Another very eventful week in the National Hockey League is in the books and as teams in the four divisions are beginning to find separation on the standings, we are also beginning to notice who the top dogs are around the league.
On the COVID side of the league, this was actually a much lighter week in respect to games being postponed, as all 31 teams around the NHL aside from the Dallas Stars were able to get consistent action in over the last seven days.
A rare occurrence for the league who over the last month and a bit has been adjusting on the fly to make the season get off to a steady start, and it becomes more evident now that the protocols set forth by commissioner Gary Bettman and others at the NHL head office are being utilized properly.
On the ice, it is hard to ignore what is happening in the North division, as Montreal appears to be faltering, the Leafs and Oilers appear to be finding consistent success on the shoulders of their top players, something other Canadian teams have been having trouble finding.
In the West, it appears to still be a two-horse race for the top spot between the two outdoor game participants in Colorado and Vegas, but St. Louis has remained in the hunt after a few series’ with the Coyotes and Sharks.
Out East, the Boston Bruins are finding their stride in a big way, after dropping tight contests with the Devils and Islanders, they bounced back big time at Lake Tahoe against the Flyers in a 7-3 win, continuing their domination of Philly this season.
David Pastrnak has 59 goals and 113 points in his last 82 games.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) February 22, 2021
Lastly in the Central, the defending champs have lost their scoring touch and the teams with the most questions seem to have the most answers so far. Carolina is in the top spot after a 4-0-1 week, and Florida is close on their trail following a successful 3-1-0 road trip and an OT win over those same Hurricanes.
Here is how I have things shaping up overall after five weeks of the 2021 NHL season –
- Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 3)
I mentioned that wouldn’t be surprised to see the Avs make the jump back to the top spot last week after they had their schedule take a hit due to COVID protocols, and here we are.
This team is a wagon, that’s truly the best way to put it. Joe Sakic has set this young squad up for success for a very long time and this is only the beginning of what his vision has in place for Colorado. The addition of former Vancouver Giant Bowen Byram is like adding another mini Cale Makar to an already stacked blue line, and we saw how well they can move the puck up ice against Vegas over this past week, outscoring them 6-5 over the first three games of the two teams four-game set.
2. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 1)
A one-spot drop for the Golden Knights who I have noticed really like to take random shifts off, especially after they have been pushing and their games appear to be at their top level. This is obviously something they will figure out, but as of now, I find the largest difference between this VGK squad and the Avalanche is the effort level. Perhaps it’s just early season gameplay, but I see no argument as of now to have the Knights over the Avs.
Good news: The duo of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone seems to be brewing up good chemistry and are a threat on both ends of the ice whenever they’re out.
3. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 2)
A week that saw the B’s drop a couple of games they probably deserved a better fate in against the Islanders and Devils, the Bruins bounced back in a major way on Sunday night in the outdoor game with Philly. A 7-3 demolition to extend their record to 5-0 this year against the Flyers.
A lot of the same stuff for this team who continue to get great production from sniper David Pastrnak, the forward recorded his second hattrick against the Flyers in three weeks.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 5)
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are really good at hockey.
Mitch Marner good lord pic.twitter.com/VlkDQPOxnV
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) February 19, 2021
5. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 6)
A big week for the Hurricanes was headlined by outstanding production from Vincent Trocheck, Sebastian Aho, and Andrei Svechnikov. The Canes shutout the cup champion Lightning handily, 4-0 on Saturday night, showing why they believe they are a cup contender themselves this year.
Frankly, I’m starting to believe it as well.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 4)
Another week, another drop in my rankings for Tampa who may be suffering their Stanley Cup hangover right about now. A team that definitely doesn’t lack in scoring ability is seemingly having trouble putting the puck in the net without Nikita Kucherov.
1-3-0 over the last seven days and it is very clear that they are having trouble staying out of the penalty box, ranking in in the top five of the league in penalty minutes per game. The Lightning have a chance to get redemption on the Hurricanes on Monday night in a rematch of their big loss on Saturday.
7. Florida Panthers (Last Week: 9)
The team from the sunshine state appears to be thriving under coach Joel Quenneville’s second season with the team. Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Barkov are carrying the offensive load for the Panthers but are getting significant help from depth scorers Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair.
What a god damn pass from Huberdeau pic.twitter.com/Lwqgf8I8oP
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) February 18, 2021
Aaron Ekblad has come into his own as a number one shutdown defenceman and has to be getting some Norris trophy consideration in the early going of this year.
8. St. Louis Blues (Last Week: 8)
The Blues have been playing the same teams every second day for two and a half weeks, which is insane to me. As mentioned in my previous rankings, it will be hard to gauge the Blues until they are further into this year with all their fresh faces, but so far, so good. They remain a steady top 10 team until further notice.
9. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: Unranked)
Welcome back into the top 10, Oil Country!
A convincing week of hockey where their only loss was a tight game against the Jets, the Oilers bounced back in a big way taking out the same Winnipeg tea, the following night, the proceeding with an easy two-game sweep of their Alberta rivals, Calgary.
Connor McDavid is feeling himself right now, with nine points this week alone, it is up to the opposing teams in the Canadian division to figure out how to stop 97, or else the Oilers could move up very quickly.
Via his 5 points tonight, Connor McDavid has added to his NHL scoring lead as he now owns 37 in 2020-21. That gives the @EdmontonOilers centre the most by a player through their team's first 20 games of a season since 2002-03, when a 37-year old Mario Lemieux recorded 41 for PIT pic.twitter.com/bk6uHqBXtu
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) February 21, 2021
10. Montreal Canadiens (Last Week: 7)
Lofty droppers this week, and it may be generous to even put them here. This team was very hyped up early on in the year by the media and fans especially and it is beginning to look like the bar may have been set a bit too high off the hop.
Carey Price is struggling to keep his team in games, and after a few bad losses over the week to both Ontario teams, the Habs have a big week and a busy schedule ahead of them to do some soul searching.
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9