Now that I’ve seen every team at least three times and that every team has played at least eight games, I feel that we have sufficient information for an update of the Eastern Conference Power Rankings. I’ll be doing this now every Monday (hopefully not this late though!).
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (previous ranking: 1)
The Pens were number one when I released the initial rankings, and they’ve done nothing to make me regret that ranking. The Penguins are 6-0-0 against playoff teams last season. Unfortunately for them, they’re also 0-3- against non-playoff teams last year. They get an opportunity to right that ship tomorrow against the Islanders. The biggest thing to keep an eye on here is the goaltending battle between Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, where Vokoun has visibly out-performed the incumbent Penguin starter in the four games he’s started.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (9)
The Lightning have been far and away the most explosive team in the league so far this season, having scored eight more goals than any other team in the NHL so far. They’ve been paced by early Art Ross Trophy favorite Steven Stamkos, who already has 7 goals and 16 points in total. Also, they’re far and away the best power play team in the Eastern Conference, having converted on about 36% of their opportunities. I still don’t buy this team as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender because of their defense and because that power play number is unsustainable, but I’m convinced at this point that they’re a playoff team because of their offense.
3. Boston Bruins
Paced by a well-rounded offense, the Bruins don’t have a scorer over seven points so far this season. What they have done is not conceded a 3rd period goal in any of their six wins so far. Once they get the lead, they hold on. Tuukka Rask has picked up where Tim Thomas left off before his retirement, posting a .919 save percentage to this point. Their 10% power play is concerning, but the Bruins have consistently been awful there for the past four years, so they’ve shown they can get over that.
4. Ottawa Senators (8)
This ranking is the most likely to drop out of any team in the top 8 because of the injury to Jason Spezza. Spezza is their most important forward and he’ll miss the rest of the season after having back surgery Friday. Craig Anderson has been mesmerizing in net so far, posting a 1.12 GAA to hold off prospect Robin Lehner for the foreseeable future. Anderson will need to continue this stellar play to keep the Senators in the hunt.
5. New York Rangers (2)
An injury to captain Ryan Callahan has set them back, but this is still the deepest team in the East. Rick Nash looks to be a good addition as he leads the forwards in ice time. Eventually, this team should mesh and be the contender that they’re expected to be. After all, defending Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist can’t continue to concede weak goals forever, right?
6. New Jersey Devils (6)
The Devils just keep on chugging along without skipping a beat. Still feeling the effects of having lost Zach Parise, they are tied for 13th in the East in goals scored, but are tied for third in goals against. I’m not sure that they can continue to rely on David Clarkson for point-per-game production, but if the defense continues to hold up they should find themselves back in the playoffs and a tough out for whoever matches up with them.
7. Carolina Hurricanes (7)
Perennial slow-starter Eric Staal has started strong, and while Jordan Staal is still searching for his first goal as a member of the Hurricanes, he has assisted on three of Jeff Skinner’s five goals so far this season and has six assists overall. Even though I can’t imagine Cam Ward losing his starting job, it is worth noting that Dan Ellis has outperformed Ward by far to this point and it might be worth keeping an eye on.
8. Montreal Canadiens (15)
Andrei Markov has been the best defenseman in the league through the first two weeks, and rookie Alex Galchenyuk leads the forward group with seven points. With P.K. Subban finally back after an early season contract holdout, this team might be in the playoff chase for the long haul.
9. New York Islanders (14)
The Islanders might be the most exciting team to watch in the Eastern Conference outside of the Lightning. Led by John Tavares, they score goals consistently and have a strong power play. They also tend to give them up at a pretty substantial rate, which means that the bottom could fall out of this ranking at any time. But hey, weirder things have happened than the Islanders making the playoffs.
10. Philadelphia Flyers (4)
One of my biggest surprises at this point in the season has been the Flyers inability to score. Buoyed by most of the same group that finished third in the NHL in goals scored last year, the Flyers are only averaging 2.3 goals per game so far. To top it off, embattled goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been surprisingly solid. This is a weird team that could explode at any time and make me look stupid, but right now they’re kind of a wreck.
11. Buffalo Sabres (11)
Thomas Vanek has been one of the biggest stories of the early season with 19 points in nine games. However, they’re also tied for last in the NHL in goals conceded. The demise of Ryan Miller over the past two seasons has been the Sabres’ biggest problem. They’ll only go as far as he can take them, and right now that doesn’t seem to be very far.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
Nazem Kadri is leading this team in points right now. No, really. Let that sink in. But somehow this team is still floundering along that .500 mark at 4-5-0. They’ll need James Reimer to pull off some magic to make the playoffs it looks like.
13. Winnipeg Jets (12)
Like a lot of the times in this area, they’ll go as far as their goalie will take them. In this case, Ondrej Pavelec has been a near disaster with a 3.55 GAA and a .888 save percentage. He is a big part of why their penalty killing group has been the worst in the NHL so far at 59.3%. Also of note here is the development of Alexander Burmistrov. With only one point in eight games after an 11 game scoreless streak to end last season, he looks to have stalled a little bit in his offensively. He’s a big piece of what the Jets want to do moving forward, and while he is exceptional for a 21 year old without the puck, he needs to improve his offensive game.
14. Washington Capitals (5)
I honestly don’t even know where to begin here. This has been an absolute train wreck so far. They have the worst goal differential in the NHL. Mike Ribeiro has been their best offensive player. Last season’s playoff darling Braden Holtby has been abysmal to the point where I think they should consider sending him down. John Carlson has been a mess in his own zone. But they did look better against the Penguins on Sunday and the three goal loss was not indicative of their play. Alex Ovechkin looked a lot more active than he had, but he is snakebitten at the moment. If he can get going, then this team certainly can make a big jump in these rankings by the end of next week.
15. Florida Panthers (10)
To be below the Capitals so far, you have to really be doing something wrong. The Panthers can’t score and Jose Theodore might finally be feeling the effects of age. They still haven’t beaten a playoff team from last season yet either. They’ve been better since Kris Versteeg has returned from injury, but this team doesn’t particularly have a lot of high-end talent. I don’t see another surprise playoff run in this team’s future.