Week number two of this 2021 bizarre NHL season is officially in the books and it is safe to say that there may not be any specific way to rank the league’s top teams, as of right now.
It seems evident that North division teams are going through the feeling out process still, as results are shifting on a nightly basis and these 2-3 game mini-series’ are exciting and for the most part, closely contested.
Vancouver was the only team to assert true dominance over another side so far, handily outscoring the Ottawa Senators 16-3 over their three-game set at Rogers Arena.
Montreal hadn’t lost a regulation game until Saturday night when they took a 2-0 defeat to the Calgary Flames on the back of Jakob Markstrom and a 37-save shutout at the Bell Center.
As for the rest of the teams, Toronto appears to have taken a step forward defensively this season, and their top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman are playing at an elite level.
The Oilers are being carried by their two-headed monster as per usual, but are facing a major goaltending dilemma with Mikko Koskinen as their only NHL caliber netminder with Mike Smith on IR.
End. To. End.
— NHL (@NHL) January 31, 2021
In the Central, a team making the jump in my rankings is the high-flying Colorado Avalanche who are getting insane production from the best line and powerplay in the NHL. Colorado is without the services of their regular backup Pavel Francouz, but it hasn’t halted them from putting up quality defensive numbers at all.
Before getting hit with COVID problems, the Vegas Golden Knights maintained their position with solid performances against Arizona and St. Louis.
The St. Louis Blues are also a team to keep an eye on as they continue to work on integrating new pieces into their lineup and have a 5-2-1 record in the meantime.
The East Division is an absolute gong show right now with nearly every team providing some sort of quality performance nightly. The Washington Capitals have been without most of their primal offensive producers for much of the last week, yet have not only survived but thrived while short-staffed.
The Flyers and Goaltender Carter Hart faced criticism mid-week for their effort levels early in the week against the Bruins but quickly bounced back over the weekend with back-to-back overtime wins over the Islanders.
And finally, in the Central, Joel Quenneville has the Florida Panthers looking like a well-oiled machine early on after a delayed start, a record of 5-0-1 with their only loss coming in a shootout.
THAT. HAPPENED. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/pupjtYJV6m
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 27, 2021
The defending cup champs from Tampa Bay hit a bump in the road following their scorching start, dropping two straight contests for the first time since January 2020. A four-goal second period on Saturday against the struggling Nashville Predators prevented them from dropping their third straight contests in four nights.
Overall, this week was super entertaining and provided what hockey fans love the most, and that is spirited competition and excitement, which we were not sure we would see right away after such a quick start to the year.
A+ goes out to the organizers, staff around the league, and everyone else who is contributing to putting a show in for fans around the world, so far so good.
Let’s get into these rankings.
- Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 1)
As mentioned in my introduction, word came out early in the week that there was a COVID-19 exposure within the team’s coaching staff, resulting in the immediate cancellation of their upcoming games due to league protocol. Before the stoppage, the Knights were looking like a team playing carefree. They won three of four with the Coyotes and came home for a back-to-back with the Blues.
In-game one, the Knights hit SEVEN posts and came back from a 4-2 deficit in the third period. Had it not been for the pipe and some Jordan Binnington magic, the Knights would’ve had a pretty easy two points. The COVID stoppage is something to look for in the game when they return, but as of now, I do not see a team looking as deep and dynamic as VGK.
2. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 3)
A combined 43 points between Mackinnon, Makar, Rantanen, and Landeskog have the Avs looking like a true beast early on. The best powerplay in the NHL looks even more dangerous than in recent years with a healthy Mikko Rantanen who is one goal behind NHL goal-scoring leader Brock Boeser. Simply-put, this Avs team may be destined to meet with their Central rivals Vegas sometime in May.
Beautiful pass from MacKinnon to Rantanen. Makar also had his second assist of the game on that play. pic.twitter.com/91dSd4AjfD
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) January 27, 2021
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 2)
Dropping one spot this week is Jon Cooper’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Playing in what is considered to be the easiest division this year, Tampa has had trouble making it look relatively easy over their last few games.
At 4-1-1, the Lightning seems to have avoided the Stanley Cup hangover for the most part, but dropping a 1-0 decision to the Hurricanes isn’t something we should get used to seeing for a team with the offensive potency of TB. A close three this week, but don’t be surprised if they’re sitting at the top next week.
4. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 4)
The Caps not only kept their heads above water in the absence of Ovechkin and most of their main scorers, but they flourished with their depleted roster. Nicklas Backstrom is playing at an elite level right now and Rookie netminder Vitek Vanecek is still undefeated in regulation, and the addition of Zdeno Chara appears to be a smart one as he has done well to sure up the backend for Washington who does not allow many even-strength goals. Look for the Caps to get healthy and improve this week.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 7)
A big jump for the Leafs this week. Simply put, Toronto may have brought in the right players this offseason. Wayne Simmonds seems to be a great fit lower in their lineup and is bringing sandpaper to a pretty ‘soft’ lineup on paper. The Leafs are winning games in all fashions, from low-scoring and tight-checking to who can score last. They’re a big mover heading into week 3.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 27, 2021
6. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 8)
Another team making a significant jump. Perhaps people were too quick to judge this Bruins team after their horrendous start at 5 on 5. Now that their sniper David Pastrnak has made his return, it will be a much-needed offensive boost to a team that ranks in the NHL’s top five in goals against.
7. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 6)
Philly rebounded off humiliating losses to the Bruins with stellar performances against New Jersey and the Islanders. Winners of four straight now, the only thing on the to-do list now is to beat a team with some form of a reputation for being good. Winning the big games does a lot for a team’s power rankings position I would say.
8. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 5)
The second biggest drop from a team in this week’s rankings comes out of Montreal. When comparing the Canadiens to other teams outside the North Division, we have to keep in mind how streaky Canadian teams are and always have been.
It seems the Canadiens are feeling great about their game right now, and I can understand why as they have looked great, but following a shutout loss to the Flames, Montreal is my ‘show me more’ team of the week this week.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 10)
The Canes look AMAZING. The only reason they are not higher in this list is due to their situation to start the year and that the extra rest could be playing a factor in these tightly contested games they play.
After taking down both of last year’s cup finalists within the last four days, it is safe to say this team is one to be reckoned with.
The powerplay is 🔥🔥🔥 right now pic.twitter.com/zRFaH47McC
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) January 31, 2021
10. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: Unranked)
The Blues are the NHL’s highest upside ‘work in progress’ right now. The potential for a great team s there with all the familiar faces, along with new additions. Jordan Binnington appears to have regained some form, as well.
The Flames didn’t do enough prior to Markstrom’s stellar night on Saturday to warrant staying in the top 10. Although they are still in the hunt, there are several teams that could contend for this spot. Honourable mentions go out to the Panthers, Flames, Oilers, Canucks, Blue Jackets and Penguins.
It is just too close right now, I love it..
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9