After an uneven start to the season, the Penguins stabilized in December to move comfortably into a playoff spot and enter 2022 on a seven-game winning streak. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Vendetta’s NHL January 2022 Power Rankings

Welcome to the first NHL power rankings of another year, somehow the fifth calendar year I’ve been doing these rankings. No one is more excited for 2022 than the National Hockey League. It was a tough conclusion to an already challenging 2021; COVID ravaged the league in December, forcing dozens of games to be canceled and culminating in the league’s official withdrawal from the Olympics. It won’t get any easier at the start of the new year; players on just about every team are still on the protocol list, and attendance restrictions in Canada will lead to, at best, the postponement of even more games, and at worst, will lose millions of dollars of hockey-related revenue, furthering the debt owed by players to the owners.

But there is reason to be excited about what the new year has in store. Well, at least for some teams. About 25-35 games are in the rearview mirror for most teams, enough of a sample size to get a general idea of plausible outcomes for how the rest of the regular season will play out. December saw a couple of teams rejuvenated by coaching changes, question marks in net for Cup contenders, and a few impressive winning streaks as well. Even though some teams have only played a handful of games since we last reconvened for these rankings due to COVID cancellations, quite a bit has happened. Let’s recap what the last month of 2021 had in store for all 32 NHL teams. Just like last month, it’s me, Trey Daubert, and Ryan Schwarger on the case.

32. Arizona Coyotes (6-21-3, December: 32)

Andrew: 32, Trey: 32, Ryan: 32 (Average: 32)

Andrew: Arizona’s new year’s resolution should be simple, one that is held by many people: manage your finances better. The late/missing payments made to Glendale for rent at Gila River Arena were the latest embarrassment in a long list of them for the NHL’s most consistently hapless franchise. And that’s without discussing their still abhorrent play. By basically any stat you pick out, even just by simple goals for and against, the Coyotes are in the basement.

31. Montréal Canadiens (7-23-4, December: 30)

Andrew: 31, Trey: 31, Ryan: 31 (Average: 31)

Andrew: It’s been a while that a team that went as deep in the playoffs last year as the Canadiens followed it up with such an utterly depressing season. It just feels like nothing can go right for Montréal this season; from COVID to injuries and the first non-bubble game without fans in the stands. Their lineup most nights lately contains almost as many players from their AHL affiliate as their opening night lineup. Jeff Gorton is a solid hire to take over this sinking ship, but there’s a lot of work to be done here.

Ryan: Montreal’s special teams are so bad. It’s just been a disaster for the reigning runners-up.

30. Seattle Kraken (10-19-4, December: 23)

Andrew: 30, Trey: 30, Ryan: 30 (Average: 30)

Andrew: Whatever optimism I had a month ago for Seattle to stabilize slipped through Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger’s grasp in December, just like seemingly every puck shot their way all season long. Seattle invested $9.4 million in their two netminders, more than any tandem outside of Florida and Montréal. Their reward is a league-worst -27.2 goals saved above against between the two (and third-stringer Joey Daccord).

It’s a shame because Seattle’s defense is as good as advertised (third in shots against per game, fourth in expected goals against per 60 minutes). At least Ron Francis can make up for his lack of draft capital acquired at the expansion draft when selling players like captain Mark Giordano at the trade deadline.

29. Buffalo Sabres (10-17-6, December: 27)

Andrew: 29, Trey: 28, Ryan: 29 (Average: 28.7)

Andrew: Their record is about as bad as we thought it would be – they’re 5-16-4 after a 5-1-1 start – but there are some legitimate reasons for positivity. When he isn’t being dunked on by Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano, top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is looking like a promising netminder for Buffalo’s future. Alex Tuch made his Sabers debut and genuinely seems to be having a good time in Buffalo, which hasn’t been easy to do over the last decade.

And how about the least talked about feel-good story I’ve seen – Kyle Okposo not only staying healthy but leading the Sabers with 21 points in 32 games, a pace that would fit in seamlessly with his prime days on the Islanders. None of these three will save Buffalo this season. But at least there are reasons to feel good about turning on a Sabers game.

Ryan: Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs are showing signs that maybe Jack Eichel won’t be missed as much as we all fear. Tage Thompson is coming on nicely, and the top five (or so) forwards are something to build around. Finding a serviceable bottom-six and defensemen not named Rasmus Dahlin will continue to be a challenge as they remain in the hunt for the Shane Wright sweepstakes.

