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Sport: NHL Power Rankings: Panthers score their way to No. 1; drama heating up in Pacific Division

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers NFL Week 18 Odds, Plays and Insights

  Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers NFL Week 18 Odds, Plays and Insights Check out odds, plays and more for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers NFL Week 18 matchup on January 9, 2022. © Provided by Sports Illustrated Dec 26, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) after the throw during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports The Carolina Panthers (5-11) will carry a six-game losing run into a Week 18 battle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4).

With the top four teams seemingly set in three of the NHL's four divisions, the only division with the potential to provide some craziness is the Pacific. As many as six teams could be fighting for four postseason spots -- and a couple of teams that entered the season with high expectations could be disappointed.

  NHL Power Rankings: Panthers score their way to No. 1; drama heating up in Pacific Division © Provided by CBS Sports

According to MoneyPuck.com, the Golden Knights, Flames, Oilers, Kings, Sharks and Ducks all have at least a 25% chance to make the playoffs. Let's assume Vegas runs away with the division crown, which seems likely, and the race below that gets really fascinating.

The Kings and Ducks have both looked ahead of schedule at times this year, while the Sharks have played above expectations so as well. Two teams that seemed like playoff locks before the season, the Flames and Oilers, are in the midst of brutal slumps. If Calgary and Edmonton don't get it together, several playoff spots will be up for grabs in that division.

Japan and Australia's new defense pact sends a 'strong message' to China, says analyst

  Japan and Australia's new defense pact sends a 'strong message' to China, says analyst The prime ministers of Japan and Australia met virtually on Thursday, and signed a reciprocal access agreement between the two countries. As a result, Japanese and Australian defense forces would be able to deploy from each other's bases and establish common practices, protocols, and processes that can foster a much closer defense relationship, according to Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

With the Pacific Division providing some intrigue, let's look around the league and get to the updated NHL Power Rankings:

