When we posted our Power Rankings ahead of the NHL restart a little over a week ago, it was like driving a car into the night with no headlights. We hadn't seen a meaningful hockey game in about five months. We simply had to remember the roads as best we could and trust our instincts as we traveled into the great unknown.
Now here we are, 10 days later and about to enter the Round of 16 -- or, in a normal year, where the Stanley Cup Playoffs actually begin. The seeding is set, the field is finalized. If there was any lingering doubt in the play-in/round robin stage, make no mistake about it now: The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here.
We still have a pretty small sample size to work with post-coronavirus shutdown but we've actually seen these 16 teams play meaningful puck (some more meaningful than others) and now we've got something to work with in addition to a regular season that seems like it was played ages ago. It's all still quite unpredictable, and that's the beauty of the thing, but we may be getting a clearer picture of the true contenders, as well as the pretenders who aren't truly poised for survival.
A little over a week ago I gave the rankings my best shot and said we'd re-evaluate before things got really real. The time is now, so let's take a look at what we've been given.
|Vegas looked like a juggernaut toward the end of the regular season and they picked up right where they left off in the round robin stage. They went undefeated against the West's top teams, scoring 15 times in three games. And they did all that without their leading scorer (Max Pacioretty), who should be returning soon. With Vegas' ability to cycle and possess the puck, they're poised to do a ton of damage and stay hot against a weak Chicago defense in the Round of 16.||2||40-14-2|
|We already know that the Avs have high-end talent up front and are capable of being a dominant force offensively, especially when Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are at their best. They're great on the rush and can draw a lot of penalties, which is why it was encouraging to see their power play have a lot of success in the round robin stage. The Avs went 4-for-6 in their three meaningful games and scored at least one power play goal in each contest. They still have some questions surrounding them (namely who their starting goaltender will be... and for how long) but there's a lot of reasons to remain fearful of the Avs.||3||39-13-4|
|The Flyers arguably had more momentum than any other team when the league went into shutdown in March, but I ranked them 7th last week because I wondered how much the extended layoff would hurt them. As it turns out, they might be better than ever. They were arguably the most impressive team in the round robin/play-in stage and, as a result, they've got the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They were able to roll four lines and maintain relentless pressure during all three of their round robin games. They're skilled, deep and tough but the most impressive aspect of their game might be how hard they work and how the foot never seems to come off the pedal -- even after a nearly five-month layoff. Carter Hart also looked great in net. One area they need to improve is on the power play (0-for-11 in round robin).||4||25-23-8|
|Tampa Bay had a solid round robin (2-1-0) and showed that they're a bit tougher and scrappier than Lightning teams we've seen in the past. They still have one of the best rosters in hockey but they may have some really key injuries to overcome already. Steven Stamkos is still battling issues after undergoing core surgery in March and the Lightning's top defenseman, Victor Hedman, appeared to suffer a significant ankle injury in the team's final round robin game. How long those guys remain on the shelf (especially Hedman) may dictate how far the Lightning can go.||2||36-17-3|
|While it's true that the Rangers looked terrible in the play-in series and I don't want to overreact based on that, it's also true that the Canes absolutely throttled New York and their top line looked dominant. (Sebastian Aho is a freak and remains one of the most underappreciated players in the league.) Carolina is so good at gaining and maintaining possession and then in turn generating chances. It's worth noting that their impressive defensive group is still without their first- or second-best defenseman in Dougie Hamilton. My big concern for Carolina was the goaltending but both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer looked solid. They could do themselves a favor by playing more disciplined, but they did kill 13 of the 14 power plays they gave in the three games vs. NYR.||5||36-12-8|
|The Caps haven't seemed to hit their stride just yet and they're going to need to clean up a bit once the games truly start to matter. They've looked a little loose defensively and undisciplined at times but that also can be expected after a long layoff. The more concerning issue is that Norris finalist and top scorer John Carlson missed all three round robin games after suffering an injury in the Caps' exhibition contest. They're only "hopeful" he'll be back once they open their series against the Islanders later this week but the uncertainty there is troubling.||--||36-15-5|
|St. Louis can't be underestimated but they didn't look very impressive at all over the round robin stage, especially offensively. They lost all three games and scored just six total goals, getting next-to-nothing from their top forwards -- including the returning Vladimir Taranseko (who sat out STL's second round robin game). They've especially looked rough towards the end of games -- they had a lead going into the third period of all three contests but were outscored 6-0 in the final frames. It's fair to wonder if conditioning might be an issue.||3||27-20-9|
