We’re seven weeks into the 2021 NHL season, and less than six weeks away from the trade deadline. It’s about that time that trends start to solidify. For this week’s ESPN Power Rankings, we identified an encouraging or worrying trend for every team.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 6 edition, published on Feb. 24. Points percentages are through the games of March 2.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: .783
This week: @ EDM (March 3); @ VAN (March 4, 6); vs. WPG (March 9)
After Jack Campbell and Michael Hutchinson recorded back-to-back shutouts, it’s clear that an encouraging trend for Toronto is improved team defense (yes, you heard that right). The Leafs average the sixth-fewest shots per game, and fourth-fewest goals per game.
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: .775
This week: @ CHI (March 4, 5, 7); @ DET (March 9)
Andrei Vasilevskiy as a perennial Vezina Trophy finalist is starting to become a trend. Back-to-back shutouts last week bolster his case yet again. “It feels like he’s locked in all the time to be honest with you,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “That’s how amazing he is.”
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: .750
This week: vs. MIN (March 3); @ SJ (March 5, 6); @ MIN (March 8)
The Golden Knights have been stingy of late. Entering this week’s series against the Wild, Vegas had allowed only 10 goals combined in its past seven games. The Golden Knights also had a perfect 15-for-15 penalty kill in that span.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: .684
This week: vs. WSH (March 3, 5); vs. NJ (March 7); @ NYI (March 9)
Norris Trophy voters tend to skew toward defensemen with big point production. So while Charlie McAvoy‘s all-around game has been fantastic, the fact he’s averaging a career-high 0.79 points per game (up from 0.48 last season) portends well for potential hardware.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: .714
This week: @ NSH (March 4, 6); @ CAR (March 7); @ CBJ (March 9)
Newcomers Anthony Duclair, Patric Hornqvist, Alex Wennberg and Carter Verhaeghe have combined for 52 points. But the legacy Panthers have made major contributions as well, including high-end play from veterans Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: .658
This week: @ PIT (March 4, 6); vs. WSH (March 7); vs. BUF (March 9)
The vintage Ghost Bear is back! That’s the trend for the Flyers, who have seen much better play from Shayne Gostisbehere. He’s thriving through tough assignments on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov, and the offensive production (which we expect of him) is starting to follow. (We’ll admit Tuesday’s loss to the Penguins was a rough one for this pairing.)
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: .658
This week: @ VGS (March 3); @ ARI (March 5, 6); vs. VGS (March 8)
The Wild outscored opponents 27-10 during a recent six-game winning streak, but the best trend lately is the even contribution throughout the lineup. Six players scored three goals during the streak, and even the fourth line of Nico Sturm, Nick Bonino and Nick Bjugstad was producing.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: .705
This week: vs. DET (March 4); vs. FLA (March 7); vs. NSH (March 9)
When we talk about the Canes, we often gush about their dynamic youngsters. But in his age-32 season, Jordan Staal has been surprisingly productive, tracking for the best points-per-game and goals-per-game rate of his 15-year career.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: .605
This week: @ SJ (March 3); vs. ANA (March 5, 6); vs. ARI (March 8)
Thanks to some blueliner injuries, Samuel Girard and Devon Toews both played 25 minutes against the Wild last week. Their increased role is a trend coach Jared Bednar sees continuing. “I think it’s going to go up,” Bednar said Monday.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: .667
This week: @ BOS (March 3, 5); @ PHI (March 7); vs. NJ (March 9)
A positive turnaround trend for the Caps here. They began the season 0-3-2 in matinee games. After taking three straight afternoon games from New Jersey, an early start time is no longer a liability. (Next matinee: March 28 vs. the Rangers).
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: .659
This week: @ MTL (March 4, 6); @ TOR (March 9)
If the Jets are losing late, do not count them out. Winnipeg has trailed following the second period in eight games this season, but they’ve won four of them; that’s tied with the Pens for the league lead in such comebacks.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: .636
This week: vs. BUF (March 4, 6, 7); vs. BOS (March 9)
The Isles had 22 overtime or shootout wins during the past two seasons. This season, the magic just isn’t there. New York is 0-3 in overtime in 2021, and 0-1 in the shootout. All of those losses came to Pennsylvania-based teams.
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: .609
This week: vs. TB (March 4, 5, 7); @ DAL (March 9)
In his age-32 season, Patrick Kane is tracking for his best points-per-game rate (1.48) of his career, and he just scored goal No. 400; interestingly, he became the first player in NHL history to reach the milestone with an even 200 at home, 200 away.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: .583
This week: vs. TOR (March 3); vs. CGY (March 6); vs. OTT (March 8)
Maybe it’s a fluke, maybe it’s a positive trend. The Oilers have played four games with zero days rest. They have gone 4-0 in those second halves of the back-to-backs, averaging 5.75 goals in those games.
