Power rankings: Penguins pushing for Stanley Cup three-peat

Matt Larkin
Power rankings: Penguins pushing for Stanley Cup three-peat


Power rankings: Penguins pushing for Stanley Cup three-peat

Matt Larkin

The two-time defending champs catch fire in the second half and colonize the top of the NHL's mountain this week.

Guess who’s once again peaking at the right time? The Pittsburgh Penguins, of course. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have made second-half surges an art form in the Mike Sullivan era. The day he became coach in December 2015, they had a 15-10-3 record, good for a  .589 points percentage. The rest of the way under Sullivan: 33-16-5, good for a .657 points percentage. The Pens were dominant pretty much all last season, but their pattern in 2017-18 mirrors that of two years ago. By the end of December they were 19-18-3 with a .513 points percentage, scratching and clawing to stay in the Metro Division playoff hunt. In 21 games since Jan. 1, they’re 16-4-1 with a .786 points percentage.

They’re an NHL-best 8-1-1 over their past 10 games, and they even beat one of the only teams as hot as them: the Toronto Maple Leafs. The scariest thing about the Pens: they’re primed to get even better with GM Jim Rutherford, a consistently aggressive trader, searching for upgrades with the deadline approaching. Don’t be surprised if the Pens have a new third-line center by next week. Derick Brassard, perhaps?

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (6)
2. Boston Bruins (1)
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (3)
4. Vegas Golden Knights (6)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (4)
6. Nashville Predators (2)
7. Winnipeg Jets (7)
8. Philadelphia Flyers (18)
9. San Jose Sharks (15)
10. Los Angeles Kings (17)

Matt Murray’s past nine appearances: 8-0-1 with a .924 save percentage. It isn’t too tough to figure out the key to Pittsburgh’s resurgence…each member of Boston’s super line has 22 or more goals, but no other Bruins forward has more than 12. This team needs to trade for a second-line scoring winger…The Leafs are 11-2-0 over their past 13 games but allow by far the most shots per game of any team currently holding a playoff position. Freddie Andersen for Hart? …Among NHL forwards with 20 or more games this year, 24 average a point per game or better. Two of them were left unprotected and gifted to Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft…The Lightning are 4-4-0 over their past eight games, with defeats to Edmonton and Buffalo, and have allowed four or more goals four times over that stretch. Time to kick the tires on a defensive upgrade, Mr. Yzerman…Eeli Tolvanen completes his Olympics with nine points in five games. Once his KHL season ends, he sure looks like he’d bolster Nashville’s lineup in the playoffs…The Jets’ Patrik Laine has goals in three straight and eight in his past 13. He’s got 28 goals with 22 games to go. Don’t bet against him getting 40…The Flyers’ goalie injuries shouldn’t derail their hot play. New acquisition Petr Mrazek had a .935 SP over his final 10 games as a Red Wing…How is San Jose overcoming injuries? It has the league’s No. 4 power play and No. 1 penalty kill…Are we witnessing the return of Dion Phaneuf the shooter? He has three power play goals in his first four games as a King and averages 2.75 shots per game with them. As a Senator this year he shot the puck 1.62 times per game.

11. Minnesota Wild (10)
12. Anaheim Ducks (20)
13. Washington Capitals (11)
14. Dallas Stars (8)
15. New Jersey Devils (16)
16. Calgary Flames (19)
17. Florida Panthers (12)
18. St. Louis Blues (9)
19. Arizona Coyotes (21)
20. Carolina Hurricanes (13)

The Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek just scored his first goal in 50 games. He’s clearly not winning the Calder, but he’s better than this, we promise… Is John Gibson brittle or unlucky? He’s been forced to leave with a mid-game injury in three of his past eight starts. Ryan Miller, Mr. Third Period, must feel like a closer in baseball…How’s this for an under-the-radar stat? Among qualified save percentage leaders, Braden Holtby sits 33rd this year at .909. He finished seventh, seventh and third over his previous three seasons…The Stars have just four goals over their past three games. When the top line doesn’t score, no one does. This team isn’t deep enough…Make that points in 18 straight games for Taylor Hall, a Devils franchise record. He’d need 11 more games with a point to even crack the NHL's all-time top 10 point streak list with 29, and he ain’t touchin’ Wayne Gretzky’s record of 51. Still, it’s been fun to watch…Johnny Gaudreau is on pace for 68 assists. If we use’s era adjustments, he’ll have the highest single-season total in Flames’ history… Aleksander Barkov’s 22:18 is the highest average ice time of any NHL forward in the past five seasons. He’s an MVP candidate if Florida creeps into the playoffs…The Blues have the league’s ninth-best goal differential yet cling to a playoff spot by one point over Anaheim. Life is tough in the West…The second-longest active win streak in the NHL right now belongs to – Arizona! Antti Raanta’s SP is up to .924. Maybe he’s legit after all. Is he more valuable to Arizona as a re-signed starter or a UFA trade chip to dangle? … The Hurricanes are 26th in goals per game. Jeff Skinner has three 30-goal efforts in his career but has never notched 30 in two straight seasons. He’s on pace to slip from 37 to 27.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (14)
22. Colorado Avalanche (23)
23. Ottawa Senators (30)
24. New York Islanders (26)
25. Detroit Red Wings (22)
26. Vancouver Canucks (24)
27. Buffalo Sabres (27)
28. Montreal Canadiens (25)
29. Edmonton Oilers (29)
30. Chicago Blackhawks (31)
31. New York Rangers (28)

Where are the goals, Columbus? Per, Cam Atkinson cost $100,000 per goal last year. This season: $350,000 per goal. If he’s scoring at the same rate with his big raise next season: $587,500 per goal…Nathan MacKinnon started the year with career highs of 24 goals and 63 points, set over 82 games in his rookie campaign. After four points Tuesday, he sits at 25 goals and 65 points – at Game 51…Ottawa should be able to move Brassard by the trade deadline thanks to his attractive experience. Only four players have more post-season appearances than he does over the past four seasons…Among rookies to play 50 or more games in a season, 34 in NHL history have averaged 1.00 points or more. One of them is the Islanders’ Matt Barzal, and he’s on track to join Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin as the only rookies to do so this millennium – in the past 25 years, actually… Detroit has the seventh-best draft lottery odds right now, and those could improve with a Mike Green trade. The Wings’ last top-three pick was Keith Primeau 28 years ago. Their last No. 1 overall pick: Joe Murphy 32 years ago…Erik Gudbranson stays, and Chris Tanev has a broken leg, so who does Vancouver sell off to ensure it gets something at the deadline? Bye bye, Thomas Vanek?… The Sabres are poised to finish with a sub-.400 points percentage for the third time in five seasons. Phil Housley’s safety as coach isn’t guaranteed…A great stat from Salim Nadim Valji: The Habs were shut out in 10 of Claude Julien’s 80 games in the year since he took the coaching reins from Michel Therrien…Connor McDavid has 11 goals and 15 points in his past 10 games. The Oilers are toast, but his pursuit of a second-straight Art Ross is not. He won the scoring race by 11 points last year despite being tied for first in mid-March… Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews have combined for four goals in their past 37 games…Henrik Lundqvist had a .924 SP one month ago. He’s now down to .914, having gone 2-9-0 with an .875 SP since then. Free Henrik. Rather, tell Henrik to free Henrik. He doesn’t have to go down with the ship.


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Power rankings: Penguins pushing for Stanley Cup three-peat