Compiling a short list of players considered early-season disappointments only a dozen games into a normal NHL schedule would be premature.It’s a different story, however, in a 48-game schedule. A slow or disappointing start in a shortened season takes on more meaning.
Here, in no particular order, are six players I believe have been early disappointments. Feel free to debate these choices or offer up your own in the comments section.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. As a team, the Capitals have played poorly, and certainly more is expected of team captain Alexander Ovechkin, but Holtby’s play has been the biggest letdown. Last spring’s playoff hero (14 games, 1.95 GAA, .935 SP) has been this season’s goat so far, entering this weekend with a league-worst 4.73 GAA and .857 SP. Holtby played well Saturday in a 5-0 shutout of the Florida Panthers, but overall he’s looked nothing like last spring’s confident youngster who seemingly resolved the Capitals need for a reliable starting goaltender.
Drew Doughty, LA Kings. Doughty has teased with flashes of greatness in his career. A finalist for the Norris Trophy in his sophomore season. A standout for Canada’s Olympic gold medal-winning Men’s hockey team. Leading all defensemen in points and plus-minus during the Kings run to the Stanley Cup last spring. It was expected this season Doughty would firmly establish himself as the league’s elite defenseman. Like the rest of the Kings, however, Doughty is off to a slow start. Granted, he’s had to carry more responsibility on the injury-depleted Kings blueline. It’s also taking time for him to return to game shape after the lengthy lockout. Still, Doughty has yet to be the dominant defenseman the Kings need him to be on a consistent basis.
Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres. Three years ago, Myers was NHL rookie of the year, and seemingly on the cusp of becoming one of the league’s top defensemen. Since then, however, he’s struggled to regain that promising form, slowed in part last season by a broken wrist . This season has been especially difficult for Myers, managing only one goal and tied for the league’s worst plus-minus at -9. On Saturday, he was a healthy scratch, which would’ve been unthinkable not too long ago. If the struggling Sabres hope to make the playoffs this year, there’ll need a lot more from Myers than what he’s given them so far.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s tough to get off to a slow start after a lengthy layoff, more so when playing under the spotlight in Leafs Nation. It’s not that Kessel has played poorly, but until recently he struggled to bury his scoring chances and slow to regain his 82-point form of last season. It’s just a matter of time until Kessel finds his touch, and his three-point effort in the Leafs 6-0 beatdown of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday suggests he’s rounding back into form. But in a hockey market desperate for a playoff contender, a slow start by Kessel is cause for concern.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes. Smith had a career year in 2011-12. His regular season stats (38-18-10, 2.21 GAA, .930 SP, 8 shutout) ranked among the league’s best, and his heroics between the pipes carried the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final. Naturally, expectations were high for Smith coming into this shortened season, but entering this weekend his play was inconsistent (2-3-1) and his stats (3.43 GAA, .863 SP) among the league’s worst. Smith has to do much better if the Coyotes are to make the playoffs this season. A shutout of the San Jose Sharks on Saturday is a step in the right direction, but it remains to be seen if his consistency has returned.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators. Weber has long been considered among the league’s two-way defensemen, but so far he’s off to an uncharacteristic slow start offensively, with only one assist in his first ten games. Predators coach Barry Trotz is quick to defend Weber’s performance, pointing out he’s playing well in other aspects of the game. Still, the low-scoring Predators rely on their captain’s offensive skills – especially on the power-play – as they do his defensive ones. They’ll need more offense from Weber as this season progresses.