Approaching the end of the NHL’s opening month and with Halloween almost upon us, here’s a look at several teams off to horrifying starts to this season.
Buffalo Sabres (13 GP, 5 points). Though it’s only late-October, this season is rapidly turning hellish for the Sabres. Everyone – from owner Terry Pegula to GM Darcy Regier to coach Ron Rolston to the players – is being excoriated by the media and blogosphere. The Sabres entered this weekend as the NHL’s lowest-scoring (1.42 goals-per-game) team with the third-worst power-play. Cheapshot artist Patrick Kaleta was recently suspended ten games for a blindside head shot on Columbus’ Jack Johnson, while hulking enforcer John Scott awaits a lengthy suspension for knocking Boston’s Loui Eriksson senseless. Stars Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are free agents next summer and the frequent subject of trade rumors, while once-promising defenseman Tyler Myers is a shadow of what he was when he won the Calder Trophy in 2010. The front office expected this rebuilding season to be a tough one, but they clearly didn’t expect such a horrific start.
Philadelphia Flyers (10 GP, 6 points). The Flyers entered this season believing last season’s lockout-shortened schedule was to blame for their failure to make the 2013 playoffs. Turns out that’s not the case. Replacing Peter Laviolette as head coach following an 0-3 start with Craig Berube sparked some improvement (3-4) but problems remain, notably their sputtering offense, which was the NHL’s second-worst. Injuries to key forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Scott Hartnell were a factor, while Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read and Sean Couturier struggled to find the back of the net. The sole bright spot is in goal, where Steve Mason was tenth in the league in save percentage (.930) and 11th in GAA (2.17). It’s like a cruel joke for Flyers fans. When their team is scoring their goaltending struggles, and when they struggle to score the goaltending is outstanding.
New York Rangers (9 GP, 6 points). Hiring Alain Vigneault as head coach was supposed to breathe fresh life into a Rangers lineup weary of former coach John Tortorella’s demanding defensive system. Instead, the Rangers entered this weekend with the third-worst goals-per-game (1.50) and a league-worst goals-against (4.14). Injuries to goalie Henrik Lundqvist and forwards Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin were significant factors, but there’s no excuse for a blueline which boasts Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto performing as poorly as it has this October. The only good thing that can be said about Vigneault’s system so far is Brad Richards has responded well, leading the Rangers in scoring with eight points.
Edmonton Oilers (12 GP, 7 points). The Oilers entered this season claiming they weren’t rebuilding anymore, intending to challenge for a postseason spot. Less than a month into this season, however, they look anything like a playoff contender. Starting goalie Devan Dubnyk and sophomore winger Nail Yakupov have struggled, injuries sidelined Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall, while their special teams are among the league’s worst. The Oilers must string some wins together soon or risk digging themselves an early-season hole too deep to climb out of by mid-season. If Dubnyk fails to improve and their defensive struggles persist, the Oilers could find their playoff hopes dashed by December.
Florida Panthers (11 GP, 7 points). Barely three weeks into this season and trade rumors surfaced claiming the Panthers were willing to shop some veterans. Their new ownership is apparently willing to spend to make the Panthers competitive, but wants to rid itself of the bad contracts they inherited. Good luck moving them at this point in the season. Though the Panthers possess some promising youth in 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2013 first round pick Aleksander Barkov, they entered this weekend 26th in goals-scored, 27th in goals-against and power-play percentage, and 21st on the penalty kill. It’s premature to make a significant overhaul at this point in the season, but if they fail to improve through November, a second-half fire sale of their veterans isn’t out of the question.
New Jersey Devils (11 GP, 8 points). Bad news, Devils fans, your club’s march to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final was a fluke after all. Having missed the playoffs last season, the Devils problems were compounded during the summer when Ilya Kovalchuk bolted for the KHL, leaving GM Lou Lamoriello scrambling to fill the void with ageing scorers like Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder. The knock on the Devils so far is their reliance on players well past their prime at the expense of youth. It’s a good thing they acquired goaltender Cory Schneider last summer from Vancouver, or they’d be in deeper trouble, as the great Martin Brodeur is no longer the superstar he once was. Lamoriello treats “rebuilding” as a dirty word, but he won’t have much choice if his Devils haven’t significantly improved in a month’s time.
Dallas Stars (10 GP, 9 points). The good news for the Stars is Tyler Seguin, acquired from the Boston Bruins last summer, has clicked with winger Jamie Benn. The bad news is the Stars scoring drops off significantly beyond that line, leaving them 20th overall in goals-per-game and power-play percentage. Puck-moving defenseman Alex Goligoski is off to a horrible start, failing to record a point in eight games and becoming a healthy scratch in their recent game against Calgary. The truly scary part, however, is their goaltending, as the Stars were 1-4 when starter Kari Lehtonen was sidelined with a lower-body injury. Given Lehtonen’s lengthy injury history, the Stars could be building their playoff hopes upon a weak foundation.