NHL Power Rankings: Competition for Avalanche in West; Bruins keep climbing

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Colorado Avalanche keep their hold on the first place spot, while the Boston Bruins continue their climb and approach the top-five of the rankings.

While the Eastern Conference Playoff picture has been set for months, the Western Conference has been a little bit more jumbled with teams still fighting for spots and seeding. The Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars are fighting for two spots, with the Golden Knights needing a strong push in the stretch run while also hoping for some help along the way. The big question, though, is if anybody can challenge the Avalanche in the West.

Calgary is looking like the team with the best chance to overtake them given their defense and goaltending, along with the dominance of their top forward duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. But do not sleep on the Minnesota Wild. Marc-Andre Fleury‘s overall numbers may not be great this season but he is still capable of going on a run and carrying a team, and it only takes one goalie to change a playoff run. Nashville, with Juuse Saros and some monster seasons from Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Roman Josi could also cause some havoc.

We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s rankings.

Where does your team sit?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1). Bet you did not expect to see Nazem Kadri as their leading scorer this season. Combination of Kadri having a career year and some injuries to Colorado’s top players helped get him there, but he has been sensational. As have the Avalanche as a whole.

2. Florida Panthers (LW: 4). Their defensive additions at the trade deadline are curious, but this offense is the best in the NHL. By a pretty significant margin.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 3). They are still probably the most complete team in the Eastern Conference, even if they have slumped a bit over the past two weeks, losing four out of their past six games.

4. Calgary Flames (LW: 5). Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk might be the best duo in the league this season. They are both top-eight scorers, and with them on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Flames are outscoring teams by a 69-25 margin in 828 minutes of hockey. Insane numbers. Very nice.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 3). Their offense is in a bit of a funk, but that will not last long. There is too much talent here.

6. Boston Bruins (LW: 7). You do not want to play this team right now. In the regular season or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Do not sleep on them.

[Related: It is time to start paying real attention to the Boston Bruins]

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 6). They followed their worst game of the season on Friday by scoring 11 goals on Sunday. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still dominant, dominant players.

8. New York Rangers (LW: 8). They will go as far as Igor Shesterkin will take them. He is capable of taking them very far.

9. Minnesota Wild (LW: 11). Thanks to a six-game winning streak and an 8-1-1 stretch over their past 10 games the Wild look like they are back on track. Curious to see how Marc-Andre Fleury plays behind a better team this season.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 9). The goaltending situation makes then a total wild card. They could beat anybody with their overall talent, and lose to anybody because of their goaltending.

11. Washington Capitals (LW: 10). If they played in the Western Conference they would be a top-three or four team over there and be a legitimate contender to go on a serious run in the playoffs. Because they play in the Eastern Conference where almost all of the best teams in the league play they are almost an afterthought right now.

12. Nashville Predators (LW: 13). Roman Josi is having a season for the ages for the Predators. At the very least he is going to be top-two in the Norris Trophy voting.

13. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 14). Getting Philip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson back has been a nice lift. This is a good team, and if Quinton Byfield can build off of his three-point game earlier this week that would be an even bigger lift.

14. St. Louis Blues (LW: 12). They have not had a great month of March, going just 3-6-3 in the 12 games entering play on Monday.

15. Dallas Stars (LW: 16). They missed the playoffs a year ago in large part because they were so bad in games decided in overtime or a shootout. It is a complete 180 this season, where their 13-3 record in games decided beyond regulation is going to be a big reason they make the playoffs.

16. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 15). They are going to have to hold off Vegas for a playoff spot. Can they do that? They better.

17. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 17). What a story it would be if Evgenii Dadonov carries them to a playoff spot after they tried to trade him at the NHL Trade Deadline. He is trying his best to do that right now.

[Related: After trying to trade him, Golden Knights getting bailed out by Evgenii Dadonov]

18. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 20). Playing their best hockey of the season when they have pretty much no chance to make the playoffs. They still need more on defense, but expectations should be there for the playoffs next season.

19. New York Islanders (LW: 19). That 0-8-3 stretch in November and early December really did determine their season.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 18). They have overachieved for most of the season but are struggling as of late.

21. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 21). They have a very interesting offseason ahead of them. They have looked much better with Bruce Boudreau as their coach, but some trades need to be made.

22. San Jose Sharks (LW: 22). They have been pretty good ever since Erik Karlsson returned to the lineup. 

23. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 26). Not sure it means anything for next season, but this team is playing well right now and not quitting on the season.

[Related: Roundtable: Reviewing NHL trade deadline, best First Round playoff series]

24. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 25). I want to see Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki for a full season with Martin St. Louis as their head coach.

25. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 23). They have lost nine games in a row and 12 out of their past 14 games. Disappointing given how promising their start was this season.

26. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 24). The young talent and salary cap situation makes it look like this team is close to taking a big step, but their actual play on the ice lately makes it seem like they are still pretty far away.

27. New Jersey Devils (LW: 27). The players they need to be building blocks are proving to be just that. Now comes the tricky part of building around them.

28. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 28). They need to fully commit to the rebuild and break up the core. Those contracts will be difficult to move though.

29. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 29). Some lean years look to be on the horizon here.

30. Ottawa Senators (LW: 30). It is really difficult to see how they will make progress in this division.

31. Seattle Kraken (LW: 32). You wonder how many expansion draft choices they are second guessing this season.

32. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 31). Clayton Keller‘s season has been an awesome development. He either stays as a core player, or he boosted his trade value for the continued rebuild.

 

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

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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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    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.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.