Monday, December 9, 2019

Weekend rankings: Flyers make their case, Devils move on and Wild come back from the dead

This is the tenth power rankings of the season, which seems like a good time to take stock of where we’re at and how things are going. And how they’re going is: weird.

Or more specifically, weirdly stable. These rankings just aren’t changing all that much from week-to-week.

A new team hasn’t cracked the top five since the Islanders back in week six. There have been a total of ten teams to make an appearance, including week preseason favorites like the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights who quickly punched out. The Hurricanes and Predators also briefly showed up, but it’s been some combination of the Bruins, Caps, Blues, Avs, Islanders and Lightning for five weeks running. By comparison, by this time last year, we’d seen a dozen teams in the top five, including two recent newcomers.

The bottom five has been even more locked in. The Ducks made their debut last week, becoming just the seventh team to appear. The Senators, Kings and Red Wings have been on the list every week, with the Devils joining them in week two. That’s only left one spot for the Wild, Ducks and Blue Jackets to pass around. This time last year, twelve teams had already appeared in the bottom five.

What’s going on? Let’s start with the obvious: These rankings aren’t being generated by some mathematical model or other objective methods. I’m making the calls here, so maybe I’m just wrong. Maybe I’ve just been too conservative, and my hesitancy to embrace surprise teams at either end of the spectrum is gumming up the works.

It’s possible. I’m always rambling on about how these rankings are meant to be a long view, and we don’t want to overreact to every big win or loss, or even to outlier streaks. That’s fine, but you can take it too far, and maybe I have.

But I don’t think so. I mean, which teams should have cracked the bottom five that have been left out? Maybe the Rangers at some point, but who else? The Hawks? That’s pretty much it for the candidates. The reality is that this year features four really bad teams, which makes it tough to keep up the suspense when your gimmick is a list of five.

The top five is a little trickier. Edmonton fans will argue that I’ve been too slow to buy in on the Oilers, and they may have a case. There have certainly been teams with worse records that I’ve slotted in ahead of Edmonton, and maybe I’m clinging too much to reputation here. Then again, the Oilers have been pretty mediocre lately, winning five of their last eleven, including losses to the Kings and Senators. They’re knocking on the door, but they’re not kicking it down.

Who else should be in the mix? At various times, you could have made a case for the Sabres, Penguins, or maybe even the Jets or Canucks. None made the cut, and none are exactly making me look bad for it these days. The Coyotes and Flyers are at least in the ballpark. And there’s probably a good case to be made that I’ve been too slow to embrace the Stars as a top-five candidate. But go easy, Dallas fans – I didn’t drop you in the bottom five when things were awful, so sometimes the conservative approach works both ways.

All in all, it’s been a strange first few months. Trust me, these rankings are more fun to write when there are new teams cycling in and out, if only so that I’m not talking about the same ones over and over again. It’s tempting to just mix it up for the sake of it. But so far, at least, I think the bias towards the status quo has been the right approach.

Now, was all of that just a big set-up for this week’s rankings being full of unexpected teams? Let’s find out …

Road to the Cup

5. New York Islanders (19-7-2, +11 true goals differential*) – They had two regulation losses for the second straight week, which is notable for a team that went 17 straight with at least a point. That’s let the Caps pull away a bit for the division lead. Maybe more importantly, the Flyers are gaining ground for home ice. This week doesn’t get any easier, with a two-game trip to Florida to face the Lightning and Panthers, so it’s possible we won’t see the Islanders here next week.

4. St. Louis Blues (18-7-6, +12) – They’ve lost two straight in regulation for the first time all year, thanks to a pair of underwhelming performances against the Penguins and Maple Leafs.

Playing the Maple Leafs also meant we got some Toronto-centric trade speculation, as well as some adorable pregame floor hockey. The Blues head to Buffalo tomorrow, followed by a four-game homestand that will include a showdown with the Avs a week from now.

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