28. Ottawa Senators (9-18-2, December: 31)

Andrew: 27, Trey: 29, Ryan: 28 (Average: 28)

Andrew: Ottawa’s slight jump in my rankings is a combination of the Senators establishing competency and some other teams tripping over their skates even more than them. Ottawa has more wins in their last ten games than any other team 23rd or lower in the standings; they must be doing at least something right. It’s not like they’re taking advantage of a soft schedule, either; that stretch includes victories over Colorado, Tampa Bay, and an 8-2 butt-kicking of Florida. Drake Batherson had 4 points in that game; he’s scoring at a 100-point pace and is T-31st in the entire league with 28 points.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (11-16-4, December: T-24)

Andrew: 26, Trey: 27, Ryan: 26 (Average: 26.3)

After a brief surge when Derek King took over as interim, Chicago slumped in December to likely pin a nail in their playoff coffin. Interestingly, their revamped defense and Marc-André Fleury haven’t been the issue; it’s an offense that ranks 31st in shots on goal per game and expected goals per 60 that’s dragging the Blackhawks down. Chicago simply isn’t getting enough production from their center core; it’s been disappointing years for Kirby Dach, Jonathan Toews, and especially Dylan Strome, who is still an occasional healthy scratch, and seems to have one foot out the door.

T-25. New York Islanders (10-12-6, December: 29)

Andrew: 25, Trey: 26, Ryan: 27 (Average: 26)

Andrew: The two New York teams seem to be mirror opposites of each other. The Islanders, even acknowledging their COVID difficulties and 13-game season-opening road trip, should be better than their record. Instead, just as the general public was starting to come around on them, New York has been taken down by its stereotype of being all-defense. You can’t win a game without scoring, and though that hasn’t stopped Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin from trying, the team in front of them hasn’t been nearly good enough. The Islanders are too good to be this bad forever, but they’re dangerously close to being too far behind the 8-ball for it to matter this season.

T-25. New Jersey Devils (12-15-5, December: T-24)

Andrew: 28, Trey: 25, Ryan: 25 (Average: 26)

Andrew: While it was always a long shot for the Devils to be anything more than a decent 85ish point team in 2021-22, the Devils needed to show progress in their second season under Lindy Ruff. But when your goaltenders are throwing up a combined .888 save percentage (30th in the league), you have no shot. New Jersey hasn’t even been that bad in most other areas; they’re generating more expected goals than they’re giving up, and only their power-play stands out as a true weakness. But all four goaltenders who have played for the Devils this season have a goals-against average over three, and only Jonathan Bernier has cleared the .900 save percentage threshold for basic goaltending competence. Although in fairness to him and Mackenzie Blackwood, it doesn’t help that the Devils are one of just two teams in the NHL without a single 10-goal scorer (Montréal is the other).

Ryan: Friday’s win over Edmonton marked the first win over a team other than Philadelphia since November 20 down in Tampa Bay. When Jack Hughes initially came back, the entire team looked out of sorts, but with six points in his last two games, he might be ready to carry the Devils on a little run. If they can get themselves back into the mix come February, this team could be sneaky dangerous because of their speed and young, hungry core.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-14-1, December: 21)

Andrew: 24, Trey: 24, Ryan: 24 (Average: 24)

Andrew: What felt like an inevitable fall from grace for Columbus seems to be taking place. Though they’re still within arm’s reach of a playoff spot, the Blue Jackets’ 47% expected goals mark is finally catching up to them. After years of being one of the NHL’s stingiest teams, Columbus’ defense has been their biggest weakness all season, ranking 31st in shots allowed and T-28th in expected goals against per 60. We’ll see if Patrik Laine’s return from injury can give CBJ a shot in the arm to delay the inevitable a little bit longer.

23. Philadelphia Flyers (13-13-6, December: 26)

Andrew: 23, Trey: 22, Ryan: 23 (Average: 22.7)

Andrew: It’s the classic catch twenty-two of a team that is racking up lots of points that they probably don’t deserve. Since December 10th, the Flyers have racked up more points than any team except Vegas and are fourth in points percentage during that span as well. But while their 5-on-5 play has been better in that span than its previously abysmal state, there’s still plenty of improvement. Philadelphia is still dead last in shots and expected goals per 60 against, and they enter 2022 without their best defenseman and former Selke winning center for at least a couple of weeks. I have a feeling the real Flyers are going to stand up in January; what that will look like is anybody’s guess.

