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NHL Power Rankings: James Neal has expansion Vegas feeling golden early

The veteran came out of the infirmary to score a pair of game-winners for the surprising Golden Knights

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

We're not yet a week into the National Hockey League season. so it's an exceedingly small sample. But that won't deter us from plunging into the second edition of Burnside's weekly power rankings. That means some shame for teams that came into the season with high expectations, like the Dallas Stars, New York Rangers and last year's Stanley Cup finalists the Nashville Predators, and kudos to the NHL's newest team from Las Vegas.

So, without further ado, the Terrific 10 and the Frigid Five (with last week's ranking in parenthesis where applicable).

1. Chicago Blackhawks (8): Two emphatic wins at home for the Blackhawks, including a 10-1 drubbing of two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. Loss of Nick Schmaltz, who left early in Saturday's 5-1 win over Columbus, would be problematic.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (31): Take a picture of this, Vegas fans. After an emotional week in Las Vegas, the expansion Golden Knights have showed terrific character coming from behind for two one-goal wins on the road to start their existence. James Neal comes out of the infirmary to lead the charge offensively with three goals, including two game-winners.

3. Washington Capitals (4): We weren't prepared to write off the Caps in spite of recent playoff disappointments, and Alexander Ovechkin has shown he's not quite done yet either with seven goals in two games. How about seven assists for linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov?

4. St. Louis Blues (-): A rash of injuries to key personnel has not blunted the Blues' start to the season as they're 2-0, including a nice overtime win over Pittsburgh on the road to start the season. Jake Allen was excellent in Saturday's 4-2 win over Dallas.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (10): Leafs are lighting it up with 15 goals in two victories over Winnipeg and the New York Rangers. Interesting addition of netminder Calvin Pickard from Vegas means future moves in the offing for the franchise.

6. Los Angeles Kings (-): The Kings are another team that many of us were dismissive of heading into the season, but new head coach John Stevens is off to a 2-0 start, thanks in large part to Jonathan Quick reverting to form with two wins, including a shutout. Nice start for Anze Kopitar, too, after a terrible 2016-17 season.

7. Detroit Red Wings (27): The Wings opened their new arena -- Little Caesars Arena -- to rave reviews, and a team many thought too old and not well-constructed, is off to a 2-0 start. Jimmy Howard solid to start in goal with both wins and just three goals allowed.

8. Philadelphia Flyers (-): The Flyers took a step back last season and are in tough to make the playoffs in the highly-competitive Metropolitan Division, but Wayne Simmonds is hot and the Flyers have gone 2-1 on a tough western road trip to start the season.

9. Vancouver Canucks (28): Tip of the cap to Travis Green, who got a win in his first game as head coach against Stanley Cup favorite Edmonton and Connor McDavid.

10. New Jersey Devils (30): Rookie defenseman Will Butcher, who eschewed the Colorado Avalanche in favor of the Devils, collected three assists in the Devils' season-opening win over the Avs as the Devils saw their strong preseason play carry into the regular campaign.

 

Frigid Five

27. Montreal Canadiens (-): Observers wondered just how the Montreal Canadiens were going to generate offense, and with good reason, as the Habs (1-2-0) have managed just four goals in three games (plus a credit of one for their shootout win over Buffalo). Won't matter if you have three Carey Prices if you can't score.

28. Dallas Stars (-): Kari Lehtonen has taken both losses for the 0-2 Stars and the offense is sputtering with one even-strength goal. The Stars looked to have a favorable schedule in the early part of the season, but that hasn't panned out yet.

29. Nashville Predators (2): Last year's Stanley Cup finalists from Nashville have failed to achieve liftoff in their two season-opening losses, scoring just three times while giving up eight. The Preds struggled early last season, too, and things worked out fine enough last spring.

30. San Jose Sharks (-): A Sharks team that looks to be a bubble-playoff team with the emergence of Edmonton and Calgary in the Pacific Division is already trending downwards with two straight losses. Come home, Patrick Marleau -- all is forgiven.

31. Winnipeg Jets (-): So much is riding on the play of Steve Mason in goal for the playoff-hungry Jets, and so far, the returns are iffy at best with the 0-2-0 Mason allowing 11 goals in two blowout losses. The temperature is going to get awfully warm in Winnipeg if this keeps up.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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