There is no denying the Toronto Maple Leafs were the best team after November, but a two-game hiccup has halted their momentum only a week after they claimed the No. 1 spot.
It’s become a wide-open race after the Hurricanes, who have now lost five of their past eight, fell out of the top spot which they held for five weeks. There’s been a lot of volatility throughout the league; last week’s top five teams have all lost at least two of their past five games, and the Canucks and Flyers both made huge coaching changes.
That means there’s a new team at No. 1 with the Wild and their seven-game winning streak, and it seems fitting to crown them at the top after unseating the incumbents in a shootout on Saturday. It was a close match, but the Wild also followed that up with a dominant 4-1 win against the Oilers to further cement their status.
(All fancy stats are 5v5 and courtesy naturalstattrick.com)
1. Minnesota Wild (18-6-1, +24 goal differential. CF%: 11th, xGF%: 6th. Last Week: 7)
The Wild are one of three teams riding a league-high seven-game winning streak, but their list of opponents was arguably tougher than the rest. Bill Guerin hit on almost every decision he made over the summer – the Ryan Hartman extension was a bargain – and Kirill Kaprizov should be in the Hart Trophy conversation right now. Interestingly enough, the Wild’s possession metrics have slipped a little, but not enough to raise any alarm.
2. New York Rangers (17-4-3, +15. CF%: 31st, xGF%: 24th. Last Week: 8)
They were the only other contender to jump up to the top spot – being the league’s top-ranked team by points percentage earns you that consideration – but their recent competition (Hawks, Flyers, Isles, Sabres) also meant their seven-game winning streak didn’t seem nearly as impressive as the Wild’s. Screw the analytics; the Rangers are fun to watch, and let’s see where this can go.
3. Florida Panthers (17-4-4, +25. CF%: 1st, xGF%: 1st. Last Week: 2)
The loss against the Blues was probably the most surprising defeat of the season, if only because the Panthers are usually the ones making the comeback, leading the league with six come-from-behind wins when trailing after the first or second periods. The Blues played only 10 forwards without Robert Thomas, and the Panthers blew two separate one-goal leads before losing in overtime. Even worse: Aleksander Barkov did not finish the game after returning from a knee injury.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (18-7-2, +19. CF%: 5th, xGF%: 3rd. Last Week: 1)
The shootout loss to Minnesota could’ve gone either way, and they came pretty close to staging a comeback in a controversy-filled loss to Winnipeg. In other words, neither of the losses were particularly concerning, but they also narrowly blew a four-goal lead against Columbus and losing Mitch Marner to injury will hurt. It’s enough to shake the Leafs out of the top spot after just one week.
5. Washington Capitals (16-4-6, +27. CF%: 12th, xGF%: 11th. Last Week: 3)
It’s slightly concerning Vitek Vanecek has lost three straight, but Ilya Samsonov has lost just once (!) in regulation this season and the Caps continue to win games, though the past two against the Jackets and Ducks were pretty close.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (16-5-4, +16. CF%: 14th, xGF%: 9th. Last Week: 10)
The 3-2 win against the Habs was more impressive than the final score suggests; the Lightning rallied late and it was their third road game in four nights. Jon Cooper has never won the Jack Adams, but he might really deserve it this season with the way he’s managed to earn wins without two of his top players.
7. Dallas Stars (13-7-2, +5. CF%: 20th, xGF%: 14th. Last Week: 14)
The Stars are the stars again. Their top line has been excellent, their defense is good and so has their goaltending, and no surprise, their analytics have also improved. Rick Bowness wasn’t lying when he said he knew exactly was wrong with the team, because whatever it is, he’s found a remedy and the Stars are one of three teams currently on a league-high seven-game winning streak. The Stars are one of six teams with two or fewer losses at home.
8. Carolina Hurricanes (17-6-1, +25. CF%: 2nd, xGF%: 5th. Last Week: 4)
When the Canes get in a rut, there’s not a lot of panic because Rod Brind’Amour is so good at mixing up his lines to get his players going. They’ve won two straight after losing three straight, and they’ve certainly lost some steam after a stupendous start to the season.
9. Vegas Golden Knights (14-10-0, +8. CF%: 18th, xGF%: 17th. Last Week: 11)
Grinding out a 3-2 win against the Flames was very impressive, and slowly but surely, the Knights are getting healthy. At full strength, they will be terrifying to play against, even if they have to shed some salary when Jack Eichel returns. The division is wide open and the Knights have three more home games to gain some ground before hitting the tri-state area for four games.