Ryan: I can’t imagine the Flyers would be this low if Ryan Ellis was healthy all year. It looks like they’ve busted out of the funk they experienced from November into December, though.

22. Los Angeles Kings (16-12-5, December: 22)

Andrew: 19, Trey: 23, Ryan: 18 (Average: 20)

Andrew: LA is one of only six teams that ranks top ten in shots for and shots against, yet they’re the only one of those teams with fewer victories than defeats. The Jonathan Quick redemption tour remains alive and well, as he’s all but officially taken back the starter’s role from Cal Petersen. I don’t think they have the offense (or special teams) to play much better than their 90-point pace. But they deserve credit for hanging around; maybe Quinton Byfield’s potential return to the NHL could be the spark their offense seems to lack.

21. San Jose Sharks (17-15-1, December: 17)

Andrew: 20, Trey: 18, Ryan: 21 (Average: 19.7)

Andrew: Give credit where credit’s due; just when it seemed like the Sharks were bottoming out, they’ve pulled back out of the deep end, at least for now. A lot of the credit belongs to James Reimer; he’s stopped 8.1 goals above expected, and his .928 save percentage is one of the league’s best marks. But the bouncebacks of Tomáš Hertl and Erik Karlsson (57% expected goals rate!) shouldn’t be ignored. Whether or not this bounceback is a good thing long-term or not is debatable. But it at least makes things interesting in the short term.

20. Winnipeg Jets (14-11-5, December: 16)

Andrew: 21, Trey: 20, Ryan: 16 (Average: 19)

Andrew: The Jets are dealing with a whole different kind of uncertainty than the Stars (although not too dissimilar from the Flyers), one they haven’t dealt with since reviving in Winnipeg in 2011; a coaching change. Paul Maurice’s departure took the hockey world by surprise, but it sounds like a move like Maurice was ready to make; his comments after resigning sounded like a man completely out of gas, and I hope he gets the rest he needs. The Jets aren’t just a paper tiger on offense this year; they’ve been legitimately strong at creating chances, but their defense remains a huge weakness. Until that area improves, the Jets will be hard-pressed to be more than a playoff dark horse; no matter how many of their mistakes Connor Hellebuyck bails out (unless it’s all of them, I suppose).

Ryan: Paul Maurice stepping down is going to hurt this team more than we are seeing right now. Connor Hellebuyck needs to get back to his “Captain America” self, too. His .916 save percentage and 2.69 GAA are still pretty good, but they are also both his worst since ’18-’19.

19. Vancouver Canucks (16-15-3, December: 28)

Andrew: 18, Trey: 21, Ryan: 17 (Average: 18.7)

Andrew: There’s only one way to begin this section — Bruce, there it is! Vancouver’s 5-on-5 numbers aren’t much different than they were under Travis Green; they’re out-chancing teams slightly more but being outshot a bit more. But there’s an undeniable swagger around the Canucks right now, who haven’t lost in regulation since Boudreau took over. Turns out all it took to get Brock Boeser back on track was to tell him to shoot; he’s scored more goals in six games under Boudreau than in 22 under Green. So many other Canucks have similar stories. Maintaining this hot streak will be much more challenging. But nothing seems impossible in Vancouver right now with Boudreau at the helm.

Ryan: Is Bruce Boudreau a magician? Since taking over the Canucks, the team is 8-0-1! What was seeming like a lost year now has them right in the mix for the wild card and division race.

18. Detroit Red Wings (15-15-3, December: 20)

Andrew: 16, Trey: 19, Ryan: 20 (Average: 18.3)

Andrew: It won’t be long before the Red Wings are back to being one of the NHL’s premier franchises. We’re seeing the first fruits of the labor of their rebuild right now, and what little we saw of the World Juniors reminded us that more is on the way. The thought of a Simon Edvinsson-Moritz Seider top pairing in Motown until 2032 has Red Wings fans drooling and the rest of the league shaking in their boots. The current Wings are hanging around; they’re even in a playoff spot right now going off raw point total. Their lack of depth may prevent them from winning the war of attrition necessary to make the playoffs, but this is a team trending in the right direction.

Ryan: Andrew’s spreadsheet doesn’t lie. There are a lot of red (meaning below league average) marks for Detroit, which tells me they are outkicking their coverage up to this point.

