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NHL Power Rankings

Eastern Conference Power Rankings; Playoff Race & Penguins X-Factor



Pittsburgh Penguins, Eastern Conference Power Rankings

The top of the Eastern Conference is a battle in the Atlantic Divison. The bottom of the playoff race is a battle in the Metro Division. Both races are jumbled and could greatly affect the eventual Wales Trophy winner, and the X-factor in the conference is none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Are they a non-playoff team, or could captain Sidney Crosby lift his team long enough for them to figure it out and become a dangerous opponent? How many teams ice four future Hall of Famers and a true No. 1 goalie?

The other competition for that mantle of a talented roster struggling to keep it together is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who currently hold the second wild-card spot. Their roster is also dotted with future Hall of Famers, and they have a great goalie in net, but like the Penguins, their intensity level has been inconsistent this season.

They were destroyed 9-1 by the rival Florida Panthers just a couple of weeks ago.

Atop the conference, it seems the Panthers are the unquestioned leader in that South Florida clubhouse. According to colleague George Richards of Florida Hockey Now, “The roses are coming in thick and beautiful.”

Eastern Conference Power Rankings

1. Florida Panthers

Deep down the middle with Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett. Ample scoring on the wings and grit. Great goaltending. Matthew Tkachuk. The Panthers want for nothing.

2. New York Rangers

The Rangers have ripped off nine of their last 10 games and Matt Rempe mania. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider lead the Rangers on the top line. Vincent Trocheck and Artemi Panarin add real punch on the second line. The Rangers have not yet had playoff success, but they’re within a point of the top of the conference, and Rempe has brought a lightning bolt of energy.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

This is a tough call between Toronto and the Boston Bruins. Is Toronto really a playoff team, or is this a great regular-season team? Auston Matthews is on pace to net 70. The team won seven straight until the Vegas Golden Knights beat them Tuesday. Extreme talent. Worrisome goaltending as Ilya Samsonov is never more than a start away from “Bad Sammy.” But they keep winning.

4. Boston Bruins

A good defensive team with great goaltending but lacks top-end talent. They are the inverse of the Maple Leafs. Trent Frederic’s emergence as a legitimate secondary scoring helps. Jake DeBrusk isn’t quite meeting expectations, which is a knock. The Bruins don’t have the assets to deal for the big names (read: Noah Hanifin) at the NHL trade deadline, so it will be smaller deals in Boston.

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Are we alone thinking the Hurricanes are a team no one wants to face in the playoffs? They are fast, their system is suffocating, and they’re just gliding along this season so far under the radar that not even North Carolina is noticing the repeated storm surges. They’re only five behind the Rangers for the top of the Metro Division.

But Carolina bettors can find some sports betting promos if they like the team lying in the weeds.

Netminding is where they’re weak.

6. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit is going to break their six-year playoff drought. They’ve won six in a row despite an unheralded roster and not having a No. 1 goalie. Alex Lyon has been their hero, as he was for the Panthers last spring. While their bonafides are unproven, they’re going to the big dance.

A plus-27 goal differential.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning

A team with Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov in skates, with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal, is going to be a brutally tough series. Yet they could find themselves out of the playoffs if the Penguins get at least seven points in their five games in hand.

As one former coach told PHN earlier this season–this team needs to play with full intensity, or they’re no good.

8. Philadelphia Flyers

If there’s a team that’s going to fall out of the playoff seeds, it’s Philly. Could they trade both Sean Walker and Nick Seeler before the deadline? Will Samuel Ersson come back to earth? Who is the backup goalie? The Flyers waived Cal Petersen after he couldn’t stop a beachball against the Penguins in a 7-6 loss Sunday.

Yet, they play hard every night, and they have the playoff position. It’s theirs to lose.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins

The standings are getting clear. The Penguins are within two points of everyone else with multiple games in hand. They have won three in a row and have just one regulation loss in six (4-1-1).

The Penguins have goaltending, Sidney Crosby, and an increasingly comfortable Erik Karlsson. And they have Sidney Crosby. Yes, it bears repeating as the captain is carrying his mates forward without Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. The Penguins earned a gritty win over Vancouver–the top team in the NHL–Tuesday.

Would the real Penguins please stand up?

10. New Jersey Devils

Their kingdom for a goalie. The Devils’ defense is a bit in tatters, and Jack Hughes may not be 100% healthy, but they’re still a good team. Too often, goaltending lets them down. They have the 11th-best winning percentage in the conference.

11. Washington Capitals

They’ve defied the odds all season. Rookie Hendrix Lapierre celebrated his awaited recall with a pair of goals on Feb. 24 against Ottawa. Alex Ovechkin recently scored in six straight games. They have legitimate goaltending and still plenty of experience. They’ve made it this far on the periphery, and perhaps a hot streak or the right addition at the deadline could spark them further.

12. New York Islanders

New coach, no problem. They’re still mired in mediocrity. They have no offensive depth, and they can’t hold leads. Coach Patrick Roy recently stacked his top line with his three best players, Matthew Barzal, Bo Horvat, and Brock Nelson, in something of a Hail Mary attempt at more goals.

As one national analyst recently remarked about the Islanders, “No.”

The Rest:

  1. Buffalo Sabres

  2. Ottawa Senators

  3. Montreal Canadiens

  4. Columbus Blue Jackets