Welcome back hockey fans to this week’s NHL Power Rankings recap! It is the final weekend before the NHL All-Star game, so the next couple of weeks are largely taken up by bye weeks and the all-star break. In the last full week before that, let’s take a look at why the Los Angeles Kings stand out in the standings, and an update on the saga the Vancouver Canucks find themselves embroiled in. But first, a few quick hits from around the league.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are surging, going 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. They’ve created some from fourth in the division to secure some cushion on a playoff spot, and are even catching up to the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of them in the standings. Brandon Hagel, acquired for a hefty price at last season’s trade deadline, is one of the key contributors with 10 points in those 10 games. As the depth forwards for the Lightning have been subject to significant turnover the last couple offseasons, it is important to have one of the new guys be as productive as he has been.
It will be a major confidence booster for a struggling Florida Panthers team to beat the Boston Bruins in dramatic fashion. A tying goal by Aleksander Barkov with just two seconds left was followed by winning the game in overtime. For a Panthers team that has been having a hard time getting anything going this season, a never-say-die victory like this could give them the momentum to get a hot streak going.
Which Toronto team will win the next championship?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Blue Jays
A testament to just how bad this season’s Chicago Blackhawks are is the fact that they have gone 7-4-0 in their last 11 games and are still just one point above the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets. No surprise, given the strength of the roster. They are exactly meeting expectations. Heading into a full rebuild now, Chicago will be a team to keep an eye on heading into the trade deadline with rumours swirling around Patrick Kane while Jake McCabe and Connor Murphy could draw some attention for teams needing an upgrade on defense.
Now, let’s jump over to the Kings and Canucks.
The Curious Case of the Los Angeles Kings
As obvious as it may sound, one of the biggest and easiest predictors of where a team is in the standings is goal differential. A positive goal differential means a very high chance of being in a playoff spot, whereas a negative one usually means a team is outside of the playoffs.
Of course, there are exceptions. In the past five seasons with regular playoff qualification (omitting the 2019-20 season due to the expanded 24-team format), four teams have made the playoffs with a negative goal differential, while nine teams with a positive goal differential have missed the playoffs.
This season, the trend is still in line with average. There is one huge exception, however. The Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have likely spent the entire season with a negative goal differential, but are somehow still winning. In fact, within the last week, the Kings have been leading the Pacific Division at times.
Early season goaltending was a struggle for the Kings as they tried to share the crease between Calvin Petersen and Jonathan Quick, but the former was not playing well and has been in the AHL since the end of November. Through that 25 game stretch, the Kings gave up 3.6 goals per game. In the 27 games since, they’ve dropped it down to 3.26 goals against per game.
However, even in that second half, they have managed a 16-9-2 record with a goals for/against ratio of 84/88. The team still is not playing as well as their record would suggest. The offense is definitely carrying the team’s struggling defensive side of things. And it does seem that when the Kings lose, it is often by a few goals, which will end up impacting that goal differential disproportionally.
Either way, it is interesting to see how well the Kings are performing in the standings. They could be the first team since the 2011-12 Florida Panthers to lead a division with a negative goal differential.
The Vancouver Canucks’ Drama Saga
The Vancouver Canucks are in the news every week with some sort of drama making headlines. Lately, it’s mostly revolved around their terrible handling of the coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to Rick Tocchet. After dragging out the process of relieving the former coach of his duties, which was met with a level of sadness the hockey world has likely never seen for a coach being fired, a questionable new coach was brought in to try and rein the team in.
Tocchet, who of course has worked with GM Patrick Allvin in the past, was met with a near immediate resistance from not only Canucks fans, but the hockey world in general due to the way this situation played out. #FireTocchet was trending on Twitter almost immediately, the press conference introducing him was an out of touch disaster full of contradictions, such as the GM saying he decided to make the change that morning, or the incoming coach saying that he doesn’t need his social media anymore since he’s coaching, not in media. But he had the account active while coaching elsewhere.
In his first game, Tocchet was met with a few boos from the crowd and a Canucks jersey tossed on the ice. In the couple of games since, at an away game in Seattle no less, the crowd was chanting “Bruce, there it is!”.
It is not an easy situation for Tocchet to have been brought into as it is clear the players and fans all liked Boudreau and did not want him to leave, even though the former coach was on the hot seat. So the new coach will have to work extra hard to win anyone over. For the sake of the players and fans of the Canucks, the rest of the hockey world can only hope for some sort of stability and clear direction for the team to improve instead of this non-committal place of mediocrity they seem to be stuck in.
That’s it for this week’s NHL Power Rankings recap! Who is ranked too high? Drop a comment down below!
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images