17. Dallas Stars (15-12-2, December: 11)

Andrew: 22, Trey: 8, Ryan: 22 (Average: 17.3)

Andrew: Dallas is an equally confusing team that is treating 2021-22 more like a roller coaster than a hockey season. They were the last team in the NHL to win a game in regulation (Nov. 13), a victory that sparked a 9-1-0 run. They scored seven goals in their next five games – all losses – before scoring eleven in their final two games before Christmas, both wins. It seems like their strengths – 5-on-5 defense, power-play goaltending – and weaknesses – 5-on-5 offense, penalty kill, the once-vaunted trio of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov – are all over the place.

16. Boston Bruins (16-10-2, December: 14)

Andrew: 14, Trey: 15, Ryan: 19 (Average: 16)

Andrew: The Bruins certainly aren’t lacking an identity; their elite defense (7th in shots against, 1st in expected goals against per 60) is the hallmark of the team rocking the league’s best-expected goals percentage at just a tick under 56%. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark are starting to find their groove, but as always, the Bruins will go as far as their forward depth takes them. It’s no coincidence the year Bruins were best stocked behind the Perfection Line since 2015 is the one they reached the Stanley Cup Final. It’s probably going to require a deadline splash from Don Sweeney to get this year’s group over the top.

15. Anaheim Ducks (17-10-7, December: 15)

Andrew: 15, Trey: 14, Ryan: 15 (Average: 14.7)

Andrew: No caption is necessary.

Do we have to take Anaheim’s emergence seriously now? They’re following the same formula the Blues and Rangers are; ride outstanding special teams and goaltending despite meh 5-on-5 play. It’s not the most sustainable formula, but if nothing else, the Ducks have reinvigorated their fanbase with all of the jaw-dropping plays made by Trevor Zegras and company.

14. Nashville Predators (20-11-2, December: 18)

Andrew: 11, Trey: 16, Ryan: 11 (Average: 12.7)

Andrew: Let me get this straight. You trade one of your best defensemen for two players who haven’t scored a point. Your face of the franchise goaltender retires, and the new backup has a .884 save percentage. You expose your two highest-paid forwards in an expansion draft, and a Seattle team lacking high-end offensive talent didn’t bite on either of them. Naturally, that team won their final six games before Christmas and currently sits in first place in the Central Division. Go figure.

The bounce-backs for Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene (and Mikael Grandlund, who’s re-signing I also wasn’t a fan of) are real. Jusse Saros is carrying the torch from Pekka Rinne impeccably. Are the Predators back to their late 2010s contender status? Hardly. But it’s an undoubtedly impressive run nonetheless; the best era of Predators hockey has life in it yet.

13. Edmonton Oilers (18-12-2, December: 5)

Andrew: 17, Trey: 7, Ryan: 12 (Average: 12)

Andrew: Just a couple of spots ahead of the league’s hottest team (Vancouver) in the Pacific Division standings (and our power rankings) lays the league’s coldest club. The Edmonton Oilers were a team built to outscore their problems, and right now they’re just not doing that. Edmonton’s backend cratered in December, and injuries in the net compounded the issue. I’m just not sure this is a team built to go deep in the playoffs, and not just because officials will probably ignore another bucket load of infractions committed against Connor McDavid.

Ryan: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Edmonton and Calgary have fallen back to where most expected them to be this year. The Oilers can’t seem to keep the puck out of the net, and they still can’t win without McDavid and Draisaitl carrying the load. Calgary’s recent fall is a little more surprising. I thought they had a formula for success in place, but maybe they are just an above-average team after all.

T-11. Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-5, December: 19)

Andrew: 6, Trey: 17, Ryan: 10 (Average: 11)

Andrew: Oh, look who decided to show up on the outskirts of my top five. Calgary’s defensive prowess under Darryl Sutter’s watch feels well known; yet the Penguins are just as stingy, allowing fewer expected goals per 60 than any team except Boston. The Penguins have been driving play all season long, and now that they’re starting to get healthy, the wins are piling up. And remember, they’re doing this without Evgeni Malkin. A team with a 54% expected goals rate and a .932 save percentage from their starter (remember when Tristan Jarry was a pumpkin in May?) has Pittsburgh looking like true contenders once again.

Ryan: Let’s not overreact too, too much to the Penguins’ current seven-game win streak. What impresses me is that they’ve pretty much done it all without Jake Guentzel, and he’ll be back shortly. Because of the postponements and lengthy holiday break, the Penguins went an impressive 7-1 in December.

