Another week down in the NHL season and another NHL Power Rankings Recap. The season is now comfortably in its second half as some teams break away from the competition while others lose their cushion on a playoff spot. This week, the fantastic stretch by the Boston Bruins has shown no signs of slowing down, while the Columbus Blue Jackets have had a disappointing season made worse with a plethora of injuries. But first, a couple quick notes from around the league.
Who would have guessed that this season, the Pacific Division would be both the most competitive division in the league and not the division with the lowest threshold to make the playoffs. That’s where it sits right now. The top four teams in the Pacific are separated by just four points. And the 57 points needed for a divisional playoff spot is more than the Central Division. It will be a very close race between the Seattle Kraken, Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, and Los Angeles Kings for the three divisional spots with plenty of playoff ramifications in any upcoming matchups. Keep your eyes on this race in the coming months!
A few weeks ago the the Colorado Avalanche were having a notable difficulty scoring with their forward depth turnover and injuries this season, and it was impacting their Cup defense bid. With the return of Nathan MacKinnon, it seems the scoring troubles may be a thing of the past. In the nine games since his return, the Avalanche have scored 34 goals, an average of 3.8 per game. In the 14 games played prior, they scored 32 goals, at an average of 2.3 per game. The return of their star center seems to have given the team the boost they needed to find their scoring touch again.
Boston Bruins Historic Season
It was a tired narrative heading into the season that the Boston Bruins were done. They were going to be too old. Their lack of depth and injuries were going to hurt them. But just over halfway through their season, the Bruins have a 36-5-4 record, a 12-point lead over second place in the NHL, and are on pace for the second-best season in NHL history by points percentage. It is just incredible to watch.
What are some of the most significant contributing factors to this success? Depth, goaltending, coaching, take your pick.
As of the team’s 45-game mark, the Bruins have ten 20-point scorers, breaking down to most of the top three forward lines and the top defensive pairing. This level of depth is crucial in creating a team that dominates as much as Boston is. When the coaching staff can send out basically any player in any situation and there is a reasonable chance of getting a goal. Compared to some other teams that are more top-heavy and need to rely on a specific player or line for offense, Boston can get it from any spot in the lineup.
Linus Ullmark came into Boston as a fairly hyped signing after he put up impressive numbers on very bad Buffalo Sabres teams. Now in his second season with the Bruins, he has taken his game to a new level. His numbers are out-of-this-world. Through his 29 appearances, he has a 1.88 GAA and .937 SV% with a 24-2-1 record. The save percentage and goals against average are both third among goalies with 29 appearances since 2005-06. Additionally, his 25.8 goals saved above expected leads the league. He has played his way into Hart Trophy contention.
It was a baffling move when the Bruins fired Bruce Cassidy heading into last offseason. But it turns out that maybe, the team needed that change. Not because he was a bad coach. Sometimes, though, a new voice or a few tweaks from implementing a new system can help curb some rising complacency. Jim Montgomery seems to have done that with his system. This season, the Bruins are scoring more, giving up less goals, and have improved special teams.
There is no one reason the Boston Bruins have been so good this season. It is a combination of every part of the team clicking and using their strengths together at the right time. And it is surely something to watch one of the best seasons in NHL history unfolds.
Columbus Blue Jackets Taking a Step Backwards?
Usually when a team signs a superstar player in free agency, it is a sign of turning a corner in a rebuild where the team is going to start playing better. That seemed to be the case when the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Johnny Gaudreau. That, however, could not be further from the truth.
The Blue Jackets are the worst team in the league after their 45th game, with a 14-30-2 record to show for it. They are tied for the third least goals scored and third most goals against.
A major factor to the Blue Jackets struggles seems to be injuries at all positions. Zach Werenski and Jake Bean were both lost for the season in a short period of time. Jakub Voracek has been out for most of the season. Boone Jenner and Patrik Laine have both missed significant time as well. This list includes a good portion of the team’s top players.
The turnstile in net is not helping. Frequent injuries to Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo have kept them out of the lineup for extended periods as well, rendering them unable to find a groove with any sort of consistency.
It is particularly apparent with Merzlikins, who has played the most games of the three Blue Jackets goalies. He has a 4.48 GAA and .868 SV%, which is going to make it difficult for the team to win anything if they’re giving up four or five goals every time he is in net.
The turning point on the Blue Jackets’ rebuild has been delayed, though with the exciting prospect pool they have, things are still looking up for Columbus.
That’s it for this week’s NHL Power Rankings Recap. Who is ranked too high? Too low? Drop a comment down below!
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