The overreactions to the first games in a new NHL season are always quite comical. When there’s a four-game losing streak in the middle of December, it’s a bump in the road. When it happens at the start of the season, it’s like watching a large boulder roll down a snowy hill and expecting the whole season to tumble down after it.
So in keeping with the hyperbolic nature of first impressions, this week’s NHL Power Rankings deal with those one-week revelations. Some are obviously trends that will be bucked. Others are perhaps a little more insightful as to how this is all going to pan out.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits polls ranking teams 1-31, and those results are tabulated to the list featured here. Teams are rated through Tuesday night’s games, taking into account overall record, recent success and other factors such as injuries. Previous ranking refers to the team’s spot in the offseason edition of our Power Rankings.
Previous ranking: 2
The Bruins are once again stingy. With the holy trinity of Patrice Bergeron at center, Zdeno Chara on defense and either Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak in goal, the Bruins are going to be good defensively. They were third in goal suppression in the NHL last season, at 2.59 allowed per game. They’ve gotten off the blocks this season giving up 1.33 per game, including a win over an offensive juggernaut in Vegas.
Previous ranking: 4
Mark Stone‘s gonna win the Selke Trophy … and the Hart. We’re optimistic that Stone has gained enough renown that he can win best defensive forward as a winger. But with six points in three games for what’s going to be the best team in the West, he could collect a little more hardware, too.
Previous ranking: 12
It’s the Hurricanes’ world, we just live in it. The Canes are undefeated, at 4-0-0. They’re averaging four goals per game. They’re giving up just 2.75 goals per game. They held the Lightning without a shot for an entire period, and a total of two shots through two periods and an overtime. They’re still “a bunch of jerks,” doing their Storm Surge postgame celebration. But they’re also the best team in the NHL in the first week of the season.
Previous ranking: 3
The Leafs are going to have win every playoff game 8-7 to win the Cup. Over the past two seasons, it hass become apparent that the Leafs are an offensively superior club whose idea of defense is “eh, Freddie will figure it out.” Through four games this season, they’re averaging four goals scored and three surrendered per game. Frederik Andersen is going to stay busy.
Previous ranking: 7
Might John Carlson get his Norris? The easiest path to the Norris Trophy, or at least a nomination, is for a defenseman to lead the NHL in scoring. Carlson was tied for the league lead in scoring for a defenseman (five points) through four games. The Capitals’ defenseman has finished fifth and fourth in the voting in the past two seasons. So, following that pattern — at least a finalist?
Previous ranking: 6
The Blues might win back-to-back Cups. The champs are here, and they’ve picked up where they left off (and picked up Justin Faulk, in the process). And by that we mean Ryan O’Reilly playing at a point-per-game pace and Jordan Binnington rocking a .928 save percentage. They’re not playing “Gloria,” but they’re singing the same tune in St. Louis.
Previous ranking: 1
They’ve learned nothing. The Lightning were swept by the Blue Jackets last postseason because they thought they could skill their way to a win. Captain Steven Stamkos sees the same issues in their stumbling start this season: “[We’re a] freewheeling team that thinks we can come into games and win because we’re skilled.” The Lightning started the season getting 40.4% of the shot attempts at 5-on-5, last in the NHL. They were ninth in shot attempt differential last season (51.59). Of course, it doesn’t help when one goes two periods and an overtime generating two shots on goal, as the Bolts did against Carolina.
Previous ranking: 10
Cale Makar is going to devour power-play points. The rookie sensation has been tasked with orchestrating one of the most talented power plays in the NHL, and has two points on the man advantage in two games. This is like graduating from UMass and immediately getting hired as a CEO.
Previous ranking: 5
Matt Duchene equals flexibility. The idea of breaking up one of the best lines in hockey — Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — used to be as blasphemous in Nashville as getting your hot chicken cooked mild. But after acquiring Duchene as a free agent, coach Peter Laviolette has felt comfortable enough to drop Forsberg down to Duchene’s line and move Craig Smith up to the top line. So far, so good: They’re averaging 4.33 goals per game as a team.
Previous ranking: 9
Johnny Gaudreau hasn’t fallen off. The Flames star has followed his 1.21 points per game last season with six points in his first three games, including two goals on five shots. A shooting percentage of 40 is sustainable, right?
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Previous ranking: 14
Mika Zibanejad is going to win the Art Ross. The Rangers’ center went from good to great in 2018-19, hitting 30 goals and 74 points last season. With Artemi Panarin now on his wing, through two games Zibanejad is on pace for … 320 points. Is that good?
Previous ranking: 11
Maybe NHL-level defensemen are overrated? The Jets saw Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot move on in the offseason. They saw Dustin Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov take leaves of absence. Josh Morrissey has been injured. Their defense has been reduced to Neal Pionk and “who?” And yet, they’re 2-2 with a minus-2 goal differential. Not great, but not the disaster they appeared to be on paper.
Previous ranking: 16
Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mobility is hindered by the weight of his contract. The free-agent prize has given up 11 goals in three games, to the tune of an .859 save percentage and a 4.77 goals-against average. Not great, Bob!
