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USATSI

The all important date in the NHL season is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away and things are starting to come into focus.

At this point in the season, we have a very clear idea of which teams will definitely be competing for a Stanley Cup and which ones will be hoping the ping pong balls bounce their way at the draft lottery. Teams like the Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Lightning and others are in that first group. The Coyotes, Senators, Canadiens and Canucks are all solidly in that second group.

Outside of the very best and the very worst, there are still some blind spots, however. Because the NHL creates a standings point out of thin air for overtime games, there are a lot of teams in the thick of the playoff race at this point in the season. The trouble is trying to sort them out at this time of year, but I gave it my best shot.

The pre-Thanksgiving NHL Power Rankings are here:

Biggest Movers
5 Stars
5 Wild
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1 Hurricanes The Hurricanes are the first team this season to repeat at the No. 1 spot, and they look like the team to beat right now. Superstar center Sebastian Aho is collecting points in bunches. In three of Carolina's last four games, he has picked up multiple points. -- 15-6-1
2 Oilers The Oilers' dynamic duo up front gets most of the attention, and for good reason. Having said that, I had serious doubts about this blue line before the season, but 22-year-old Evan Bouchard has stepped up and filled a major hole at that position. So far, he has 10 points, and the Oilers own 52.95% of the expected goals when he's on the ice. Can he keep it up for 82 games? 1 16-5-0
3 Maple Leafs Michael Bunting showed some promise for the Coyotes last season, and the Maple Leafs scooped him up for relatively cheap in the offseason. So far, he has been very effective when he's been on the ice. Outside of his nine points, Bunting has also created 5.1 expected goals at five-on-five, which is second on the team to Auston Matthews. You may have heard of him. 1 17-6-1
4 Lightning The Lightning are very good at winning hockey games, but I want to focus on Anthony Cirelli. He took a puck off the nose against the Islanders last Monday night, and it was an ugly sight after the game. If you didn't see it, count yourself among the lucky. Despite that, Cirelli didn't miss a game and scored two goals in the team's win over the Wild. 1 13-5-4
5 Panthers After a nasty leg injury ended his 2020-21 season, it was fair to wonder whether Aaron Ekblad would be able to play at a high level right from the jump this year. Luckily for every hockey fan, he's done just that. Ekblad has posted 15 points in 18 games, and his underlying numbers are impeccable, too. He makes the Panthers look like a bona fide Stanley Cup favorite. 1 16-4-3
6 Capitals Alex Ovechkin now has 15 goals on the season, and he continues his torrid chase of history. Our own Chris Bengel recently explored what it would take for him to catch Wayne Gretzky and how plausible that is. Outside of Ovechkin's personal hot streak, the Capitals are 6-1-1 in their last eight games. 3 14-4-6
7 Wild The Wild are a very good team, but there might be one thing holding them back, and it showed this past week. Minnesota can't really get a save right now, and that's a major problem. Cam Talbot and Kappo Kahkonen have combined for -8.00 goals saved above average. That's an issue for a team that would otherwise be among the NHL's elite. 5 16-6-1
8 Golden Knights Vegas continues to outperform some underwhelming expected goals numbers, but they will take wins any way they can get them with their injury situation, which is starting to improve. Mark Stone is back, and he has three assists in four games since his return. -- 12-10-0
9 Rangers Despite my reservations about this Rangers team, I cannot deny that they are on a roll these days. Speaking of being on a roll, Chris Kreider is far and away the team leader in goals with 13. He is bound to cool off somewhat, but his career shooting percentage is 14.3%, so Kreider could very well shatter his career high of 28 goals. 2 15-4-3
10 Avalanche Don't look now, but the Avalanche have won four straight games and might be finding some kind of rhythm just in time for Thanksgiving. They've even been able to do that without Nathan MacKinnon. On a team loaded with superstars, Nazem Kadri has been leading the way. He is on an eight-game point streak right now. 3 12-7-1
11 Flames Oliver Kylington was on waivers in January of last season. Now, he is a budding star on Calgary's blue line. Kylington has 12 goals in 18 games, and the Flames own 57.75% of the expected goals share when he's on the ice at five-on-five. 3 14-4-5
12 Bruins In order to stay in the top 10, you have to win games. In order to win games, you have to play them. The Bruins went all week without playing before getting hit with a back-to-back against the Flyers and Flames. That resulted in a 1-1 split. 5 12-8-0
13 Ducks The Ducks' winning streak ended at eight games, and their first loss since Oct. 29 came against the No. 1 team in these rankings. Ryan Getzlaf notched his 1,000th NHL point in an overtime win over the Capitals, and he became the 92nd player in league history to accomplish that feat. 2 13-8-3
