After three weeks of intense NHL action, we have seen some teams establish themselves as early favourites to make a deep Stanley Cup run while other teams are faltering and struggling to put together wins including some teams that were labelled as perennial playoff contenders. Rookies and AHL call-ups have been making strides in this young season and that comes as no surprise as they played way more hockey than the players who were competing in the boardroom for an NHL labour agreement instead of playing overseas on Scandinavian ice. Fans did not boycott NHL merchandise and tickets were sold out everywhere on opening night of the NHL season so the cold shoulder treatment failed drastically by the few who tried to instigate the movement despite a negative reaction from the NHL faithful towards the lockout. As the season continues, look for subtle changes to teams that are trying to step up their game as time is short and patience wearing thin on the coaches and the managers on the hotseat of their respective teams. Since this is a short season, desperation will be more prominent and highlighted compared to seasons past and the key to success for most staff of the NHL is to make prompt decisions without much notice. You can also expect more players scoring in streaks because of the many different off-season variances players have had and players who did not have much practice before the start of the season will most likely get their game going late in the campaign as they are still finding their legs and getting used to playing with different teammates.Here is my power ranking list starting from the best team to the worst team in that order.
#1. Chicago Blackhawks
Current Conference Standing: 1st in west
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 4th in west
The Blackhawks have not lost a single game in regulation yet this season and are looking forward to break the record for best season start without losing a game in regulation which was set by the Anaheim Ducks with 15 games starting the season without losing in regulation. The Hawks are strong at all areas of the ice including the penalty kill which is 1st in the NHL at 92.9%. The powerplay is just 16th but has looked competitive on most occasions. They have been dominant at even strength scoring goals and preventing goals with Corey Crawford backstopping them when all else fails. Their best players have really been their best players as Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are showing resemblances of their Stanley Cup performances in 2010 where they got the keys to the city and established themselves as champions. Look for them to keep soaring with their aggressive style of play while wreaking havoc on their opponents for the rest of the season.
#2 New Jersey Devils
Current Conference Standing: 1st in east
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 11th in east
A very pleasant surprise has come our way and its Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils playing Devils hockey of the pre-lockout era. They haven’t been scoring a ton but they have played some very tough games including against Pittsburgh 3 times and their New York rivals 3 other times already in a very tough Atlantic Division. David Clarkson and Patrick Elias have been playing exceptionally well while scoring the majority of the teams goals. They are clutch with their scoring and their defensive structure is excellent with Peter DeBoer coaching a D-core with no big names on the roster and they have been backstopped by the 40 year old Martin Brodeur in net. The Devils conservative style will have to be relyed upon even more because of the absence of Zach Parise. I doubt they will keep up with this great performance but they will continue to put up strong performances however they play in a tough division and I doubt they will keep first place.
#3 San Jose Sharks
Current Conference Standing: 4th in west
My Pre-Season Prediction Finish: 5th in west
This was a tough choice for me to choose the 3rd spot for my rankings list but I chose the San Jose Sharks because they have been great defensively with the least amount of goals allowed in the entire league and the tandem of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau has been unreal so far. The sharks play a great setup game behind the net and they have the size and skill to match any defensive pairing in the league. The powerplay has been relentless especially when they set up on the half-wall with a great group of Havlat, Marleau and Thornton up front with Boyle and Burns on the point to quarterback it. Niemi has been good in goal and is able to hold his own to win games and with Anaheim and Dallas playing better hockey as of late, they are going to have a great battle on their hands to take the Pacific.
#4 Boston Bruins
Current Conference Standing: 2nd in east
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 3rd in east
Once again defence is the reason why a team is so successful and the Bruins are no exception. They are tied in first with Chicago with the best penalty kill with an believable 92.9%. The powerplay has been sour ranking 28th in the league at just over 10% and the problem stands out as they lack a proper set-up and without a playmaker that can make the right play at the right time. They are scoring enough to win games but they are not an overwhelming offensive force as their top players aren’t scoring as much as they did before but their physical play and sound defense is still very potent and they have Tuuka Rask playing great in goal. He is the reason why the Bruins have been winning most of their games so far because he gives them a chance every night he plays. Look for the Bruins to continue their season like this and hopefully they can fix their scoring problem.
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins
Current Conference Standing: 4th in east
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 5th in east
The Penguins have been playing some excellent hockey. They are a star-studded team with Crosby, Neal and Malkin scoring at will and leading the charge offensively and they have a solid blueline behind them as well. The Penguins strong points so far are its powerplay (3rd with 28% success rate), 5 on 5 play and their puck possession. Letang and Martin have been a great defensive pairing since the start and have the capability to shut down almost any offensive attack that’s against them. They play very tight to their man and sometimes can leave the slot open for other teams to take advantage but other than that they have been handling their own effectively with a decent penalty kill despite Fleury being inconsistent in net. Look for them to have intense rivalry match ups with Philadelphia, both New York teams and New Jersey for the rest of the way in a fierce division full of top-end teams.