10. Calgary Flames (15-6-5, +28. CF%: 4th, xGF%: 7th. Last Week: 6)
Two straight losses to divisional foes in playoff contention is not good. To be fair, it was near the end of a four-game road trip and the Flames have been excellent on the road all season. It’s a short pause in what otherwise has been a very good season so far.
11. Edmonton Oilers (16-8-0, +13. CF%: 16th, xGF%: 15th. Last Week: 5)
One week you think Connor McDavid is going to do this all by himself, and one week you wonder if the Oilers can even get past the first round. They’ve lost three straight and have been outscored 13-5, and already 0-2 in their six-game homestand.
12. Colorado Avalanche (13-7-2, +16. CF%: 7th, xGF%: 10th. Last Week: 9)
The Avs’ Cup chances should really boil down to one thing: goaltending. It doesn’t even have to be very good, it just can’t be bad, which it definitely is right now. The Avs offense gives them a chance every night, but they’ll have to work really hard if their goalies routinely allow four or five goals every night.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-5, +7. CF%: 6th, xGF%: 4th. Last Week: 15)
It feels like the Pens are on the verge of going on a roll, finishing their road trip with two emphatic wins against the Canucks and Kraken. There’s a big test on Friday against the Caps, but after that it’s an opportune time to create some positive momentum with games against the Habs, Sabres, Devils (twice) and Flyers coming up.
14. Anaheim Ducks (14-8-5, +11. CF%: 22nd, xGF%: 19th. Last Week: 18)
The alley-oop play from Trevor Zegras to Sonny Milano alone is worth a big jump, and the Ducks continue to impress. It wasn’t particularly difficult, but a shutout win on the road after two straight shootout losses is a good sign they haven’t veered off track. The Ducks are still fairly inconsistent, but certainly far less streaky than at the beginning of the season.
15. Boston Bruins (12-8-1, +5. CF%: 3rd, xGF%: 2nd. Last Week: 16)
The Bruins have alternated wins and losses for the past two weeks, and it’s still anyone’s guess if Linus Ullmark, Jeremy Swayman or the still-unsigned Tuukka Rask will be their starter next month. The lack of stability in net is uncharted territory for them, and depth scoring continues to be a problem. Craig Smith, Jake DeBrusk, Nick Foligno and Erik Haula have scored seven goals combined.
16. Nashville Predators (14-10-1. CF%: 15th, xGF%: 8th. Last Week: 13)
They have three players – Mikael Granlund, Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg – who are playing at a point-per-game pace or better. Only two players in Preds history have ever managed to finish the season at that pace: Paul Kariya in 2005-06 and Steve Sullivan in 2006-07. Their success this season is partially due to an improved offense, though their up-and-down play continues to suggest they’re still struggling to find their post-Pekka Rinne identity.
17. St. Louis Blues (13-8-4, +11. CF%: 21st, xGF%: 26th. Last Week: 12)
“Gutsy” is an overused word in sports but that’s exactly what the Blues did to earn their latest win, erasing a two one-goals and finally exacting revenge on the Panthers in overtime with only 17 skaters. The Blues went 2-1-1 in their four-game mini-tournament against the two Florida teams, but both wins were in extra time and may be forced to start third-string goalie Charlie Lindgren in their upcoming games.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets (13-11-0, even. CF%: 24th, xGF%: 27th. Last Week: 17)
They’ve lost five of their past six and only managed to win a game because they scored six goals, only the third time they’ve managed to score at least six this season. All five losses were also on the road, and after hosting the Ducks on Thursday, they’ll start another five-game road trip.
19. San Jose Sharks (14-11-1, even. CF%: 27th, xGF%: 23rd. Last Week: 19)
A win against the Flames puts the Sharks back into a wild-card spot in what’s shaping up to be a very interesting Pacific Division. They have six straight games at home coming up, and will face divisional foes for times: the Oilers, Kraken and Canucks twice.
20. Detroit Red Wings (13-10-3, -10. CF%: 29th, xGF%: 21st. Last Week: 20)
A loss to Nashville halted their winning streak at five games, and hopefully it doesn’t sent the Wings into another downward spiral with games in St. Louis, Colorado and Carolina coming up. The Wings have had two separate four-game losing streaks already this season.