14 Blues The Blues have started to slow down after a great start to the season. They are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and they just lost to the Coyotes last week. November hasn't been kind to St. Louis so far. 4 12-8-3
15 Jets I'm keeping an eye on the Jets because I think they might be able to surprise a lot of people. They are currently sixth in the NHL in expected goals share at five-on-five (53.40%), and everything from the net out looks like it's clicking. They've taken a few undeserved losses in the early going, but that's hockey. 3 11-8-4
16 Flyers In an extremely moving moment last week, Kevin Hayes scored his first goal of the season and pointed to the sky to honor his late brother, Jimmy, who passed away in the offseason. 1 8-9-4
17 Blue Jackets Let's take a moment to recognize the Blue Jackets fans in Arizona who lost a perfectly good hat for no reason. Boone Jenner was originally credited with a hat trick against the Coyotes before the goal was later given to Zach Werenski. 4 12-9-0
18 Stars The Stars got utterly embarrassed by the Wild in a 7-2 loss, and that got everyone's attention. However, it was still a decent week for Dallas. That loss was sandwiched between a pair of wins over the Red Wings and the Blues. 5 12-7-2
19 Kings Los Angeles is in the midst of a seven-game home stand, and it hasn't started well. The Kings only picked up one point in the first three games, and Cal Peterson's struggles in net are rather discouraging, even if Jonathan Quick has turned back time for now. 1 9-9-4
20 Penguins Tristan Jarry is starting to find a rhythm in net. He posted back-to-back shutouts against the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, and he's now eighth in the NHL in goals saved above average at five-on-five (5.30). 5 10-8-5
21 Red Wings I've touched on this in recent weeks, but the future looks pretty bright in Detroit at the moment. Winger Lucas Raymond and defenseman Moritz Seider lead all rookies in points. It's still early, but those two might provide a decent foundation for Steve Yzerman to build upon. 5 12-9-3
22 Devils Rookie Dawson Mercer is now tied for the team lead in scoring with 12 points, which is both good and bad. It's good because it means the No. 18 overall pick from the 2020 NHL Draft might be for real. It's also less than ideal that the 20-year-old is having to carry such a heavy load. 2 9-9-4
23 Predators Matt Duchene continued his hot streak with a hat trick in Nashville's loss to a hapless Montreal team. The bad news for the Predators is that he has scored 26.1% of their goals on the season. Duchene is going to need some help if the Preds want to remain within reach of the playoffs all season. 4 12-10-1
24 Sabres The Sabres' goaltending situation is starting to crater, as you might have expected before the start of the season. 40-year-old Craig Anderson is hurt, and the duo of Aaron Dell and Dustin Tokarski has been porous. That's bad news for a team that has trouble getting consistent scoring. -- 8-12-3
25 Sharks The Sharks are struggling to keep their head above water these days. San Jose owns an abysmal 45.54% expected goals share at five-on-five, and defenseman Brent Burns is really struggling in that respect. The Sharks are giving up considerably more than they're getting with him on the ice. 1 13-10-1
26 Islanders After finishing up a grueling 13-game road trip to begin their season, the Islanders finally opened UBS Arena, their new home. What should have been a celebration turned into disaster. As COVID-19 ravaged the Isles' lineup, they dropped their first two home games by a combined score of 8-2. Things are unraveling quickly for the Islanders. 4 5-10-3
27 Blackhawks There was some sticker shock, and I think justifiably so, when Seth Jones signed his massive contract extension in the offseason. Despite that, Jones is off to a productive start with the Blackhawks. He has 15 points in 18 games, but I wonder how much longer he can keep that up with some less-than-encouraging underlying numbers. -- 8-12-2
28 Kraken I said it last week, but I'll say it again this week. If the Kraken get even mediocre goaltending, they will be just fine. Seattle has been competitive in nearly every game, but the goalie position hasn't even given them a chance. For example, the Avalanche scored seven goals on 30 shots. It was surprising when a Kraken goalie made a save in that game. -- 8-13-2
29 Canadiens Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported last week that the Canadiens were interested in adding a puck-moving defenseman. Giving up future assets for help in the present is a bold strategy for a team with five wins in 20 games. 1 6-17-2
30 Coyotes This might be the peak of the Coyotes' 2021-22 season. They went 3-0-1 last week, and they finally climbed out of the basement. It probably won't last, but at least the Coyotes are no longer on pace to be the worst team in NHL history. 2 5-16-2
31 Senators The Sens had an entire week of games postponed due to COVID-19, and now they have to play four road games in six days. I'm sure that will go well for a team that was already struggling, even before the pause. -- 5-15-1
32 Canucks Vancouver is a mess from top to bottom these days. The team brass is apparently waiting to see if general manager Jim Benning, in his eighth season with the franchise, can finally get things turned around. The early returns on that approach weren't great. The Canucks went 1-2 on the week and scored five goals in three games. 3 8-14-2