Previous ranking: 15
Is the window closed? It happened to the Blackhawks. It happened to the Kings. It happens to nearly every team that goes on a multiple-season run of Stanley Cup success; eventually, the returns diminish even if the core remains intact. The Penguins are still the team of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (when healthy). But the supporting cast is the weakest they’ve had in a decade, and the team has looked far too uninspired and underwhelming thus far this season. Is it the injuries? Or is it the end?
Previous ranking: 17
Previous ranking: 27
Ralph Krueger has this all figured out. The Sabres are scoring at will and with considerably more depth than they have on paper. They’re a top-7 possession team at 5-on-5, and the fifth-best defensive team through three games. Is this for real? Obviously. It’s not as if Buffalo has ever gotten off to a torrid start and then had it all come crashing down by December, right?
Previous ranking: 13
Roope Hintz has arrived. Playing with offensive import Joe Pavelski, the 22-year-old center has four goals in four games after scoring nine in 58 games last season. Congrats to you fantasy owners who took the Hintz and roped in Roope.
Previous ranking: 20
Alain Vigneault is a great Year 1 coach. It’s the smallest of small sample sizes, but the Flyers immediately look more cohesive and effective than last season. Vigneault has made the playoffs in his first season in each previous NHL stop: Montreal, Vancouver and the Rangers. Will the trend continue?
Previous ranking: 18
Picking Semyon Varlamov over Robin Lehner is terrible karma. Varlamov is 0-2-0 with an .872 save percentage and a 4.11 goals-against average, obviously for the sole reason that Lou Lamoriello did Robin Lehner dirty during free agency.
Previous ranking: 26
James Neal will take the Rocket Richard to Calgary and spike it. With six goals in three games, Neal is leading the NHL in that category. He has rediscovered his offense, he plays with Connor McDavid and he’s fueled by the disrespect from his season in Calgary. The “Real Deal,” indeed.
Previous ranking: 8
Is Peter DeBoer the next change to be fired? The Sharks are off to a nightmarish start, going 0-4-0 and scoring five goals in four games. GM Doug Wilson already pushed one panic button, signing Patrick Marleau to bolster his lineup of not-exactly-ready-for-prime-time youngsters and underperforming vets. Martin Jones, who has an .854 save percentage in three games, is signed through 2024 with a $5.75 million cap hit and a no-trade clause. DeBoer is in the first year of a new contract. But if things spiral, is he safe?
Previous ranking: 21
Alexander Nylander is the next Stan Bowman reclamation. How’s this for a hasty reaction? With a goal on opening night, obviously the Sabres’ castoff will become the next Dylan Strome/Drake Caggiula type for Bowman’s Blackhawks.
Previous ranking: 28
Previous ranking: 29
The top line is straight fire. The Wings have themselves something with Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin as their No. 1 forward unit. No, Mantha’s five goals in three games isn’t exactly what you’d call a sustainable pace. But no matter where the numbers end up, GM Steve Yzerman has to be thrilled with the way this trio plays.
Previous ranking: 19
They’re still offense challenged. The Coyotes have scored one goal in two games, which wouldn’t be a concern if Arizona wasn’t 28th in the NHL last season in offense (2.55). But no worries: Our dear sweet Phil Kessel simply hasn’t gotten it going yet.
Previous ranking: 22
The goaltending will be the end of them. Joonas Korpisalo (.851) and Elvis Merzlikins (.825) are both among the bottom four netminders in the NHL at the start of the season. GM Jarmo Kekalainen indicated there might be an early-season Audition before he figures out if the position needs to be addressed. He might want to reach out to some new actors.
Previous ranking: 24
Quinn Hughes might get more Calder love than Jack. Hughes looked as if he belonged in the NHL the moment he stepped on the ice, and the Canucks’ rookie looks as if he’s ready to establish himself as an essential piece of their young core. He looks as adjusted to the big leagues as brother Jack has looked a little baffled at times with the Devils.
Previous ranking: 23
Can this team ever figure itself out? Even when the Devils were up 4-0 over the Jets — a lead and a game they’d blow on opening night at home — Taylor Hall lamented that they weren’t playing the game the right way. Is this a symptom of a young team struggling, or something more systemic?
Previous ranking: 25
Mats Zuccarello might have a rough season. The free-agent signee, on former GM Paul Fenton’s watch, said he’s “been terrible” to start the season with the Wild. “It’s simple plays that I normally do that right now are difficult for me. Just think positive and have confidence and make the play when it’s there,” he told TwinCities.com. The confidence should return. The question is if there’s enough offense on this roster for it to make a difference.
Previous ranking: 30
At least Drew Doughty is having fun. The Kings probably aren’t going to be a factor this season, but between Doughty’s four points in two games and shenanigans with Matthew Tkachuk — not to mention a game-winner in overtime against Calgary — Doughty looks like his difference-making self again.
Previous ranking: 31
Yeah, it’s a long, long season. The Senators are 0-2-0 with a minus-5 goal differential and an offense that lacks pop. They’re going to be bad. They should be bad. They will be bad.