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: .595
This week: vs. PHI (March 4, 6); vs. NYR (March 7, 9)
The Penguins know that their deficiency on special teams is starting to become problematic. Pittsburgh is No. 24 in the league in both the penalty kill and power play. “It’s just not good enough,” coach Mike Sullivan said of the PK recently. “We’ve got to be better.”
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: .591
This week: @ ANA (March 3); @ LA (March 5, 6); @ SJ (March 8)
The Blues are used to getting offensive production from their blue line. They had a league-high 45 goals by defensemen last season, and it’s encouraging that despite bad injury luck, it’s still a trend. The Blues have 12 goals from defensemen so far.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: .550
This week: vs. ARI (March 3); vs. STL (March 5, 6); @ ANA (March 8)
The most encouraging trend for the Kings (along with their recent six-game winning streak) is the way they have blended in young faces with veterans. That said, the resurgence of Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar has been a pleasure to watch.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: .500
This week: @ LA (March 3); vs. MIN (March 5, 6); @ COL (March 8)
The Yotes have had a penchant for falling into 3-0 holes lately. Sometimes they are able to get out of it — see: two thrilling comeback wins over the Ducks — but it’s not a great habit.
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: .471
This week: vs. CBJ (March 4, 6); vs. NSH (March 7); vs. CHI (March 9)
The most troubling trend for the Stars is that while they’ve had a slow start, their schedule going forward is quite unforgiving. Dallas is in the middle of a 70-day stretch featuring 40 games, with no more two-day breaks.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: .478
This week: vs. OTT (March 4); @ EDM (March 6); vs. OTT (March 7)
Calgary just can’t find consistency. The Flames have strung together more than a two-game winning streak just once this season. And their six losses in the past two weeks have been by a combined score of 25-6. Not great.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: .595
This week: vs. WPG (March 4, 6); @ VAN (March 8)
The Habs have crashed hard since their hot start, costing Claude Julien his job. It’s concerning that Carey Price isn’t in top form. The goaltender has a .893 save percentage this season, picking up only two wins in his past seven starts.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: .455
This week: vs. FLA (March 4, 6); @ DAL (March 7); @ CAR (March 9)
GM David Poile promised a youth movement, but it never came. As the Predators struggle in their current iteration, several highly paid veterans — Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen are the most attractive — could be traded as soon as this season.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: .444
This week: vs. NYR (March 4, 6); @ BOS (March 7); @ WSH (March 9)
The sophomore breakout of Jack Hughes has been fun to watch, but equally encouraging is the emergence of Pavel Zacha. The No. 6 pick of the 2015 draft finally looks worthy of that pedigree, leading the club in points (14), and second on the team in goals (6).
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: .475
This week: @ NJ (March 4, 6); @ PIT (March 7, 9)
The first two months of the Rangers’ season had more “wild, unorthodox things happening” than Chris Kreider said he has “experienced over the last decade or so.” Unfortunately for the Rangers, it also had them posting a .200 win percentage in one-goal games, the lowest mark in the league.
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: .479
This week: @ DAL (March 4, 6); vs. FLA (March 9)
The Blue Jackets have scored first in 16 of their first 23 games this season, which represents the most in the league. However a .375 points percentage in those games (6-6-4) is second worst in the NHL.
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: .474
This week: vs. COL (March 3); vs. VGS (March 5, 6); vs. STL (March 8)
Some offensive futility in San Jose is becoming troublesome. Patrick Marleau has not registered a shot on goal in eight-plus minutes of power-play time. Erik Karlsson has just one goal on 32 shots on net this season. And the Sharks have allowed four or more goals in half of their games.
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: .385
This week: vs. TOR (March 4, 6); vs. MTL (March 8)
It has become a punchline that the North Division abhors playing defense, and the Canucks — allowing 3.46 goals per game, third most in the league — are certainly part of that trend. Vancouver has played better of late, but it’s still not getting results.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: .375
This week: @ NYI (March 4, 6, 7); @ PHI (March 9)
The Sabres aren’t getting enough out of their highest paid wingers. There’s a lot of pressure on $9 million-per-year Jeff Skinner, who was benched for three consecutive games last week. Now folks are asking whether he has a future in Buffalo or if this is headed toward an ugly divorce.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: .386
This week: vs. STL (March 3); @ COL (March 5, 6); vs. LA (March 8)
The Ducks could be an interesting team at the trade deadline. They’re looking for some firepower, as they are the only team averaging under two goals per game. But they could also be big dealers, given where they are on the contention timeline.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: .340
This week: @ CAR (March 4); vs. TB (March 9)
The Red Wings’ power play has been extremely concerning, having gone nearly a month without a power-play goal (going 0-for-40 in that span) before breaking the streak last week. It’s clicking at under a 10% rate for the season; the Senators had the NHL’s worst unit in 2019-20, at 14.2%.
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: .340
This week: @ CGY (March 4, 7); @ EDM (March 8)
Ottawa might have the worst goal differential in the league, but they do have exciting young players to build around. One forward trending up is 22-year-old Drake Batherson, who has eight goals in his past eight games.