING

    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.

    UP NEXT

    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
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    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.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

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