NHL Power Rankings: Capitals lead pack, Canadiens in top five as playoffs arrive
Washington is the clear-cut favorite but some changes are in order among other playoff contenders
There is no change atop the NHL standings as the 2016-17 regular season quickly fades into the rear-view mirror, and thus the Washington Capitals remain the obvious favorite among the league’s best.
In fact, the Caps have only seemed to up their game since a late-season slump, and even their dismal postseason history cannot wipe away the fact that they enter the Stanley Cup playoffs with odds in their favor.
That does not mean there aren’t a few tightly contested battles for supremacy among other contenders, though.
The playoffs, of course, will be the ultimate determining factor of every team’s true value, but it’s hard not to pay respect to Pacific risers like the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, not to mention the balanced Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens, who crack the top five as the postseason arrives.
Here’s another look up and down the league as the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway:
||Poor playoff history or not, the Capitals are No. 1 heading into the postseason, and it's frankly not too close. They've only seemed to get better since their brief late-season stumble, and both their home record and goal differential are off the charts.||--||55-19|
||If you want offense, you watch Pittsburgh. The defending champs might have a rough go earlier in the playoffs, but they have the splashy scoring touch to do real damage.||2||50-21|
||Their track record as a Stanley Cup dynasty outweighs the 3-3-4 stretch on which they ended their otherwise familiarly dominant season.||1||50-23|
||They ended the year with the second-best defensive performance in the league. They had better hope that translates to a first-round upset of the NHL's top offense.||1||50-24|
||They're not as hot as the Ducks, but they might as well be. The Habs are balanced across the board, have a playoff-caliber goalie in Carey Price and have played up to the task with just about everyone.||1||47-26|
||The true pushers in the Pacific. Anaheim might as well rename itself the Flames, because it was smoking (11-0-3 in their final 14 games after Sunday's overtime victory over the Kings). Let's see how the Ducks take advantage of home ice, too.||2||46-23|
||It's hard not to love what 100-point man Connor McDavid and the offense do. And an 8-2 stretch to close the season ensured that Edmonton hasn't seen its momentum slow heading into the big games.||--||47-26|
||Let's just call it how it is: The Rangers, despite boasting top-tier scoring potential and the incomparable Henrik Lundqvist, haven't exactly done their best impression of a consistent club in recent weeks, even with a finale victory over the Pens. Still, don't let their ranking fool you into thinking they're some kind of pushover vs. Montreal.||3||48-28|
||Here's why the Wild are one of the postseason's most intriguing clubs: They squandered game after game, chance after chance to remain in the throne of the Western Conference, and yet they still enter the playoffs tied for the fourth-most points in the league.||--||49-25|
||Good on them for righting the ship, albeit barely, after an inexplicable late-season collapse. The Sharks' depth concerns were exposed in their downward spiral. Now it's up to the front-line talent to recapture the magic.||1||46-29|
||If Brad Marchand focuses more on adding to his brilliant season than finding ways to draw another suspension, the Bruins make for one heck of an upset candidate.||1||44-31|
||Vladimir Tarasenko's play makes Mike Yeo's comments about the Blues being ready for the postseason seem legitimate.||1||46-29|
||They'll probably never be as hot as they were in February and March, but how much have they actually cooled off? Either way, overcoming the first round of the playoffs should be a tall task.||3||45-33|
||They have 98 points and they made some serious strides at one point. But their negative goal differential and season-ending loss to the Islanders just don't sit well.||2||44-28|
||The 17-20-4 record on the road isn't pretty and certainly doesn't bode well for a trip to take on the Blackhawks. But Nashville is still an exciting team when it is "on," and the Predators have a history of giving Chicago all it can handle.||1||41-29|
||The Auston Matthews show makes its playoff debut. And, come to think of it, falling 3-2 to Columbus to close the season isn't a bad thing as much as it is a sign Toronto can hang in there.||1||40-27|
||An 8-1-1 record over their final 10 was not enough to erase a season's worth of ups and downs. It's kind of a shame we don't get to see them in postseason action.||--||42-30|
||Credit Doug Weight and his team for coming on strong in the home stretch after an ill-timed slump. No playoffs doesn't make the season any less painful, but six straight wins is never a horrible way to step into the future.||1||41-29|
||So maybe they weren't dead after all? The Flyers obviously picked up their play a little too late, but hats off to them for upsetting the Blue Jackets. Philly's sub-.500 home record -- and countless defensive lapses -- really did them in.||2||39-33|
||The question now: Will Darryl Sutter be back?||--||39-35|
||If you score a lot but give up a lot, you just might be the Jets, who had maybe one of the quietest dominant closes to the season with seven straight victories.||1||40-35|
||Their late turnaround wasn't as heroic as it initially seemed. Still, for a team with an extremely sour record at home, a negative-20 goal differential and an eye squarely on rebuilding, they gave quite a few wild-card candidates a run for their money.||4||36-31|
||And now we all anxiously await what lies ahead for Jaromir Jagr.||1||35-36|
||A 4-1 finale victory was the only proper sendoff for Joe Louis Arena.||2||33-36|
||The big decline from a season ago has already taken its first victim: coach Lindy Ruff.||--||34-37|
||Dropping to last in the division was not a pleasant way to end a not-so-pleasant season.||3||33-37|
||A 1-7-2 mark over their final 10 ensured the Devils one of the worst finishes in the league.||1||28-40|
||Yes, it's true. Even with a season-ending loss to the Wild, they did it. They leapfrogged Vancouver in the standings.||1||30-42|
||At least they have Brock Boeser.||2||30-43|
||The final away-game record: 9-30-2. They finished 70 whole points behind the Capitals. Like, what?||--||22-56|
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