|It's been an ugly, ugly restart for the Presidents' Trophy champs, which explains their plummet from No. 1 in last week's power rankings. The Bruins will only go as far as their elite top line takes them and early returns haven't been great, as that top unit scored a total of zero times during the round robin stage. Their 2nd-ranked power play went 0-for-9 during the three games. Their middle-six is in flux and, largely, ineffective. The back end of their defense has looked shaky (Jeremy Lauzon in particular) and the compete level/intensity as a whole just wasn't really there. Don't write them off just yet -- the offensive results and intensity should pick up, and the goaltending remains good -- but they're looked very rough so far and now they'll draw a very tough Carolina team in the first round.||7||33-16-7|
|It probably won't come as much surprise but the Stars were offensively anemic through the round robin stage. They scored just four total goals -- one coming on the power play and another coming with an extra skater and the goalie pulled. They did play their third and final game (their only win, which came in a shootout over the Blues) without Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop, who were both listed as "unfit to play," so that'll be worth monitoring. You have to keep in mind that this team hasn't looked good for a little while, dating back to before the pause as well. They're going to need the defense to hold tight and rely on goaltending to give them an edge.||--||23-19-14|
|We got pretty much what we expected from the Islanders in their return. They played a very solid, structured defensive game against a good Panthers offense and were able to limit the damage, allowing just three goals at 5-on-5.(The Panthers did score four times on the power play, so the Isles' PK will need to do a better job in that area.) The offense didn't necessarily tear it up but they're getting enough contributions throughout the lineup to prevent the entirety of defensive attention to be focused on a few players. They're poised to put up a pretty good fight against the Caps.||3||32-17-7|
|Calgary certainly benefited from the misfortune suffered by the Jets, who lost top forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine one game into the series, but they showed some encouraging signs in the play-in round as well. They took advantage of a weak Winnipeg defense and scored 16 goals in four games (including five on the power play) while getting contributions throughout the lineup. They'll have a much tougher test against Dallas next round but the Flames were very good offensively before the break, so they're doing a good job picking that momentum back up. They also got strong goaltending, which will need to continue.||4||26-27-3|
|I favored Nashville heading into their series against the Coyotes but Arizona looked pretty solid against the Predators. They managed to overcome the loss of Nick Schmaltz (their leading scorer during the regular season) and put up 14 goals in four games -- a surprising level of output for the Yotes. That production was helped by nice depth contributions from the bottom half of the lineup. Not surprisingly, Darcy Kuemper was very strong in net. He'll need to continue to be great as the last line of defense against a high-powered Colorado team.||6||24-26-6|
|Despite some initial trouble against a tough Wild defense, Vancouver's young core had somewhat of a postseason coming out party against Minnesota. Quinn Hughes was spectacular and guys like Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser showed why the Canucks' future might be very bright. They're still very much an imperfect team and they're going to tighten up and be more disciplined (shorthanded 22 times in four games) if they want to make a deep run. They also better hope that Jacob Markstrom's performance in Game 4 was simply due to fatigue.||3||23-29-4|
|It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that the Blue Jackets gave Toronto hell. The Maple Leafs were the more talented team but Columbus presented a matchup nightmare because of their team defense, how hard they play and the sandpaper side of their game. They also got great goaltending from Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins while the Leafs were as snakebit (they shot 1.7 percent at 5v5) as a team can be. The Blue Jackets shouldn't be underestimated because they've reminded us in each of the past two years that sometimes hard work can beat talent.||8||18-26-12|
|Holy smokes, huh? I said before the play-in stage that Montreal didn't belong in the postseason picture and the only way they stood a chance of beating the Penguins in a single game was if Carey Price stole a game. As it turns out, Carey Price (.940 save percentage) was good enough to help them steal three and advance to the Round of 16. I still don't give them too much hope beyond here. That being said, they've got a puncher's chance if Price remains at his best.||9||24-21-11|
|Their series against the Oilers was highly entertaining but a total circus. Neither team looked very good and defense seemed quite optional, but Chicago's largely inexperienced group of forwards (plus veterans Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) managed to do more damage than their opponent and that means they're moving on. Kirby Dach had one heck of a series, and Corey Crawford was excellent in the finale. But they're going to have a much tougher test waiting for them in the Golden Knights.||7||24-25-7|