T-11. St. Louis Blues (19-9-5, December: 13)

Andrew: 12, Trey: 13, Ryan: 8 (Average: 11)

Andrew: The Blues are the Western Conference edition of the Rangers. Outstanding special teams and goaltending? Check. Middling expected goals percentage raising concern? Check. A star Russian winger lighting it up? Check, thanks to Vladimir Tarasenko’s bounce-back season. The only real difference is the Blues score and create more offense than the Rangers, but other than that there’s not much difference. The Blues were trending down in my eyes a month ago, but a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games has them back to sitting pretty in a playoff spot.

Ryan: The Blues put a pounding on Minnesota in their home state in the Winter Classic. Jordan Kyrou has followed up his breakout campaign in ’20-’21 with another strong year that has him at above a point per game pace. Also, I’m still baffled that Seattle opted not to take Vladimir Tarasenko in the expansion draft. The dude is right back to producing elite numbers following his recent injury history. His play along with many others has St. Louis in first place in the Central.

10. New York Rangers (21-8-4, December: 6)

Andrew: 13, Trey: 11, Ryan: 7 (Average: 10.3)

Andrew: As I said earlier, the two New York teams are mirror opposites of each other. The Islanders are the team that should be better than they are but have already lost too much ground to make up. The Rangers shouldn’t be this high in the standings; their special teams and goaltending deserve credit, but it’s hard to bet on a team ranked just 28th in the NHL with an expected goals percentage under 47%. But they’ve already banked enough points that anything less than a total collapse is probably enough to make the playoffs. That they’re doing this well with so few offensive contributions from Alexis Lafrenière and Kappo Kakko (who’s the only Ranger with a Corsi For% over 50%) is hard to believe. There has to be at least a minor slump on the horizon, right?

Ryan: I’m still a believer in the Rangers. Igor Shesterkin returned from a lower-body injury he suffered early in December, and his play is going to be pivotal to whether New York is a true contender or if they are just pretending so far.

9. Minnesota Wild (19-10-2, December: 8)

Andrew: 9, Trey: 12, Ryan: 9 (Average: 10)

Ryan: Remember when the Wild won eight straight and shot up everyone’s lists? They haven’t won since Dec. 9 in San Jose and are currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak. In three of those losses, they’ve netted the puck four times, which is a bit concerning for a team built around strong defensive play.

Andrew: If that’s what the Wild are supposed to be built around, they haven’t really played like it. Minnesota is 22nd in shots allowed, and their performance in the Winter Classic was a defensive fiasco, with breakdowns all over the place. Granted, two of their best defensemen in Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Bordin and stellar two-way first-line center Joel Eriksson Ek were absent. I’m giving them a pass for now; their first 11 months of 2021 were outstanding, and one meh month to end doesn’t erase that. But I came into the season not sold about the Wild on paper; maybe some of my concerns were more valid than they appeared on Thanksgiving.

8. Colorado Avalanche (17-8-2, December: 10)

Andrew: 10, Trey: 5, Ryan: 14 (Average: 9.7)

Andrew: Colorado is a hard team to rate because it’s eighteen of the league’s best skaters against a goaltending situation that is becoming increasingly concerning. Pavel Francouz is back, and though he struggled in his return, perhaps he can breathe new life into Colorado’s crease. Believe me, I’d rather spend this section talking about Colorado’s elite offense; their 4.22 goals per game not only leads the league but is nearly a half goal ahead of second-place Florida. But it needs more support if Colorado plans to finally get over the second-round hump in 2022.

Ryan: I’m not going to kid myself and act like I wouldn’t pick Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen in a best-of-seven versus really any of the teams ahead or below them right now. Ask yourself this question: Colorado or Anaheim? They still have time to jump some teams ahead of them in points, because the Avs have played a league-low 27 games so far.

7. Calgary Flames (16-7-6, December: 2)

Andrew: 7, Trey: 6, Ryan: 13 (Average: 8.7)

Andrew: It was a pedestrian month for Calgary record-wise, but under the hood, they look just as great as they did at the start of December. The Flames still look like the part of an elite defensive team that is also strong offensively and has great goaltending. They enter January on a four-game winless streak, albeit one that they haven’t had the chance to snap since December 11.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (21-8-2, December: T-3)

Andrew: 2, Trey: 10, Ryan: 5 (Average: 5.7)

Andrew: It feels a bit weird having the Leafs this high; they only played six games in December and pinballed between convincing wins and a few more adventurous contests. But they did that without Mitch Marner, and it’s hard to find fault in the team on paper. Of course, the team’s makeup on paper hasn’t been their biggest question in the last few years. But you can’t win the Stanley Cup, or even in a playoff series, in December; it’s still the time of year to applaud Toronto’s regular-season success, even if you want to raise legitimate (or just plain ludicrous) questions about how they’ll fare in a few months.