#6 Anaheim Ducks
Current Conference Standing: 2nd in west
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 13th in west
The only reason why the Ducks are this far up in the standings is because they have been scoring in bunches. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have had a great first quarter in their season but the question remains for this team is, what will they do without them? If those two retired today, they’re leading scorer would be Bobby Ryan (11 points) and with Getzlaf and Perry struggling to find their A game, I don’t see this team going anywhere. Their penalty kill is second worst in the league with an incredibly meek 67.5% although their powerplay has been producing. Their defense overall plays very loose in their own end and it gives up too many chances in the slot. Victor Fasth has been great in Hiller’s absence but he is still very fresh on the NHL stage and most goaltenders early in their NHL career have a few bad games before it gets better again. I think this is as far as Anaheim is going to go in the standings but then again there have been many surprises before at the top level of hockey.
#7 Ottawa Senators
Current Conference Standing: 6th in east
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 12th in east
Paul Mclean has been the best coach that Ottawa had in a long time and he is partly responsible for Erik Karlsson’s rise to superstar status. He and Kyle Turris have been playing great hockey while leading their team in scoring and right now they have been exceptional in special teams. The powerplay (7th, 23.1%) and penalty kill (4th, 89.4%) have been Ottawa’s trade mark as they have each player is properly placed to fit their duty. They’re defense has been excellent ranking 2nd in the league and that has been mostly due to Craig Anderson’s great goaltending. Right now they play a true team game and they can’t let up or else they will get caught with mistakes and take bad penalties. With Spezza gone, the offense has been coming from unlikely sources but no one is standing out to be that go-to-guy. If the Sens want to make a deep playoff run, they have to get some offense, especially a center. Sound goaltending and special teams have been their obvious advantages thus far but if they want it to stay that way, trading for forwards and staying out of the penalty box will give them a chance to win and make it deep in the playoffs.
#8 Detroit Red Wings
Current Conference Standing: 5th in west
My Pre-season Prediction Finish: 7th in west
After the 6-0 throbbing they took on opening night against the St. Louis Blues, the Wings have played much better since then. Although the special teams have been rather weak, this team is going through a tough transition with Nik Lidstrom retiring and Henrik Zetterberg assuming the role as captain. He does make a good captain but his team’s back end is seriously depleted with Brad Stuart leaving in the off season as well. General Manager Ken Holland has made some smart moves by signing Damian Brunner who is now the leading scorer as of late and Zetterberg himself who has been playing great hockey with 18 points in 12 games. Both him and Datsyuk have been responsible in many of the Wing’s takeaways once again and they have been capitalizing on most chances they get. The team has also been outshooting its opponents on most nights but results of the final score vary so they have to make sure they make the most of their opportunities they get or else they will lose on most nights. Look for them to challenge Chicago for the Central Division title late in the season as well as see some player movement at the trade deadline as they need a defenseman that can improve special teams if they want to go far in the playoffs.
#9 Vancouver Canucks
Current Conference Standing: 3rd in west
My Pre-season Prediction: 2nd in west
The Canucks have had tough start to the season losing to Anaheim big time 7-3 on opening night but lately they have been taking it to their opponents in the Northwest as the other teams in that division are rebuilding and establishing new identities. The Canucks are in a rare position with having the luxury of two elite goaltenders at their disposal. Luongo and Schneider are in a midst of a goaltending battle to see who gets to stay in Vancouver. Both goalies have been outstanding lately and with the special teams not doing so well, they have to rely on them to steal a victory for them. The Nuck’s scoring has been spread out evenly as all the forward lines are getting chances to make something happen. Kassian has been the unsung hero as he found the net on 5 occasions so far. The defense has been good as they protect the slot very well and the forwards have been working hard in the corners of the offensive zone. It is interesting to see who the Canucks will get back if they trade Luongo or Schneider as a Stanley Cup run could be very much possible if they want assets for the present instead of the future. Expect the Canucks to keep rolling and see active trade movement at the deadline.
#10 Nashville Predators
Current Conference Standing: 6th in west
My Pre-season Prediction: 9th in west
You have to give the Predators credit for staying in the hunt for many of the games they have played so far with 5 victories and 5 overtime losses. Their scoring is dead last in the league and but yet again they have been very stingy defensively without Ryan Suter. Pekka Rinne has been outstanding in net and is easily the teams best player. With scoring coming very rarely for this team, they had to rely on defense to get the job done and they have always been great at closing the gap and keeping shots to the outside when defending. They really need a scorer to alleviate the pressure from the defense as the most offense you see on most nights is them chasing the puck after they dump it in and that has to change if they want to make the playoffs. They need to work hard as a team on the backcheck and behind the net if they want to succeed in winning games. Shea Weber needs to step it up on the offense with just 1 assist in his first 12 games this season. He is the one that has to take the shots on the powerplay if they want any success on the man advantage and so far it isn’t happening. They have to keep relying on their defensive system and Rinne if they want any chance of making the playoffs this year.