Now that the 2020-21 season is entering the home stretch, it’s time for some updated NHL power rankings to get a sense of where teams really stand as the playoffs close in.
Due to the persistent uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, division realignment and shortened, 56-game schedule as opposed to the regular slate of 82, it’s been a wild season. Even the best clubs can stumble once the postseason hits and the pressure tightens. On the other hand, continuity has served some top Stanley Cup contenders very well.
Without further ado, here are Sportsnaut’s NHL power rankings as the first puck drop on the playoffs nears.
NHL power rankings: Panthers, Pens enter postseason on top
1. Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 4)
Winners of their last six straight, the Panthers have surged to the top of the NHL power rankings, securing themselves the second place spot in the ultra-competitive Central Division, and will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. Impressive seasons from Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, who have recorded 61 points in 55 games and 58 points in 50 games, respectively, helped lead the charge for their club. And, if the last two matchups are any indication, where the Panthers defeated the Lightning 5-1 and 4-0, respectively, they could make a deep playoff run.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (Previous Ranking: 8)
Speaking of surges, the Pens shot up into the playoff picture in the second half of the season, skyrocketing to secure the top spot in the East division. The club has 8 wins and 2 losses in their last 10 games, including back to back monster victories over the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres, thanks to a goal-scoring clinic from deadline acquisition Jeff Carter, who has scored five goals in his last two games.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (Previous Ranking: 3)
After losing in regulation to the second-place Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights stay stagnant in the NHL power rankings, holding down the third place spot. Spectacular goaltending courtesy of Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .927 save percentage and a 2.04 goals against average, is keeping Vegas at the top of the West division. And, they club has the best power play in the league, with a 86.7% kill rate, but they have not locked themselves into that position just yet, as the Colorado Avalanche are giving them some competition.
4. Colorado Avalanche (Previous Ranking: 5)
Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, as well as team captain Gabriel Landeskog, are giving the Avs the fight they need to survive a season full of Covid battles. They sit in second in the West division, thanks to Rantanen’s 65 points in 48 games, MacKinnon’s 61 points in 50 games, and Landeskog’s 49 points in 52 games help the trio to combine for some of the top scoring duos in the league. They also sit in the top ten in the league in both power play and penalty kill. The club has battled through injuries–right now, Sam Girard and Brandon Saad are out–and a wild season to stay high in the NHL power rankings.
5. Minnesota Wild (Previous Ranking: 2)
One of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season, the Wild sit steady in third place in the West division, primed to take on either the Colorado Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the playoffs. The Wild have gone 7-1-2 in their past ten contests, and rookie Kirill Kaprizov has recorded 51 points in 54 contests to make himself known as a strong Calder Trophy contender. He was even recognized as the Second Star of the NHL last week.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (Previous Ranking: 11)
Bouncing back from a rough week, the NHL’s leading goal scorer Auston Matthews (who has 40 tallies on the season) and the Leafs have recovered to secure the top spot in the North division, with a .704 win percentage and a +42 goal differential. The addition of Nick Foligno gave the club the grit they’ll need heading into the postseason, but they’ll need to improve on their special teams–a middling power play and one of the worst penalty kills in the league–if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.
7. Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 9)
As Connor McDavid makes NHL history with over 100 points on the season, Leon Draisaitl sits second in the league in points, and the Oilers are in strong offensive form. They have the best power play in the league with a 28.0% effectiveness rating, but they’ll need Mikko Koskinen to find his stride in the postseason if they’re going to make a deep run–as it’s unlikely that Mike Smith will be able to start every game. They’ve turned their season around to secure second place in the North division, but will need consistency to make it far.
8. Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 7)
All of the sudden, the Bruins exploded onto the scene and surged into third in the East division, overcoming a pretty significant deficit to top the New York Islanders and become a real threat for the Stanley Cup. They are holders of the second-best penalty kill in the league (85.9%), and Taylor Hall’s addition seems to really be working for the club: in 16 games, the forward has posted 14 points–eight goals and six assists, nearly matching his total as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in double the games.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (Previous Ranking: 1)
The Canes’ significant fall in the NHL power rankings comes as a result of the club losing their last two games, finishing the season in first place in the Central division by just one point. The club has five wins, two losses and three extra time losses in their last ten games, and will take on the Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs. The club sits in the top five in both power play and penalty kill, but will need to rediscover their momentum if they’re going to make it out of the Central division.
10. Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 4)
Ahead of the Caps’ final tilt of the season, three of their core players skated in practice and are on their way to returning from injury–John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom took to the ice, and Ovechkin even skated during the team’s optional practice. But, his status, as well as T.J. Oshie’s, is questionable for the playoffs, and the club’s last game of the season serves as a playoff preview, as the club takes on the Boston Bruins. They’ve stayed stagnant in the NHL power rankings as questions surround their roster, but could be in for a rough ride.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous Ranking: 6)
Losers of their last three straight contests, the Bolts finished off the season on a mediocre note and drop in the NHL power rankings. Once sitting mighty at the top of the league, the club leveled out and finished third in the Central division, with a +34 goal differential and a .670 win percentage. Now, Barclay Goodrow is out indefinitely with an injury, and some are considering the club beat up. As health is paramount in the playoffs, this puts a red mark beside Tampa’s playoff hopes, and injuries may be responsible for their failure to clinch back-to-back titles.
NHL power rankings: Second-tier contenders with impressive strengths
12. Nashville Predators (Previous Ranking: 14)
The Preds surged in the NHL power rankings after making significant headway and securing a spot in the playoffs. Their success can be attributed to stellar goaltending from Juuse Saros, who has a 2.28 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. But, the club is among the worst in the league in special teams, which they’ll need to improve if they’re going to compete in the extremely hard-fought Central division.
13. St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 13)
While their playoff hopes seemed to slip away for a while, the St. Louis Blues returned to compete in the West division and round out the playoff seeds. They’ll take on either the Avalanche or the Golden Knights in the first round, and will need to figure out their -9 goal differential if they’re going to beat two clubs that have been deemed serious Stanley Cup contenders. They’ll also need to work on their penalty kill, which is among the worst in the league, but can rely on their power play, among the best in the league, for a certain amount of strength.
14. New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 12)
Once considered the top club in the league, the Isles have fallen significantly and seem to be struggling of late. They’re now last in the playoff seeds in their division, but still hold a .634 win percentage and a +28 goal differential as proof of what this club is capable of. Consistency is their issue though, as they either play really solid hockey or lazy, sloppy hockey, without any in between. Coach Barry Trotz will need to sort that out if he’s going to repeat last year’s playoff run.
15. Montreal Canadiens (Previous Ranking: 15)
As the Winnipeg Jets continue to slump, the Habs continue to inch closer to the third position in the North division, which allows them to avoid the Toronto Maple Leafs, their biggest rivals, in the first round. They’re one point away from leapfrogging the Jets, but Winnipeg has a game in hand. Montreal will need to do something about their -8 goal differential and their lower-middle special teams if they’re going to survive the playoffs.