Are the Florida Panthers the Best Team in Hockey?

NHL Feb 22, 2022

NHL Power Rankings: Panthers reclaim top stop amid tough battle in Atlantic Division

The Florida Panthers are back on top....for now

As has been noted more than once in the CBS Sports Power Rankings, the Eastern Conference playoff race has been over. That said, the battle for seeding atop the Atlantic Division will be key.

Three teams from the Atlantic -- the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning -- are in the top six of this week's rankings.

Based on the NHL's playoff format, one of those teams is going home in the first round, barring a major surge from the Boston Bruins. The Panthers will be tough to catch for the No. 1 seed in that division, but avoiding the No. 2 or No. 3 seed should be plenty of motivation for the Lightning and Maple Leafs to make a run at it.

As things stand currently, Tampa is five points behind Florida with one game in hand, while Toronto is seven points behind with two games in hand. The Lightning have just one head-to-head matchup left with the Panthers, but the Maple Leafs will get three more cracks at them before the regular season ends.

Here's this week's rankings, according to CBS Sports:

1

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PANTHERS  Whenever Florida gets bumped out of this top spot, it doesn't stay down for long. The Panthers stole the spotlight last week with road wins over the Hurricanes, Wild and Blackhawks. Aaron Ekblad played hero with an overtime goal in Carolina as he keeps building on his career year.135-10-52

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AVALANCHE  The Avs suffered their first regulation loss in what felt like years against the Stars, but they immediately rattled off two straight wins. One of those came against the Golden Knights in Jack Eichel's debut. The Avalanche just seem like they are a tier or two above every team in the Western Conference.136-10-43

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FLAMES  The Flames simply cannot miss right now. They have won nine straight games, and new addition Tyler Toffoli scored in his Calgary debut. Not only is this team getting elite results, but the process is head and shoulders above any other team in the NHL too. Since Jan. 1, Calgary owns a dominant expected goals share of 59.17% at five-on-five.630-13-64

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RANGERS  It has been about two weeks since I mentioned Igor Shesterkin, so that means I'm overdue. In his last five starts, Shesterkin has saved 8.18 goals above expected. What's more encouraging than that is the fact that the Rangers are playing better in front of him than they were earlier in the season.132-13-55

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MAPLE LEAFS  Auston Matthews just had a nine-game point streak snapped, and throughout that run he notched eight goals and 18 points. Matthews is making a serious Hart Trophy case. His 13.89 expected goals at five-on-five are second in the league and ahead of Connor McDavid, despite playing four fewer games.132-14-36

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LIGHTNING  After hanging six goals on the Devils, the Lightning are in the middle of a week off as they get some rest before the schedule picks up next month. In the first 13 days of March, the Bolts have to play eight games.132-11-67

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WILD  Since being called up in early January, rookie Matt Boldy has been a tremendously effective player for an already stacked Wild lineup. Boldy has 14 points in 15 games played, and Minnesota controls 55.51% of the expected goals with him on the ice at five-on-five.431-13-38

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HURRICANES  Carolina rebounded nicely after its 1-2-1 stretch to start the month of February. The Hurricanes did blow a late lead in an overtime loss to the Panthers, but they can be forgiven for that. The Canes closed the week with wins over the Predators and Penguins to get back on track.--35-11-49

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PENGUINS  Sidney Crosby became the 46th member of the 500-goal club last week, and it was rather unsurprising that the historic tally came against the Flyers. Throughout his career, Crosby has dominated the Flyers with 50 goals and 119 points in 79 games against them.531-13-810

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BLUES  The Blues' acquisition of Pavel Buchnevich looks better and better with each passing day. He is now tied for the team lead in points with 45, and St. Louis controls 52.25% of the expected goals when Buchnevich is on the ice at five-on-five.129-14-611

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BRUINS  This may not come as much of a shock, but the Bruins' offense has gone cold with Brad Marchand out of the lineup. Boston is averaging 1.4 goals per game over the last five games. Luckily for them, Marchand will be returning from his suspension in a couple of games. Still, this stretch illustrates some of the issues the Bruins have had with depth scoring.129-17-412

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GOLDEN KNIGHTS  Jack Eichel made his Vegas debut last week, and he scored in the team's win over the Sharks, but injuries continue to plague the club. Mark Stone was recently placed on long-term IR, so the Golden Knights have yet to play any meaningful stretch of games at full strength. The Flames have already passed Vegas in the Pacific, and the Oilers and Kings aren't far behind.229-18-413

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STARS  The Stars have surged back into playoff position, and they may continue to ride Jake Oettinger in net for the time being. In Dallas' big win over the Avalanche, Oettinger allowed just one goal on 4.53 expected goals against.127-20-214

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CAPITALS  Peter Laviolette had a big week against two of his former teams. First, he got his 700th NHL win in his first game in Nashville since the Predators. Then, the Capitals had a furious comeback in the closing moments to beat the Flyers. Laviolette probably got some satisfaction out of those wins, but more importantly, the Capitals got four key points in the standings.328-15-915