Biggest Movers
6 Bruins
5 Hurricanes
Rk
Teams
Chg
Rcrd
1 Panthers Since Dec. 29, the Panthers are averaging six goals per game, and they have scored nine goals twice in that stretch. Some shooting luck has certainly contributed to that, but the Panthers are simply outplaying opposing teams. Their 55.91% expected goals share at five-on-five is evidence of that. 1 26-7-5
2 Avalanche Colorado currently sits in first place in the Central Division, despite having played four fewer games than the Predators. The scary thing about this Avs team is that the goaltending has been below average to average so far. If Darcy Kuemper can settle in, Colorado will be almost impossible to beat. 1 25-8-3
3 Lightning Who leads the Lightning in individual expected goals at five-on-five? It's not Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli or Ondrej Palat. Instead, 36-year-old Corey Perry is tops in that department, and he has been great at creating chances for the Bolts. 3 26-9-5
4 Penguins Evgeni Malkin made his triumphant return to the Penguins' lineup on Tuesday night, and all he did was notch a pair of goals and an assist. Pittsburgh has been brilliant without Malkin, so if he is back at full health, the team could make a run at the top spot in the Metro Division. 1 23-10-5
5 Maple Leafs Auston Matthews has five goals in his last four games, which brings him to 25 on the season. He is now just one goal behind Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisitl for the league lead, and Matthews still maintains his NHL lead in expected goals created at five-on-five (10.78). 1 24-9-3
6 Bruins The Bruins are 8-1-0 in their last nine games, and they have been utterly dominant over that run. Their 60.78% expected goals share at five-on-five since Jan. 1 leads the league. With Tuukka Rask returning to the lineup, Boston is going to be a problem for the East throughout the rest of the season. 6 22-11-2
7 Rangers This Rangers team is built around a few cornerstone pieces, and Adam Fox might be the most important. In the 694 minutes Fox has been on the ice at five-on-five, the Rangers have scored 32 goals and allowed 23. In the 1,200 minutes without Fox, that goal differential craters to -11. 2 25-10-4
8 Hurricanes The Hurricanes laid a massive egg in a 6-0 loss to the Blue Jackets, but they bounced back nicely in a 4-2 win over the Canucks. Carolina will have a chance to make a statement on Tuesday night when it heads to Boston for a showdown between two of the best teams in the conference. 5 25-8-2
9 Blues After getting off to a hot start, Jordan Binnington has been somewhat disappointing. Since Nov. 11, he has started 13 games and allowed three or more goals in 10 of those starts. The Blues have been able to overcome those struggles, but can they keep that up? 1 23-11-5
10 Golden Knights The Golden Knights are 1-2-2 since Jan. 1, but they have been getting rather unlucky. Vegas has out-chanced every opponent in that stretch, but it hasn't quite gotten the wins to go with those strong efforts. -- 23-15-2
11 Predators It was a weird week for the Predators. A thrilling win over the Avalanche and an overtime loss to the Bruins aren't reasons to drop a team in the rankings, but giving the Sabres their first win since Dec. 16 is. 4 24-13-3
12 Wild The wins have been spaced out quite a bit, but the Wild have now won three games in a row, and it looks like they're starting to get back on track. Speaking of getting back on track, Kevin Fiala now has six points in his last five games. After a slow start, Fiala was rumored to be on the trade block, but would that change if he finds his game? 1 22-10-3
13 Kings The Kings are doing their part to make things interesting in the Pacific Division. Since the NHL resumed play on Dec. 28, Los Angeles has controlled 60.15% of the expected goals at five-on-five. New pieces like Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, and Alex Edler have had a big hand in that success. 1 20-14-5
14 Capitals Washington is now 1-3-2 since the calendar flipped to 2022, and the team has been playing middling hockey over that time. Alex Ovechkin has cooled off somewhat since his torrid start to the season, but he has notched goals in back-to-back games. 1 21-9-9
15 Jets The Jets have only played four games since Dec. 20, but they have fared pretty well in those contests. Winnipeg will really have the chance to prove itself this week with road games against the Capitals, Predators, Bruins, and Penguins. 2 17-12-5
16 Ducks The Ducks have lost three in a row and eight of their last 10, and it looks like they may be coming back down to Earth after a surprising start. Anaheim is tied for the second most goals allowed since Jan. 1 (26), and a defensive corps that had some questions coming into the season has begun to leak of late. 1 19-15-7
17 Stars Dallas is about to have to make a decision on its season. The Stars are just four points out of a playoff spot, but they also have to jump four other teams to get there. That's possible, but the team may also look to sell off some veterans who could return value in a trade. Sportsnet's Jeff Marek has already reported that Dallas is actively shopping defenseman John Klingberg. 1 18-15-2
18 Canucks The Bruce Boudreau Canucks got their first major test last week, and it did not go very well. In a gauntlet that featured games against the Panthers, Lightning, Hurricanes, and Capitals, Vancouver went 1-3-0. 1 17-18-3
19 Flames The Flames' skid continued with a loss to the Senators last week. Calgary hasn't had enough games to play its way out of this slump, and a brutal stretch won't get any easier with a game against the Panthers on Tuesday night. 1 17-11-6
20 Islanders If there is any good news for the Islanders these days, it's that Mathew Barzal has warmed up after a disastrous start to the season. He has 14 points in his last 10 games, and the team has controlled 58.77% of the expected goals with him on the ice over that span. -- 12-13-6
21 Sharks The Sharks still have some work to do, but they have put themselves in position to battle for a playoff spot in the second half of the season. That has a lot to do with Time Meier, who is second in the NHL in expected goals created at five-on-five with 10.7. -- 21-17-2
22 Blackhawks Chicago has won four straight games, and Marc-Andre Fleury has been stellar in goal for those victories. It's too late for Chicago to make the playoffs, but Fleury could still increase his trade value if the team wanted to shop him before the deadline. 4 15-18-6
23 Senators The Senators are in the midst of a mini run right now, having won two games in a row and six of their last 10. More importantly, young players like Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk have flashed with both of them scoring eight goals over the team's last 12 games. 2 11-18-2
24 Red Wings The Red Wings have surrendered more high-danger chances at five-on-five than any other team this season, and it is coming back to bite them now. Detroit is 3-5-2 in its last 10 games, and the gap between the team and a playoff spot is gargantuan. 4 18-17-5
25 Oilers Just when you think things can't get any worse for the Oilers, they lose to the Senators. Edmonton still can't buy a save, and none of the team's goaltenders are above sea level when it comes to goals saved above average this season. 2 18-15-2
26 Blue Jackets Even with a 6-0 win over the Hurricanes, Columbus' goal differential got worse this week after a 9-2 beatdown at the hands of the Panthers. If it's any consolation, the Blue Jackets didn't let them hit double digits. 2 17-18-1
27 Flyers The Flyers' losing streak is now seven, and they have yet to win a game in 2022. Their defense has been a mess all season, but especially lately. Ryan Ellis hasn't been healthy, Rasmus Ristolainen has taken a step back after a surprising start, and Ivan Provorov hasn't been able to dig out of an early hole. 5 13-18-7
28 Coyotes The Coyotes were feisty this week. They beat the Maple Leafs and took the Avalanche to a shootout. Goaltender Karel Vejmelka gets a special shoutout for saving a whopping 4.89 goals above expected in that win over Toronto. 2 9-24-4
29 Devils New Jersey's underlying numbers have actually been decent this season, but the goaltending has really let the team down. If the Devils were getting average goaltending, the Eastern Conference playoff race might not be so boring. -- 14-18-5
30 Kraken The Kraken have now lost six straight games, and nothing is working for them these days. Not only is the goaltending still at the bottom of the league, but the offense has fallen off a cliff too. It's hard to win when you can't score or stop other teams from scoring. 3 11-23-4
31 Sabres Buffalo was on the wrong end of one of the most lopsided games of the season when the Lightning beat them 6-1. In that loss, the Sabres mustered just 0.55 expected goals at five-on-five while allowing 2.30 expected goals in those situations. To Buffalo's credit the team came back strong with a win against the Predators just two days later. -- 11-20-7
32 Canadiens Montreal has collected just one win and five points since Dec. 1, which is dead last in the NHL. The good people of Quebec have already started digging into film on Shane Wright and the other top prospects in the 2022 draft. -- 7-25-5

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