NHL Power Rankings: Golden Knights look like contenders as league enters break

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Golden Knights
Vegas has now won five games in a row, and it now sits atop the Pacific Division standings. It took a while for the Golden Knights to find their footing, due in large part to a slew of injuries, but they are starting to get it together. Don’t be surprised to see them start distancing themselves from the rest of the pack out west. 7 20-12-0

The Lightning are getting contributions from everyone these days, but the man between the pipes has been a big key to the team’s success of late. In the last month, Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 6.17 goals saved above average are third in the NHL. — 20-6-4

Maple Leafs
In their only game of the week, the Maple Leafs scored an impressive 5-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Auston Matthews notched a pair of goals in that one to reach the 20-goal mark before Santa could even think about warming up the sleigh. 1 20-8-2


The Avalanche are one of the many teams that have been decimated by the COVID-19 protocol. Their five-game winning streak came to a halt in Nashville, but Colorado was only able to ice 10 forwards against the Predators. Plus, that game was much closer than the 5-2 score indicated. 3 17-8-2

Carolina battled through some serious personnel issues to score a couple of wins against the Red Wings and Kings. Because the Canes were so short-handed, rookie center Jack Drury got called up, and he made the most of his opportunity. He has a goal in each of his first two games, and Wayne Gretzky better be looking over his shoulder. 4 21-7-1

Speaking of The Great One looking over his shoulder, Alex Ovechkin added a pair of goals last week to end a *gasp* three-game drought. That brings him to 22 on the year, and Ovechkin’s 47 points are third in the league behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisitl. — 18-6-7

In between a pair of postponed games, the Wild lost to the Sabres in a shootout. Normally, it would be tough to really punish them given the circumstances, but Minnesota did get out-chanced by a struggling Buffalo club in that contest. 4 19-9-2

The past week was far from indicative of what the Panthers are, but losing two games to the Senators and Kings by a combined score of 12-3 is rough. The good news for Florida is that it now has some time to get the lineup healthy through the Christmas break.

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3 18-7-4

Nashville was able to extend its winning streak to seven games and is now just one point out of first place in the Central Division. On top of that, Tanner Jeannot is proving that his strong finish in 2020-21 was no aberration. He is fifth among rookies in points (17), and his eight goals are tied for second among rookies. 3 19-10-1

The Rangers are 3-3-1 in their last seven games, and that disturbing trend of them trying to outscore ugly underlying numbers has returned. Over the last two weeks, the Rangers are 29th in the league in five-on-five expected goals share at 44.14%. 3 19-7-4

The Blues did a number on the Stars, a Central Division rival, by handing them a pair of 4-1 losses. Their 4-2 loss to a middling Jets team did put a slight damper on an otherwise successful week. Also, Pavel Buchnevich has six assists in his last three games and is tied for the team lead in points with 29. 1 17-9-5

I haven’t talked much about Sidney Crosby yet because, frankly, it has been a weird season for the Penguins so far. This might surprise many of you, but Crosby is still very good at hockey. He has 16 points in his last 11 games, and Pittsburgh is controlling 55.38% of the expected goals with Crosby on the ice at five-on-five. 4 17-8-5

Trevor Zegras referred to baby Yoda (aka Grogu) as “Garu” in his press conference for Star Wars night at the Honda Center. I think that means the name change is canon now. Aside from altering a beloved franchise, Zegras also notched three points in two games. 2 17-9-6

The Oilers ended their losing streak at six games and picked up a couple of desperately needed wins. Connor McDavid also ended a six-game goal drought. Maybe the floodgates will open again for Edmonton after the Christmas break. 1 18-11-0

The Flames didn’t play a game at all last week because they had a whopping 19 players on the COVID-19 protocol. The most important thing for them right now is focusing on getting everyone healthy and back in action. 1 15-7-6

Alex Iafallo has been coming into his own this season. With nine goals and nine assists in 29 games, he could very well set new career highs in each category. Even more encouraging than that is that this looks sustainable as he is third on the team in individual expected goals at five-on-five with 5.23.

