The Bruins have earned everything that they’ve received the past couple of months.
The B’s finally got the healthy lineup they’d planned at the beginning of the season and the wins have begun piling up after the injury problems had forced them into digging in a little more defensively than perhaps they’d done last season. This resulted in 14 wins in their past 18 games and has them on the cusp of passing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division as they hold games in hand on just about everybody.
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So, let’s be clear this is about what the Bruins have done rather than anything other teams haven’t done. But let’s also face this fact: It looks like the coast is clear for the Bruins to roll into the playoffs based on an Atlantic Division that looks dreadful after the top three teams of Tampa, Toronto and Boston. Perhaps Florida can make a push as they’re stringing together some wins in a row, but Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo are playing such bad hockey right now that they’re falling completely out of the playoff hunt after the Lightning, Leafs and Bruins pulled away in December.
On the one hand, it’s great because it looks fairly certain the Bruins are going to be a playoff team this season barring anything disastrous. On the other hand, there is going to be little pushing the Bruins from this point forward aside from a battle for possible playoff home ice in the first round with Toronto. Perhaps that'll be enough to inspire the Black and Gold along with a chance to deal the fatal blow to the Habs in January as they play them three times that month.
Anyway, without further ado, here are this week’s power rankings:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (regular-season record: 27-8-2, rank last week: 1)
The Bolts are 16-3-1 on home ice and far and away the leader in the NHL in goal differential with a plus-46 mark headed into January. The Lightning are the class of the East and that doesn’t seem apt to change anytime soon.
2. Vegas Golden Knights (25-9-2, LW: 11)
Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury are a combined 16-3-1 this season, and have made the Golden Knights pretty close to unbeatable when they are healthy. Also, the 15-2-1 record speaks to the home-ice advantage I thought we’d see in good, old Vegas this season.
3. New Jersey Devils (22-9-6, LW: 8)
Who would have thought that undrafted defenseman Will Butcher would have a better rookie season than No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, but here we are with that happening this season.
4. Nashville Predators (22-9-5, LW: 3)
While the jury is still very much out on what Matt Duchene is going to bring to the Ottawa Senators, Kyle Turris has been an excellent performer since arriving in Nashville. He’s added an element to an already strong Predators bunch.
5. Winnipeg Jets (22-11-6, LW: 2)
The Jets have been dominant and one of the surprises of the season, but will be sorely tested with the injury to Mark Schiefele the next couple of months.
6. Washington Capitals (23-13-3, LW: 14)
With the Pittsburgh Penguins looking tired and run-down after two Stanley Cup runs, the Metro Division is wide open for them. The question is whether they’ll be able to anything about it.
7. Los Angeles Kings (22-11-5, LW: 4)
The Kings have lost five of seven and have only been averaging two goals per game over that stretch. It looks like consistent goal-scoring is going to be an issue for them this season, but they are again near the top of the league with defense and goaltending.
8. St. Louis Blues (23-14-2, LW: 5)
The Blues have lost seven of nine games and scored a grand total of 12 goals in that stretch. This looks more like the Blues team we thought we’d see this season that is not quite as good as the robust, well-rounded Blues teams of the recent past.
9. Boston Bruins (20-10-6, LW: 19)
The Bruins have been the NHL’s best team since the middle of November, but the question now is whether they can sustain it for the long haul. The emergence of a healthy David Backes has made this B’s team extremely deep and dangerous. Plus, rookies Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen have been awesome.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (23-14-1, LW: 7)
The Leafs have survived a concussion to Auston Matthews and continue to tread water as a playoff team in the Atlantic Division. It’s still early, but it looks like it could be a battle for first-round home ice between the Leafs and the B’s the rest of the way.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (22-14-3, LW: 6)
In tribute to John Tortorella’s brief postgame comments, we will keep the Blue Jackets’ mention just as brief. I just don’t have anything to say about this team...Sorry.
12. Carolina Hurricanes (18-12-7, LW: 23)
The Hurricanes are surging with four wins in a row and have been led by Cam Ward again reclaiming his spot between the pipes. They have games in hand on everybody and were the en vogue choice for a surprise playoff berth prior to the season. Can they follow through on that promise?
13. New York Rangers (20-13-5, LW: 15)
Losing Chris Kreider to a blood clot is going to be a tough blow for the Blueshirts, but they’re in a dogfight for the playoffs in the Metro Division. None of those teams can afford to sulk for too long when adversity hits.