21. Winnipeg Jets (12-9-4, +4. CF%: 9th, xGF%: 12th. Last Week: 23)
They’re one of the most difficult teams to get a good handle on, beating the Leafs, 6-3, and then losing to the Canes, 4-2. An optimist will say they’ve won three of their past five, while the pessimist will say they’ve lost seven of their past 10, but fact is the Jets are not playing to their potential.
22. Seattle Kraken (9-14-2, -17. CF%: 17th, xGF%: 16th. Last Week: 24)
The Kraken’s performance in the short term has erased some doubt in the big picture, but it’s still not enough to convince anybody they’re anything beyond a borderline playoff contender. Statistically speaking, this is Philipp Grubauer’s worst season of his career, six months removed from finishing third in Vezina voting.
23. Vancouver Canucks (9-15-2, -16. CF%: 13th, xGF%: 22nd. Last Week: 29)
The Canucks should buy Jake Guentzel some Vancouver real estate because his hat trick basically led to the biggest turnaround in franchise history overnight. The Canucks looked inspired in a shutout win against the Kings, and Bruce Boudreau is already a fan favorite. If he can get Elias Pettersson going and help a talented Canucks roster find their mojo, they can be a pretty scary team.
24. Los Angeles Kings (10-10-4, -3. CF%: 8th, xGF%: 18th. Last Week: 21)
The Kings have lost eight of their last 10, and managed to score more than two goals twice, though ironically, they still resulted in defeats. This was somewhat expected because the Kings lean on their captain so much; Anze Kopitar has zero goals in his past six games, and only four forwards have managed to score more than two goals.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (9-14-2, -25. CF%: 26th, xGF%: 31st. Last Week: 26)
The Hawks have alternated wins and losses, but have not won in regulation since Nov. 21. Marc-André Fleury is doing the best he can to keep them in games, but scoring has been a big problem lately. Jonathan Toews’ goal drought has now reached 25 games.
26. New York Islanders (5-10-2, -20. CF%: 28th, xGF%: 18th. Last Week: 31)
The Isles had lost three straight games in extra time, so it seemed like they were just a bounce or two away from snapping their 11-game skid. The Sens were kind enough to oblige, but the Isles have a long way to go to get back into playoff contention, if they even have a chance at all.
27. Ottawa Senators (7-16-1, -30. CF%: 32nd, xGF%: 29th. Last Week: 32)
We’re a week into December and the Sens are already one win away from tying their total from October and November. Fun with goaltending: the Sens are the only team in the league to not have a single goalie with a save percentage above .900.
28. New Jersey Devils (9-9-5, -12. CF%: 10th, xGF%: 13th. Last Week: 22)
Bad goaltending is going to be a theme from here on out. The Devils have allowed 20 goals in their past four games, including eight goals against the Jets, and get leapfrogged by the Sens after losing to them on Monday. The chance for redemption comes very soon; the Devils play the Flyers (see below) on Wednesday and then again on Tuesday next week.
29. Arizona Coyotes (5-18-2, -49. CF%: 30th, xGF%: 32nd. Last Week: 27)
They’ve lost their past three games by a combined 16-4 score, and find themselves drifting back toward the bottom after a short burst of excitement when they won three during a four-game stretch. The Shane Wright watch is back on.
30. Buffalo Sabres (8-14-3, -22. CF%: 19th, xGF%: 25th. Last Week: 28)
A shutout loss to Anaheim means they’re 1-8-1 in their past 10, and some of the losses have been very ugly, and in their past four games have started four different goalies. The Hawks threw them a lifeline by essentially giving them Malcolm Subban for free, but it was a swimming tube with no air.
31. Philadelphia Flyers (8-11-4, -23. CF%: 25th, xGF%: 30th. Last Week: 25)
A coaching change did nothing, and even with a five-goal outburst and an inspired performance from Claude Giroux, the Flyers lost their ninth straight game. Carter Hart might’ve just played himself off Team Canada’s radar again.
32. Montréal Canadiens (6-18-3, -35. CF%: 23rd, xGF%: 28th. Last Week: 30)
Dominique Ducharme got assurances that he’ll be able to finish the season, but sometimes it’s like he’s actively trying to get out of the gig. The holes on the roster were never adequately addressed, and now with Christian Dvorak injured, the Habs really don’t have any reliable pivots behind Nick Suzuki.