April 17, 2024

With a little more than two weeks of the season in the books, some early problems have emerged for each club.

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings, we identify the biggest causes for concern — whether it’s a player, group, unit or something else entirely.

How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors each send in a 1-32 poll based on the games through Wednesday, which generates our master list here.

Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the preseason edition, published Oct. 9. Points percentages are through Thursday’s games.

Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 100.0%
Next seven days: vs. CHI (Oct. 27), @ LA (Oct. 28), vs. MTL (Oct. 30), vs. WPG (Nov. 2)

Vegas opened its season on a historic 6-0-0 run (the best ever by a reigning Stanley Cup champion). But is all going a little too well? The Golden Knights, perennial plagued by injuries, are healthy and thriving. Their overall numbers across the board are strong. So, is the other shoe just waiting to drop? Is Vegas too good to be true?


Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 85.7%
Next seven days: @ BUF (Oct. 29), vs. STL (Nov. 1)

Colorado’s dominance in every statistical category — including a record-setting string of road victories — makes it hard to poke holes in the team’s start. One potential point of concern is the backup goalie situation. Alexandar Georgiev is the only netminder Colorado has used (and he’s been fantastic), but with Pavel Francouz out indefinitely due to a groin injury, eventually the Avalanche will have to tap Ivan Prosvetov (veteran of 13 NHL games to date) for a start or two. Prosvetov’s results will indicate whether Colorado has a percolating problem. Prosvetov did make five saves on five shots in just over eight minutes of action Thursday.


Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 92.9%
Next seven days: vs. DET (Oct. 28), vs. FLA (Oct. 30), vs. TOR (Nov. 2)

Boston was among the NHL’s last undefeated teams for a reason — it is good (shocker). But have the Bruins truly faced a team on their level yet? Boston’s opening slate included just one matchup against a 2022-23 playoff team (Kings), two meetings apiece with the Ducks and Blackhawks and one with the Sharks. Boston hasn’t necessarily been taxed yet (and they did drop one to the Ducks). When the competition ramps up, will the Bruins still keep coming out on top?


Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 75.0%
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Oct. 30), @ CGY (Nov. 1), @ EDM (Nov. 2)

Dallas has dealt with lackluster results on the power play in some games, most notably when Philadelphia rang up three (3!) short-handed goals while the Stars went 0-for-3 with an extra man. We know Dallas can score goals, but failing to capitalize on power plays — and having them become momentum killers by giving up shorties — is a rocky foundation to build the club’s special teams’ success.


Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 68.8%
Next seven days: @ BOS (Oct. 28), @ NYI (Oct. 30), vs. FLA (Nov. 2)

It’s tough to rain on the Red Wings’ parade. So, we won’t (much). It’s just that Detroit will not sustain all that’s made it an early power in the East, from a high shooting percentage (14.0%, third in the league) to goals scored per game (4.38, second). The concern is what happens when the league settles in, and Detroit can’t ring up that many markers. How will the Red Wings pivot and let other facets of the game shine? Time will tell if they are up for the challenge.


Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 71.4%
Next seven days: @ VAN (Oct. 28), @ WPG (Oct. 30), vs. CAR (Nov. 2)

New York is waiting on a true first test. Five of the Rangers’ first seven games were against non-playoff teams from last season. New York dropped decisions to Nashville and Columbus. The Rangers have high expectations and we’ll get a better sense of where they are when the competition factor ramps up.


Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 71.4%
Next seven days: @ NSH (Oct. 28), vs. LA (Oct. 31), @ BOS (Nov. 2)

Toronto has goaltending drama. Starter Ilya Samsonov has been woefully bad (he gave up three goals on four shots to Tampa Bay last week), while backup Joseph Woll has been surprisingly steady, including Thursday’s win over the Stars. What does that mean for the Leafs? Do they ride with Woll and potentially tank Samsonov’s confidence in October? That’s a sizeable decision to make this early.


Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 58.3%
Next seven days: @ ARI (Oct. 27), vs. VGK (Oct. 28), @ TOR (Oct. 31), @ OTT (Nov. 2)

It’s a small sample, but the Kings haven’t had much success yet on home ice. L.A.’s schedule seemed to favorably line up with a home-heavy start, and yet they’ve tallied a single win (1-2-1) in their building. Are the Kings destined to be road warriors, who can’t translate that same energy at home?


Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 66.7%
Next seven days: vs. STL (Oct. 27), vs. NYR (Oct. 28), vs. NSH (Oct. 31), @ SJ (Nov. 2)

Vancouver has come out stronger than expected thanks in large part to the play of captain Quinn Hughes. But it’s the workload Hughes (and partner Filip Hronek) are carrying that’s a concern. The Canucks’ top pairing is averaging nearly 25 minutes of ice time per game. Can they sustain that over an 82-game schedule? Coach Rick Tocchet might have to share the wealth for his top skaters to remain intact over the long run.


Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 58.3%
Next seven days: vs. BUF (Oct. 27), vs. MIN (Oct. 29), @ MIN (Nov. 2)

New Jersey’s defense has taken a step back. The losses of Damon Severson and Ryan Graves are glaring. Luke Hughes is young and making mistakes. John Marino isn’t playing his best. New Jersey’s goaltending has been fine but not nearly spectacular enough to account for the back end blunders. The Devils haven’t helped themselves by not scoring first in a single game either. Playing from behind rarely has benefits.


Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 62.5%
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Oct. 30), @ CBJ (Nov. 2)

Is Tampa Bay running out of steam? In some games already, that’s become a factor. The Lightning can get caught flat-footed in their zone against quick teams, unable to keep pace when the tempo increases. And in overtime? They’re barely able to pounce on a puck. The Lightning could use more life in their legs when a win hangs in the balance. Maybe shutting out Carolina this week will unlock more pep in the Lightning steps.


Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 50.0%
Next seven days: @ WSH (Oct. 27), @ NJ (Oct. 29), vs. NJ (Nov. 2)

The Wild miss Jared Spurgeon, Matt Boldy and Alex Goligoski), but especially Spurgeon (out with an upper-body injury). Minnesota has allowed the most goals per game (4.43) this season thanks to a defense made more porous by Spurgeon’s unavailability due to injury. Spurgeon has resumed skating, and that’s great news for the Wild, but they must patch up those defensive deficiencies before he returns.


Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 50.0%
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Oct. 28), @ BOS (Oct. 30), @ DET (Nov. 2)

Florida is mired in a mild identity crisis. Nearly half the Panthers’ skaters who started this season weren’t on the team last season. Sam Bennett was sidelined late in the preseason by injury, and Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are out recovering from offseason surgery. It’s been tough for Florida to find its groove. And sitting at the bottom of the league on the penalty kill (65.4%) is an example of how those new-faces-in-new-places struggles manifest on the ice. Team chemistry will remain an important work in progress.


Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 50.0%
Next seven days: vs. SJ (Oct. 27), @ PHI (Oct. 30), @ NYR (Nov. 2)

Carolina’s prospects have gone from bad to worse. The Hurricanes already average the second highest goals-against average (4.38) in the NHL, a surprising stat given the club generally models a hard-hitting, defense-focused structure. Brett Pesce is out indefinitely with an injury, joining high-scoring winger Andrei Svechnikov on the sidelines. Carolina can’t outscore its own defensive issues while new faces — like Dmitry Orlov, a team-worst minus-11 — are struggling to fit in. The Hurricanes need solutions, and fast.


Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 64.3%
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Oct. 28), vs. CAR (Oct. 30), vs. BUF (Nov. 1)

Philadelphia ranks as an early surprise. The Flyers entered this week sitting first overall in the Metropolitan Division, and looks solid in most areas (especially after that 6-2 drubbing of the Wild). The issue is what does Philadelphia want this season? Do the Flyers want to be relevant in the standings? Or eye another draft lottery pick? Is it time to turn the corner, or not? If that’s a decision to make, it could spell plenty on the Flyers’ upcoming fates.


Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 42.9%
Next seven days: @ PIT (Oct. 28), vs. LA (Nov. 2)

Ottawa looked briefly like a top playoff contender. But after some down performances, the Senators need fine-tuning, particularly in goaltending (Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo are both sub-.900 in save percentage) and sloppy defensive play in their end (Ottawa has clearly missed Artem Zub in that respect). The Senators have worked long and hard to get their ducks in a proverbial row. This is not the time to let those details slack off.


Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 57.1%
Next seven days: @ MTL (Oct. 28), vs. NYR (Oct. 30), @ VGK (Nov. 2)

Winnipeg could easily overreact to Connor Hellebuyck looking average (.899 save percentage, 2.99 goals-against average) compared to the starter’s usual high standard of play. But it’s at least worth mentioning how Hellebuyck hasn’t seemed entirely himself yet. It took a bounce-back effort against Edmonton — in a game the Jets lost — for Hellebuyck to appear settled. But the Jets would ideally like some serious confidence (nightly) coming from their goalie, especially when backup Laurent Brossoit (.846 SV%, 4.04 GAA) isn’t jumping off the page, either.


Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 42.9%
Next seven days: vs. TOR (Oct. 28), @ VAN (Oct. 31), @ SEA (Nov. 2)

Nashville’s penalty kill has been tested often and it’s been a problem. The Predators have the second-worst penalty-killing rate (68.2%) and were tied for the third-most power-play goals against. When coach Andrew Brunette talks about Nashville dialing in the details — especially during close games — the overall performance on the PK can make a difference between two points and none at all.


Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 57.1%
Next seven days: vs. NYI (Oct. 28), @ DAL (Oct. 30), vs. TB (Nov. 2)

Columbus needs Patrik Laine healthy and producing at his usual clip. So, when Laine put an injury-filled 2022-23 behind him to start this season fresh (with two points in four games to boot), it was a good sign. Then an elbow to the head from Calgary’s Rasmus Andersson sidelined Laine and eventually landed him on injured reserve. It’s the worst possible tone to set for Laine, in a season where Columbus is aching for regular services from their elite forward.


Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 58.3%
Next seven days: @ CBJ (Oct. 28), vs. DET (Oct. 30), @ WSH (Nov. 2)

New York can’t simply hide behind great goaltending. Not anymore. It worked last season when Ilya Sorokin carried the Islanders into the postseason. This season has already shown that even a top-notch Sorokin can’t cover up New York’s lack of scoring and diminished defensive effort. Both need to improve, and fast, to take some pressure off their elite netminder.


Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 50.0%
Next seven days: vs. LA (Oct. 27), vs. CHI (Oct. 30), @ ANA (Nov. 1), vs. MTL (Nov. 2)

Arizona has strong performances to start the season, but those good vibes took a hit when Jason Zucker was listed week-to-week with a lower-body injury on Monday. The veteran has been part of the Coyotes’ top-heavy scoring stable, and now Arizona will have to challenge its depth to keep lighting the lamp. Can a player like Alexander Kerfoot — with zero points in his first six games — be a contributor?


Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 42.9%
Next seven days: vs. OTT (Oct. 28), vs. ANA (Oct. 30)

When Mike Sullivan talks about his team not playing “hard enough” or “smart enough” five games into the season, that’s a problem. Pittsburgh’s light early schedule should have boosted its confidence; instead, the Penguins look slow and often physically outmatched. Pittsburgh boasts exceptional veteran talent, but the team needs to hang its hat on more than just legacy.


Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 64.3%
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Oct. 28), @ VGK (Oct. 30), @ ARI (Nov. 2)

The Canadiens’ special teams have caused them trouble. In a loss to the Wild, the Canadiens gave up two short-handed and three power-play goals. Performances like that can haunt a team that’s fighting for wins, and the Canadiens don’t want to be trending in the wrong direction with both units. Stabilizing that area must be a focus (although their early success in the win column must not be overlooked either).


Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 42.9%
Next seven days: @ NJ (Oct. 27), vs. COL (Oct. 29), @ PHI (Nov. 1)

Buffalo is meant to be a playoff contender, but the Sabres haven’t consistently lived up to the hype. Goaltender Devon Levi being out with an injury won’t help. Buffalo is averaging fewer than three goals per game, which is a baffling development considering its depth of talent. And the Sabres rely too heavily on the top half of the lineup to get by. Is Buffalo still in a growing stage?


Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 21.4%
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Oct. 29), vs. DAL (Nov. 2)

Edmonton was messy before Connor McDavid suffered his upper-body injury late last week. The Oilers were beat up by Vancouver by a combined score of 12-4 over two tilts to start the season. Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner have struggled in net (they’re the worst tandem in the league based on high-danger save percentage). Edmonton’s getting little production below its top six (the team’s collective shooting percentage: 7.8%). Its penalty kill is weak. Did we mention McDavid’s been out too? The Oilers aren’t catching any breaks.


Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 37.5%
Next seven days: @ FLA (Oct. 28), @ TB (Oct. 30), vs. NSH (Nov. 2)

Seattle started by losing five of its first six games. That was followed by Andre Burakovsky — one of its top forwards — undergoing a procedure to heal an upper-body issue that will keep him out for five to six weeks. Ouch. The Kraken have battled with consistent scoring, so what will losing Burakovsky do to their chances of staying in the hunt for weeks (and months)?


Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 31.3%
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Oct. 29), vs. DAL (Nov. 1)

Calgary’s star power is snuffed out. Nazem Kadri registered one assist through eight games. Jonathan Huberdeau has four points overall. And the generally listless Flames appear slow and lost with no direction or identity — which is exactly what Nikita Zadorov noted after Calgary’s poor five-game road trip. If former coach Darryl Sutter was thought to be creating issues, why haven’t the Flames picked up their pace?


Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 58.3%
Next seven days: @ VAN (Oct. 27), @ COL (Nov. 1)

St. Louis isn’t giving up much this season, but it isn’t scoring, either. The Blues are barely averaging two goals per game (2.17). It’s one thing to be defense-minded; it’s another to let that focus derail your offense. There are too many top scorers (Jordan Kyrou, anyone?) to keep letting that happen.


Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 42.9%
Next seven days: @ PHI (Oct. 28), @ PIT (Oct. 30), vs. ARI (Nov. 1)

Anaheim isn’t getting much offense out of its young collection of stars. The Ducks are among the bottom-dwellers in goals, and their power play is a miserable 4.2%. It’s all part of the pain associated with a rebuild, but frustrating nonetheless that Anaheim can’t find a spark up front more often to keep itself in the mix for longer stretches of games.


Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 28.6%
Next seven days: @ VGK (Oct. 27), @ ARI (Oct. 30)

Taylor Hall returned quickly from an injury earlier this month, but the top line winger reaggravated his shoulder and is out week-to-week. Without Hall, Connor Bedard will have to be breaking in a new linemate or two as Chicago shuffles the deck. It’s bound to have an impact on Bedard and the Blackhawks.


Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 41.7%
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Oct. 27), vs. SJ (Oct. 29), vs. NYI (Nov. 2)

Where are the Capital’s top goal scorers? They have not shown up enough. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie have zero goals, and Alex Ovechkin only scored his first couple of the season as the Capitals attempt to get on track. Scoring is a struggle (the whole team has combined for 12 goals in six games) and it will be a long year for Washington if its big names aren’t contributing regularly.


Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 7.1%
Next seven days: @ CAR (Oct. 27), @ WSH (Oct. 29), vs. VAN (Nov. 2)

San Jose will be the last team to win a game in regulation this season. When the Sharks are averaging the fewest goals scored and be among the highest goals against, it’s not surprising there are red flags all over San Jose.

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