Another week of Hockey is in the books as NHL teams continue to jockey for position in tight races across all four divisions.
Teams are getting adjusted to what playing in this age is like, as we are continually seeing temporary schedule stoppages around the league, it is really becoming quite normalized.
Teams such as Colorado, Buffalo, Philidelphia, Minnesota, and more have been momentarily halted from playing their previously scheduled games as they have been victims of COVID-19 exposures within the organization.
The only division with seemingly zero positive cases or confirmed exposures remains the North, where teams are doing a good job of adhering to protocols and staying healthy.
Of the 35 games postponed so far this season, none have involved North Division teams https://t.co/ncoq5hcgoX
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) February 15, 2021
In the North, there are some evident top dogs like the Canadiens and the Leafs, then the rest of the field where everyone has seen their struggles so far, and have their work cut out for them to squeak into the final two playoff positions.
Over in the West division, as mentioned before, the. Avs and Wild saw their normal schedule games be postponed, resulting in the Coyotes and Blues playing SEVEN (!) straight games against each other, where the Blues took the series 4-3 in some highly contested bouts.
Looking at the East, the Boston Bruins have really found their stride thanks to the early return of sniper David Pastrnak, a player that has turned Boston from a team with scoring troubles to one of the more potent offences in the NHL. The Flyers, Devils and Sabres are teams that saw their schedules halt as a result of COVID last week.
Finally, the Central is being controlled by the two teams from the sunshine state as Tampa Bay and the surprising Florida Panthers are looking like locks for the post season in a weaker division. Behind them are teams still searching for their identities ahead of what should be a very interesting second half.
Here are my rankings one month into this unique NHL season –
- Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 1)
Vegas is a team that can win in multiple different fashions as well as a squad with absolutely no trouble finding out who they are this year.
They can out-score, out-hit, out-battle and overall outplay any team on a given night. On Sunday they took on the Avalanche in Colorado’s first game back from their COVID stoppage and completely locked them down defensively to the sound of a 1-0 victory. The upcoming week will be a true test, as they play the Avs three more times in what many believe to be two of the best in the West.
2. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 6)
Big jumper here as the Bruins, who I had at number eight in my week 1 ranking, has flourished with the return of David Pastrnak to their lineup. Pasta has already made his presence felt on the scoresheet and has allowed players lower in the lineup to adjust to their normal roles of being depth scorers.
— NHL (@NHL) February 4, 2021
The B’s are 10-2-2 and hold a 4 point lead in the East, and are very similar to the high powered Golden Knights in the number of ways they can win.
3. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 2)
Slight drop here due to inactivity, which may be unfair in a way that they haven’t shown any signs of regression in their play. Their COVID break was actually used as an opportunity to rest their stars, and Captain Nathan Mackinnon who was set to miss time due to a lower-body injury prior to the stoppage only ended up missing one game with the time off.
The Avs have a big week ahead as they take on VGK for what should be 3 more tight-checking games. They also get to play the very first NHL outdoor game on Lake Tahoe on Saturday night, a match they should be back in full swing for.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 3)
Tampa has shown no signs of a Stanley Cup hangover to start the year. They handily took care of the Nashville Predators in back to back games on the road, then ended up dropping one against their cross-state rival Panthers.
On the next night, they did what they usually do, a 6-1 beating against the same Panthers team, proving why they are the superior team in Florida and are ready to take a stranglehold on the Central.
Brayden Point is leading the charge offensively for TB, 16 points in 13 games is good to put him top 10 in league scoring.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 5)
Toronto looks like a team with a different mindset this season. Auston Matthews seemingly has transformed into one of hockey premier defensive centers and playing with Mitch Marner on his wing has created a duo that nobody in the Canadian division will be capable of slowing down.
Youngest Players to Record 300 Points in #LeafsForever Franchise History:
Vincent Damphousse – 23-047
Auston Matthews – 23-144
Mitch Marner – 23-264
Rick Vaive – 24-235
Ted Kennedy – 24-310 pic.twitter.com/CpKe6yFXHd
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 9, 2021
Their defensive structure has changed heavily under the influence of coach Sheldon Keefe, and players like Justin Holl and Travis Dermott have begun to understand what they can provide to this team apart from getting involved offensively.
6. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 9)
Carolina had what many people would call a luxury by having their COVID stoppage early on in the campaign. It allowed them to get it out of the way while other teams continue to fight it midseason.
They are probably the most complete team from top to bottom in the league right now, getting contributions from every player in their lineup and not having to rely on a certain person to provide offense on a nightly basis.
The goalie tandem of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are showing that they are very capable of getting the Canes to where they want to go.
7. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 8)
Montreal hit a rough patch especially on the offensive side of the ice this week. People around the NHL accused them of only being able to handle the weaker teams of the North division and not be able to play up to the standards of Toronto.
Carey Price had critics saying he should be benched in favor of Jake Allen until he proved his game was back in peak form. His response? A 2-1 victory against those Maple Leafs in Toronto.
8. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 10)
After seven straight contests against Arizona, it should be slightly more difficult to put a benchmark on where this team really is. Yet, for a squad with lots of movement in the offseason, I believe they are right where they should be in their development.
Goalie Jordan Binnington has regained his form after being shaky in the bubble, and newcomers Torey Krug and Mike Hoffman are making impacts for their new team. Once the Blues get more action against other teams around the West, they should be able to put together some more convincing results.
Hoffman with an absolute snipe to win it for the Blues (-110 ML) in OT
— Bet The Pucks (@betthepucks) February 14, 2021
9. Florida Panthers (Last Week: Unranked)
Welcome to my rankings, Florida! Although their schedule has been somewhat favorable to start the year against the likes of Chicago, Detroit, and Nashville, the Panthers appear to be a pretty steady defensive team that can score when needed.
Alexsander Barkov should be back in Selke consideration this season, and Jonathan Huberdeau is 20th in league scoring. Coach Joel Quenneville is known for utilizing his big defensemen in the offense, and Aaron Ekblad is having a breakout season in this regime. Keep an eye on these sneaky Panthers.
10. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week: 7)
Another drop in the ranks due to inactivity, but also a team struggling to string together good results. They have yet to prove that they can beat Boston this season, and are seeing their big offensive producers like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek go missing on some nights.
It will be interesting to see how Philly returns after their current COVID-19 stoppage.