Too early for struggling teams to panic?

The Kings are winless, but have enough returning talent from their Cup run to settle things down. (JulieAndSteve/Wikimedia Commons)

The Kings are winless, but have enough returning talent from their Cup run to settle things down. (JulieAndSteve/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

Though it is still early in the season, the fact some teams remain without a win could be a cause for concern for some. Washington, Carolina and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference and Calgary and Los Angeles in the Western Conference have not started out the way they would have hoped, which may spell trouble since each game counts twice as much as in a full season.

Is it time to panic just yet? Not quite, at least not in most cases.

Doubling the games played, we are what would be six games into a full-length 82 games season. The two worst starts after six games last season was Ottawa (1-5-0) and Columbus (0-5-1) and the Senators managed to right the ship and secure the eighth seed in the East while the Jackets were, well, the Jackets.

As Jason Kay, Editor in Chief of The Hockey News, points out on Twitter, the New Jersey Devils started off the 1995 season 0-3-1 and went on to win the Stanley Cup. After a 2-2 tie against the Hartford Whalers to open the season, the Devils wouldn’t make it back to .500 until the twelfth game of the season and wouldn’t go above that mark until the end of March after their 33rd game of the season. It was a 10-5-2 stretch at the end of the season that secured the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Kings returned this season with largely the same roster as the one that won the Stanley Cup last year and although injuries to key defensemen Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene will be tough to overcome, this team went through enough last season to be able to pull themselves together. The Canucks, who LA defeated in the first round of the playoffs last Spring, also got off the a really rocky start with a 7-3 loss to Anaheim on opening night, are trending in the right direction after a shootout loss followed by a shootout win against Calgary in which young stars Zack Kassian and Cory Schneider played very well.

The Red Wings’ 6-0 loss to the Blues opening night is a cause for concern, but completely expected for a team that is in the first year of a transition phase after losing two long-time players in Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom to retirement. It appears an up-and-down season is in the cards in Motown, but with plenty of experience and veteran know-how remaining, including new captain Henrik Zetterberg, ultra-talented Pavel Datsyuk and the rock-solid Niklas Kronwall, it should be enough for the Wings to make the playoffs.

Ilya Bryzgalov takes a lot of heat, but is far from the only reason for the Flyers' poor start. (Pens Through My Lens/Wikimedia Commons)

Ilya Bryzgalov takes a lot of heat, but is far from the only reason for the Flyers’ poor start. (Pens Through My Lens/Wikimedia Commons)

The team that has the most to worry about right now is Philadelphia who are playing completely uninspired hockey to start the season. They’re 0-3 as their high-octane offense has managed only three goals and their defense and goaltending is as suspect as ever. They continue to get off to bad starts and while they may have had a lot of success when falling behing early last year (20-22-4 when trailing first in the regular season, second best record in the NHL, 4-0 in the playoffs), they cannot continue to rely on comebacks this season. In their final 30 games of the regular season last year, they surrendered the first goal of the game 21 times, netting the first marker just seven times (two games went scoreless into a shootout). That first goal against came an average of 8:58 into the game and this season the average time is even lower at 5:38. If that pattern keeps up, they will struggle.

It’s not Bryzgalov’s fault this year either who has played pretty well after becoming a distraction last year as James O’Brien points out on Rotoworld.com:

It’s a natural reflex to blame the goalie when things go wrong with this franchise, so how well do the scapegoat horns fit Ilya Bryzgalov? Here are his stats so far:

  • Against Penguins (Jan. 19): two goals allowed on 26 shots (.923 save percentage)
  • Against Sabres (Jan. 20): four goals allowed on 40 shots (.909 save percentage)
  • Against Devils (Jan. 22): three goals allowed on 26 shots (.902 save percentage)
  • Total: 3.04 GAA with a .902 save percentage and an 0-3-0 record

Looking at those numbers, only last night’s game is especially disconcerting. Bryzgalov’s overall stats aren’t particularly pretty, yet that’s not a shocker when you’re 0-fer early in the season.

The bigger concern is if the media will start to turn on Breezy – or if he even turns on himself. He’s known as a sensitive, tiger-respecting and bear-fearing soul who might not be ideally equipped for a harsh market.

They need to upgrade on defense as potentially exchanging Bryzgalov for Roberto Luongo won’t have much of a positive impact with the top six blueliners on the team. And if they can’t fix their defense any time soon, their offense needs to wake up. As talented as he is, Claude Giroux can’t provide enough goals himself, especially without linemate Scott Hartnell to make room for him out there for a while. GM Paul Holmgren has shown he is not afraid to make bold moves and there is the potential we could see one if this team doesn’t improve in a hurry.

There’s no need to blow anything up quite just yet as past teams have shown a slow start isn’t the end of the world. But if things don’t begin to look better soon, a few of the league’s top-tier teams could be in danger of being on the outside of the playoff picture come May.

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Comments

  1. With the short season its messed up everyone including fans because most of these games matter now you start to lose you get scared so its funny to see how everyone is blowing out of proportion each game especially in Canada

    http://nickolaisblog.wordpress.com/

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