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KINGS  Everything is starting to come together for the Kings at the right time. Since Jan. 1, Los Angeles has posted a record of 11-5-2 with an expected goals share of 57.06% at five-on-five, which is second in the league behind only the Flames. It seems like the Kings are here to stay.--26-17-716

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OILERS  The Oilers are 5-1-0 since Jay Woodcroft took over, and they are averaging four goals per game. Woodcroft could have the magic touch, or the Oilers' 30th ranked shooting percentage from Jan. 1 through Feb. 10 is finally starting to regress to a normal level.428-19-317

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PREDATORS  The Predators have now lost four straight games, and their play at five-on-five has really started to slide. From the start of the season through Dec. 31, the Preds were 10th in the NHL in five-on-five expected goals share (52.41%). Since Jan. 1, Nashville ranks 17th in that category (48.92%), and the record reflects it. The team's defense is still relatively strong, but the offense has fallen off a cliff.428-18-418

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JETS  Winnipeg got a pair of huge back-to-back wins against the Wild and the Kraken, but those were also sandwiched in between devastating losses to the Blackhawks and Oilers. Between a poor team shooting percentage and a leaky defense, the Jets are having a hard time climbing back into the playoff race.222-20-819

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CANUCKS  Is Elias Pettersson finally starting to get going? He has eight points in his last five games, and that is a sight for sore eyes in Vancouver. Pettersson should be a foundational piece for the Canucks in the future, so they need him to break out of his funk this year.--24-22-620

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DUCKS  The Ducks ended a four-game losing streak with a win over the Canucks, but they are now in a very tenuous position as far as the playoffs go. Anaheim has been bumped from the second Wild Card spot by the Kings, and that sets up a major showdown between the California rivals on Friday night.224-19-921

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BLUE JACKETS  The Blue Jackets have scored seven goals in back-to-back games, but I want to talk about someone with just two goals on the year. Jakub Voracek has always been more of a distributor than a scorer, but he has just two goals on the year. His shooting percentage of 2.3% is a career low by a wide margin and is 6.6% below his career average. Even for someone with a pass-first mentality like Voracek, that is stunningly low.125-23-122

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RED WINGS  Since coming over from the Hurricanes in the offseason, Alex Nedeljkovic has taken a step back statistically. His goals against average is above 3.00, his save percentage is below .910, and he has saved -2.48 goals above average. Of course, that could very well be a product of playing behind a Detroit defense that gives up chances like it's going out of style.123-22-623

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SENATORS  Thomas Chabot recently hit IR, and the Senators have to hope that it's not a long-term issue. Outside of Chabot, the rest of the Ottawa blue line leaves a lot to be desired.218-26-524

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ISLANDERS  This last week was a tough one for the Islanders. Although they did get a win over the Bruins, the Isles also lost to the Sabres and the Canadiens. Now, we wait to see what the team does at the trade deadline after entering the season with some high expectations.118-20-725

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BLACKHAWKS  Lukas Reichel, the No. 17 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, was called up by the Blackhawks last week. He had a brief two-game stint earlier in the season, but it will be interesting to see whether he sticks this time. Considering where Chicago is in the standings, it's probably worth a shot to see how well Reichel's dominant AHL stats translate to the NHL level.218-26-826

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SHARKS  Brent Burns is having a brutal season at five-on-five. The Sharks are hemorrhaging chances with him on the ice. San Jose controls just 45.28% of the expected goals with Burns in the game, but to be fair, Mario Ferraro may not be an ideal partner for him on the blue line.222-22-527

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SABRES  Buffalo may have found some chemistry with at least one line combination. The line of Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson, and Jeff Skinner is controlling 51.78% of the expected goals at five-on-five, and they combined for six points in Thompson's hat trick effort against the Avalanche.416-27-828

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FLYERS  It takes some digging to find a positive story about the Flyers, but that is what Gerry Mayhew has been for them recently. Mayhew is 29-years-old and has spent most of his career at the AHL level, but he has five goals in 15 games since being called up in late December.215-25-1029

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DEVILS  Jack Hughes has now scored in three straight games, and he is averaging a point per game. The Devils raised some eyebrows when they signed Hughes to an eight-year deal worth a total of $64 million, but he is starting to look like a player worth that kind of investment.--17-28-530

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CANADIENS  The Canadiens have won two straight games for the first time all season. One more and that's a winning streak. Not only that, but goaltender Andrew Hammond started against the Islanders and got his first NHL win in almost four years. This is the best week that Habs fans have had all season.211-33-731

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COYOTES  In an effort to boost his own trade stock, Phil Kessel has tallied four points in his last three games. On the season, Kessel is third on the team in expected goals at five-on-five with 6.61. He will be a useful addition for any Stanley Cup contender.313-33-432

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KRAKEN  Seattle dropped all three of its games last week, and it's time for the team to make the most out of this season by acquiring as much draft capital as possible between now and the trade deadline.616-32-4