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1 14-11-5

The Bruins scored two goals in two games last week (both losses), but that probably has more to do with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand being out more than anything else. Of course, that does illustrate some of the depth issues that Boston has up front. 4 14-10-2

If you told me a couple of weeks ago that the Canucks would rise any higher than No. 20 in these rankings, I would have assumed that 19 other teams chose to end the season early. Instead, Bruce Boudreau has the Canucks at 6-0 under his watch. It’s been an exciting stretch for Vancouver since he took over, but don’t chant about it. 3 14-15-2

With the Jets mired in an inconsistent season, head coach Paul Maurice chose to resign. The good news for Winnipeg is that it is still within striking distance of a playoff spot, but it needs to find some consistency in the coming weeks. 1 14-11-5

The Stars ended a five-game losing streak with an overtime win over the Blackhawks, but there are some glaring issues with this team. If the top line isn’t on the ice, then it is usually an uphill battle for Dallas. That must change soon for the Stars to be a real playoff threat. 1 15-12-2

Red Wings
Dylan Larkin is on pace for a career high in the goals category. On the one hand, that is driven by a 19.2 shooting percentage that is roughly 10 points higher than his career average. On the other, Larkin is 12th in the NHL in individual expected goals at five-on-five, so he is doing something right. 4 15-13-3

Philadelphia seems to have steadied itself after a disastrous losing streak. The Flyers are 4-0-1 in their last five, and they are keeping themselves afloat in the playoff race in the Metropolitan Division. 4 12-12-5

Tim Stützle, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, is starting to look more comfortable at the highest level of the game. The 19-year-old has 15 points in 28 games, and the Senators have performed well at five-on-five when Stützle has been on the ice. — 9-17-2

While everyone else is enjoying their favorite holiday movies, Chicago has been in the mood for some thrillers. All three of the Blackhawks’ games went to overtime last week, and they were able to get a big win over the Capitals in that fashion. However, they promptly lost to two division opponents in back-to-back games.

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— 11-15-4

The Sharks have had trouble finding the back of the net lately, and Timo Meier has just one goal in his last eight games. San Jose doesn’t have the forward depth to keep winning when its star players get cold, and that has been on display in December. 5 15-14-1

Blue Jackets
After a shocking start from the Blue Jackets in 2021-22, they have just two wins in the month of December and are four points out of a playoff spot. That hasn’t been bad luck either. Columbus is 29th in the NHL in expected goals share at five-on-five (44.31%) since Dec. 1. 4 14-13-1

Even after breaking their horrific slump, the Islanders just can’t get out of neutral and win back-to-back games. In Sunday’s loss to the Golden Knights, they owned just 37.28% of the expected goals share at five-on-five. 1 8-12-6

The Kraken have just two wins in December, and their goaltending issues persist, no matter who is in the crease. Seattle’s 88.62 save percentage at five-on-five is dead last in the league, and it’s not particularly close. The Avalanche are 31st at 90.76%. 1 10-17-3

Seattle catches a lot of flak for its goaltending situation, but Montreal’s hasn’t really been any better. Three different goalies have started for the Canadiens, and all three of them have a goals against average above three. To be fair to that trio, the Habs are one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to expected goals allowed at five-on-five. 1 7-21-3

The Coyotes got their first win of the month in a thrilling overtime game against the Ducks in which Clayton Keller netted a pair of goals. That should be enough to tide them over for at least a few more weeks. 1 6-21-2

The Sabres picked up five of a possible six points last week. They weren’t all pretty, but that doesn’t matter to Buffalo. The Sabres had lost seven straight games before beating the Jets. 1 10-15-5

The Devils haven’t picked up a single point in their last six games, and they have one win in their last 10. The wheels have come off the wagon in New Jersey, and it’s tough to see much changing. The Devils have plummeted out of the playoff race at this point. 3 10-15-5

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