The NHL has begun to see its fair share of COVID-19 outbreaks, brutal injuries and unforeseen twists and turns on its journey through this shortened season, and with just over one month remaining until the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the current state of the playoff picture remains a hot mess.
With the worst of the outbreaks in the red view mirror with the Vancouver Canucks, a new one has crashed onto the scene and it is within one of the top contenders in this season’s cup race in the Colorado Avalanche.
The results of these outbreaks are still uncertain, as the toll the virus has taken on players in the NBA gives the world of hockey things to be worried about. Will teams be able to overcome the rough circumstances of catching the virus and set their sights on the bigger picture after all is said and done?
Jayson Tatum says he takes an inhaler now before games after COVID. He never did before.
— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) April 14, 2021
Only time will tell.
As for the current division races, there is plenty of meat left on the bone and stones left unturned, as the final stretch of this 56 game campaign is about to be turned up a notch.
In the North division, the Toronto Maple Leafs have dropped four straight games and their powerplay is at the bulk of the criticism around the teams play. The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers appear to be finding their identity over the past couple of weeks and provide a very stout challenge to the offensively superior Leafs.
In the Central, Florida is trying the best they can without the services of captain Aaron Ekblad, but the Carolina Hurricanes still remain the team to beat, with Tampa Bay also finding some inconsistencies in their play.
Nothing beats a Saturday night SURGE pic.twitter.com/IoGtRULqLA
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) April 18, 2021
For the West, the Vegas Golden Knights are going to look to take advantage of the idle Avalanche and get a few W’s on the board as they watch from home. Vegas has been handling business against the lower level teams in the division, which is a good sign of their confidence.
Finally in the East, the Islanders are beginning to find out how difficult it can be to score without one of their top offensive weapons in Anders Lee, and the Boston Bruins deadline deals are paying early dividends as Taylor Hall and Mike Rielly have been an integral part of their current winning streak.
NHL Top 10 Rankings – Week 13:
1. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Week: 4)
Vegas is finally figuring out how they can be most successful, and that is out-working teams instead of trying to outscore them.
Before a few weeks ago, the VGK was playing very high-risk hockey, being involved in a significant amount of high-scoring hockey games that clearly wouldn’t translate well to the postseason.
The pass: 👌
The finish: 👌👌 pic.twitter.com/ATCTRYQUap
— x-Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) April 18, 2021
Since, the Knights have begun to shift their playstyle towards more of a four-line, chip and chase type of play, that has shown its upside with how many goals they are generating deep in their lineup.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Week: 3)
The Canes have been the NHL’s most consistent squad over the course of the year, and with the return of Vincent Trocheck to their lineup, they have a top-six forward group that compares to the best the league has to offer.
They have also been able to avoid injury and possible COVID complications, which goes a long way in showing how careful and mindful they have been amidst the pandemic.
Head coach Rob Brind’Amour has his squad playing to their identity, and this is most definitely not a team that anybody will want to see in the grind of a postseason series.
3. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1)
The Avs got hit with the COVID bug this week resulting in three of their upcoming games being postponed. If all goes to plan, they should be back on the ice in-game action on Thursday.
Prior to the stoppage, the team had been firing on all cylinders, scoring nearly 5 goals a game over the last month, led by the best line in hockey consisting of Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Week: 3)
A team that has just played a whole lot of hockey in the last year and a bit, they just seem to not care that much right now.
Cernak coming through! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/jlIGh20vav
— x – Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 18, 2021
After an array of bad losses to the likes of Columbus and Nashville, the Bolts just recently lost their captain Steven Stamkos for a little while to a leg injury. For now, they will await the return of Nikita Kuchrerov in the postseason and hope he can provide another angle of scoring for a team that has relied an awful lot on the bottom of their lineup.
5. New York Islanders (Last Week: 5)
The Isles obviously really miss their captain Anders Lee, and after dominating the Bruins for much of the early season, they just dropped back to back contests against the B’s in a pretty embarrassing fashion.
Without Lee, the Isles are putting more trust into the defensive scheme of Barry Trotz and while it often is a successful way of playing, they sometimes get exposed for their lack of scoring, and it was evident in their mini-set with the Bruins this week.
6. Boston Bruins (Last Week: 10)
A team to really keep an eye on is the B’s, who seem to have found a diamond in Taylor Hall after a short sample size.
Taylor Hall this season:
with Buffalo – 2 goals in 37 GP
with Boston – 2 goals in 3 GP pic.twitter.com/Wfkose9wfJ
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 17, 2021
While the Buffalo Sabres are practically paying Taylor Hall to score goals for the Bruins, that move and another one in the addition of Mike Rielly from Ottawa seem to have been great transactions for Don Sweeney’s Bruins.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Week: 6)
After all of the hype surrounding Jack Campbell, that talk has quickly vanished and the Leafs are slowly starting to infuriate their already edgy fanbase.
Toronto’s powerplay has been among the worst in the league over the past month, and in the playoffs where special teams play such a key role, the likes of the Oilers or Jets stellar powerplays could end up being the end of Toronto’s cup run, one that they invested an enormous chunk of their future into.
8. Edmonton Oilers (Last Week: Unranked)
The Oilers are one of the most dangerously underrated teams in the NHL *when* they get competent goaltending.
— NHL (@NHL) April 18, 2021
Whether it is sustainable or not, if Mike Smith can perform at the level he did on Saturday night in Winnipeg, then this team can play with the best of the best with what they deploy in star power. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are running away with the top two spots in the league scoring and #97 is a lock for the MVP, again.
9. Washington Capitals (Last Week: 8)
The Caps added Anthony Mantha at the deadline, but as my good buddy Thanos once said, all it cost was “everything.”
Washington is one of the best pure offensive teams in the league, registering a top PP and five-on-five scoring clip. Yet, if their inexperienced goaltending tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov can’t keep the team in games with timely saves, the Caps can’t truly expect to have a realistic shot this year with their ageing core.
10. Winnipeg Jets (Last Week: Unranked)
The Jets get the tenth spot this week, even with teams like Pittsburgh, Florida and the Rangers making an interesting argument.
The Jets have a deep group of forwards, but their playstyle is very reliant on their good powerplay and ability to limit the quality of scoring chances against.
If Connor Hellebyuck continues this Vezina caliber play down the stretch, Winnipeg should have enough success to give the other two top teams in Canada a scare in the first couple of rounds.
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9