14. New York Islanders (20-14-4, LW: 9)
The Isles have a pretty good team, but having both Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak means one thing for their team: They don’t have a true No. 1 goaltender. That needs to change if they’re going to truly threaten anybody this season.
15. San Jose Sharks (20-11-4, LW: 13)
The Sharks have won three in a row and have played the fewest games of any team in the Western Conference. They’re in a pretty good spot after taking points in eight of their past nine games.
16. Dallas Stars (20-15-3, LW: 12)
The Stars are in a playoff spot if the season ended today. That’s a testament to the work that Ken Hitchcock has done with this team down in Big D. Like it or not, Alex Radulov has been a good add for this team after all.
17. Minnesota Wild (19-15-3, LW: 17)
The Wild are on the playoff bubble, but it looks like they’re finally getting Zach Parise back after back surgery. This is a team that should have a pretty good second-half run in them once they’re healthy.
18. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-17-3, LW: 10)
The Penguins definitely look like a team paying the price now for back-to-back Cup runs and the heavy number of taxing games that goes along with it. It remains to be seen if they can rally for at least a return to the postseason, but right now it’s an uphill climb.
19. Anaheim Ducks (16-14-8, LW: 24)
It looks like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are starting to show their age a bit out in Anaheim and, predictably, the Ducks have begun to slip in the Western Conference this season. The playoffs are not a given despite some good, young players.
20. Calgary Flames (18-15-4, LW: 20)
The minus-4 goal differential tells the story of a team that isn’t paying close enough attention to the defensive side of the game. Perhaps that isn’t all too surprising given the youth of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, but it’s been more Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg who have been the problem.
21. Chicago Blackhawks (17-14-5, LW: 21)
It’s hard to believe given the talent on that Blackhawks roster, but it looks like all of the roster finagling to keep that core together is finally dragging them down. The Blackhawks will need a strong second half if they hope to be a playoff team, and even that isn’t a given.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (16-14-8, LW: 27)
The Flyers again are riding hot and cold extreme. They lost 10 in a row earlier this year and have gone a strong 8-3-1 since hitting rock-bottom with that 10th straight loss to the Bruins. It’s a tough division they’re in if they can’t find a little consistency.
23. Florida Panthers (16-16-5, LW: 29)
The Panthers have won four in a row and look like they might be the only Atlantic Division team to potentially even threaten for a playoff spot after the top three of Tampa, Toronto and Boston.
24. Detroit Red Wings (14-16-7, LW: 25)
The Red Wings have some good, young talent, but goal-scoring has been an issue all season as they rank 27th in the NHL in offense. Just five goals from Dylan Larkin is hard to believe three months into the season.
25. Montreal Canadiens (16-18-4, LW: 18)
The Habs continue to struggle to put anything together and it’s looking more and more like a lost season for Montreal. That being said, they still have a bunch of games against the Bruins that could make their second half a little more interesting.
26. Colorado Avalanche (17-16-3, LW: 26)
It’s interesting how the exodus of Matt Duchene has really opened things up for Nathan MacKinnon to be a much better player for the Avalanche. But the results haven’t changed for the Avs, who are again scraping the bottom in the Central Division.
27. Vancouver Canucks (16-17-5, LW: 27)
The Canucks are deep into a rebuilding effort, but, man, have they got a great, young piece in Brock Boeser. He leads all NHL rookies in scoring. He’s one of a number of keepers for Vancouver as they build their next generation.
28. Edmonton Oilers (17-18-2, LW: 28)
The Oil are going to need the mother of all winning streaks in the second half to get back into the playoff mix. Never count out a team with Connor McDavid, I guess, but we’re already starting to count them out.
29. Ottawa Senators (12-16-8, LW: 22)
The Senators have lost 16 of their past 20 and certainly look like a team that has lost whatever spark they possessed last season. You wonder if the ownership issues are affecting the on-ice performance.
30. Buffalo Sabres (10-20-8, LW: 30)
The misery continues in Buffalo where the only competitive, playoff-style hockey they’ll be getting this season is the World Juniors tournament that’s playing out now in their fair city.
31. Arizona Coyotes (9-26-5, LW: 31)
Arizona is the only NHL team still stuck with a single-digit win total and they’re an NHL-worst minus-49 on the season in goal differential. How long can they hang in with John Chayka and the fancy stats crew when the product on the ice is so abominably bad?
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