Ryan: My top five consists of five teams from the East, which is a tad surprising the way Vegas and Colorado have looked in recent years. Each conference is top-heavy, but I have to give credit where credit is due, and the Leafs are beating teams that we know they are better than. They’ve strung two solid months together, now.

5. Washington Capitals (20-6-7, December: 9)

Andrew: 3, Trey: 9, Ryan: 4 (Average: 5.3)

Andrew: The Capitals got a head start on their long-time rivals in Pittsburgh at defying expectations of regression with their aging core; they’ve been winning consistently all season. Leading the way, as always, is Alex Ovechkin, who is leading the league in goals and points just as you would expect from your average 36-year old. Getting Nicklas Backström back from injury (and then back from COVID) will only make him (and Washington’s unusually scuffling 14.6% power-play) even scarier.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (22-12-0, December: 12)

Andrew: 4, Trey: 4, Ryan: 6 (Average: 4.7)

Andrew: After hanging tight next to Colorado in the “Western Conference powerhouses uncharacteristically struggling out of the gate” in the first two sets of these rankings, Vegas is looking as dominant as they were expected to. Maybe Max Pacioretty’s wrist surgery halts their momentum, or perhaps Robin Lehner’s struggles in the net might do that on themself. If any other contending team demoted their leading scorer to the third line and traded their second-leading scorer in a cap dump, we’d call them crazy. That’s what Vegas might have to do with Chandler Stephenson and Reilly Smith, respectively when Jack Eichel comes back. Pacioretty’s injury might delay those changes, but likely not for long enough. Unless…

Here is another one of Trey’s Vegas hot takes that, like the Pacioretty one linked to above, I personally don’t agree with.

3. Florida Panthers (21-7-4, December: 1)

Andrew: 8, Trey: 2, Ryan: 3 (Average: 4.3)

Andrew: Remember early in the year, when Sergei Bobrovsky was throwing it back to 2013 and Spencer Knight was the greatest thing since sliced bread? Tough times have befallen the Panthers crease; Florida’s .882 save percentage in December ranked just 27th in the league (coincidentally, that put them one spot ahead of Colorado). It was a high-variance month with the Panthers; start with two wins, then lose 4 of 5, then end the month by beating the Rangers and Lightning on back-to-backs, scoring thirteen goals in the process. Here’s to stabilizing (and Jonathan Huberdeau, who’s 4th in the league with 41 points) in the new year.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (21-8-5, December: 7)

Andrew: 5, Trey: 3, Ryan: 2 (Average: 3.3)

Andrew: The only team with more “Mark Donk and Buzz Flibbet” energy than the Penguins might be the Lightning, who are thriving despite long-term absences to Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point (who had a casual 3-point game in his return on Dec. 28, his first game in 38 days). It just seems like whoever the Lightning pluck from AHL Syracuse or signed to a league-minimum contract in the summer is capable of driving play and making a key play whenever the team needs it. Tampa Bay is truly a team greater than the sum of their parts, which in itself would be enough to make them a playoff team with ease.

Ryan: Tampa has the same number of points as Carolina but has let in over 30 more goals than they have. Their last two games have been iffy only because Andrei Vasilevskiy has been out due to COVID protocols, but the three-peat is still very much a strong possibility as they continue to play well.

1. Carolina Hurricanes (23-7-1, December: T-3)

Andrew: It’s hard to find much to complain about with the Hurricanes. Great goaltending, phenomenal 5-on-5 numbers, outstanding special teams – they just about have it all. That’s especially true if Jesperi Kotkaniemi (7 points in the last 5 games) gets going. Maybe a few more goals for Andrei Svechnikov would be nice, but that’s nitpicking. So is this weird dichotomy; the Hurricanes allow the fewest shots per game but are tied for twenty-fourth in goals saved above expected per 60.

Ryan: It’s hard to find much to complain about with the Hurricanes. Great goaltending, phenomenal 5-on-5 numbers, outstanding special teams – they just about have it all. That’s especially true if Jesperi Kotkaniemi (7 points in the last 5 games) gets going. Maybe a few more goals for Andrei Svechnikov would be nice, but that’s nitpicking. So is this weird dichotomy; the Hurricanes allow the fewest shots per game but are tied for twenty-fourth in goals saved above expected per 60.

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