Power rankings: Avalanche, Penguins surging, Oilers a mess
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back!

Let’s take a look at how things have been going since the NHL returned from its extended Christmas break…

The Elite Eight

1. Carolina Hurricanes (24-7-2)

The Hurricanes went into the Christmas break as the No. 1 seed and that’s where they are again in our first look after the break. They rattled off a five-game winning streak that came to an end when they lost to the Panthers in overtime over the weekend, but it was in the second leg of a back-to-back, so we can cut them some slack.

2. Florida Panthers (23-7-5)

Right behind the Hurricanes are the Panthers, who actually beat Carolina this week. But as I said above, we can’t put too much stock into it as they were gassed from playing the Flames the night before. Another reason I give Carolina the edge here is because the Canes have a better goal differential (+42) than the Panthers do (+31).

3. Colorado Avalanche (21-8-2)

The Avs have hit their stride. They’re on a four-game winning streak out of the break and they’ve won 17 of 21 games since starting the season with a ho-hum 4-5-1 record. This is what Colorado is doing to teams right now.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (22-8-3)

The Toronto Maple Leafs and 4-1 leads — name a more iconic duo. Speaking of the Avs, they slammed the Leafs’ four-game winning streak to a halt on Saturday night when they scored four unanswered goals in the second half of the game to win 5-4 in overtime. The Leafs are still doing great, but that brutal loss puts them beneath the Avs.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-5)

The Penguins cracked the bottom of my last list when they were seven games into their winning streak. They ultimately won 10 games in a row with wins over the Sharks, Blues and Flyers out of the break, but the streak ended with a loss to Dallas. There’s no doubt the Penguins can still rise from there. They have some of the league’s best underlying numbers and Evgeni Malkin’s return is right around the corner.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning (23-9-5)

Tampa Bay was No. 2 in our most recent rankings but they’ve quietly put together a pretty ugly run lately. Since the break, the Lightning are 2-3-1, highlighted by a massive 9-2 loss to their in-state rivals, the Panthers. Tampa Bay beat the Flames handily in Nikita Kucherov’s return last week but got slammed by the Bruins in their next game after that.

7. Washington Capitals (20-7-9)

The Caps are sort of a strange team to place. They’re right up at the top of the league in terms of points in the standings. But if you take away the loser point, they’ve only actually won four more games than they’ve lost. Their goal differential is elite (+25) but their middle-of-the-pack in terms of underlying shot numbers. They also scored on their own net on a delayed penalty call. Ooooof.

8. Minnesota Wild (21-10-2)

The final spot goes to the Wild, who edged out a pair of other Central Division rivals. I considered St. Louis for this spot since they pounded the Wild in the Winter Classic, but Minnesota’s underlying numbers are much stronger and we don’t want to put too much weight on one game played in an abnormal setting. The outdoor game was Minnesota’s fifth loss in a row but it bounced back with wins over the Caps and Bruins, two quality opponents.

Worth Mentioning… 

One team I have my eyes on as a possible second-half riser is the Boston Bruins.

Their 18-11-2 record certainly isn’t exciting. But they’ve only played 31 games thus far and have quite a few games in hand on the teams above them in the Atlantic Division. Boston also has the highest expected goals for percentage in the league, meaning we likely haven’t seen the best of this team yet.

Also, what will getting Tuukka Rask back do for the Bruins?

Rask is currently on a PTO with the Providence Bruins of the AHL and he figures that he’ll have a contract and be up with the big-league club this week.

Boston has gotten strong goaltending from Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, who both have a .918 save percentage, but their trouble has been scoring goals, as they’re 22nd in the league in that department.

Speaking of goaltenders, here are a couple more interesting things to mention…

Zach Fucale set the NHL record for the longest streak without allowing a goal to start their career, beating Matt Hackett’s (MIN) mark of 102:48 set in 2011. Hilariously enough, the goal he allowed was that one I posted earlier when the Caps scored on their own net.

Anyways! Here’s Fucale making a game-saving stop in the overtime period of that game…

And then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 30 of 31 shots to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights, the team who traded him away in the offseason for literally nothing.

With the win over his former club, Fleury has now beaten all 32 teams in the league. He also beat the Atlanta Thrashers earlier in his career, so you can say he’s beaten 33 different teams if you feel inclined.

Finally, we have this from the Dallas Stars , which was in contention for This Week’s Disaster. Rick Bowness absolutely lost his mind after the Stars got dropped by the Blues due in part to some questionable penalty calls.

This loss ended a four-game winning streak for the surging Stars, so we can’t really call them a disaster. Still a funny watch, though.

This Week’s Disaster…

The Edmonton Oilers have dropped five games in a row out of the Christmas break and their 9-1-0 start to the season is now a distant memory.

The Oilers put forward a valiant effort without Connor McDavid (who was in COVID-19 protocol) but wound up losing 4-2 to the Leafs. Their next game after that (against the Sens) has been rescheduled to Saturday, so they’ll have 10 days off before playing again to dwell on this losing skid.

This article first appeared on Daily Faceoff and was syndicated with permission.

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