Five struggling NHL teams are being fixed

The course of an 82-game NHL regular season Nothing ever runs perfectly. It happens more often for some teams than others.

October's optimism can quickly turn to a nervy November. Along with the losses, injuries mount up. Before they are fully formed, identities crack. Confidence is a precious commodity. We have barely reached the quarter mark in the season.

Though it's not likely that a team will be able to secure its playoff spot in a matter of weeks or less, it's possible for them to fall far enough out of the race and lose their place. Certain front-runners, including New Jersey, Boston, Vegas and New Jersey, need to feel confident in their early position. Some may have been eliminated.

The majority of teams are somewhere in the middle. However, a few have been particularly hard hit by adversity. We're analyzing some of the in-betweeners. This includes the problems that they've had to deal with and possible solutions that might help them turn the page to a better post-Thanksgiving.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Jump to
Sabres | Senators | Capitals
Flames | Canucks

Five struggling NHL teams are being fixedFive struggling NHL teams are being fixed

Buffalo's season started promisingly. The Sabres had a record of 7-3-0 on November 2, and were the NHL's fifth-best team. They also ranked second in Atlantic Division. Since then, they've been the NHL’s worst team. Two consecutive losses at Carolina and Tampa Bay set off a skid that Buffalo hasn't recovered from — an eight game losing streak during which the Sabres have been outscored 38-19, with seemingly no end.

Problems: From Don Granato, the coach, to the top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin Some theories have been put forward about the Sabres rapid decline. Granato, an increasingly impatient player who saw the early skid as a learning experience but credited it with a need to improve his skills, now cites a lack of urgency and identity in the group. Dahlin believes Buffalo lacks swagger. Killer instinct? They don't possess it. They don't have enough energy to get out of this funk.

These are the intangible concerns. Buffalo's performance on ice was not easy.

Only one Sabres game was played in the eight previous Sabres games. Jeff Skinner More than one five on five goal has been scored. Tage Thompson Without the even-strength offensive to match, has been an excellent power play producer. Since Nov. 3, Buffalo has averaged 4.75 goals against per match, and their penalty kill is tied with the worst in the league.

Eric ComrieHis play in net began to deteriorate (0-4-0 with a.865 save percentage, and 4.28 goals against average), until he was injured against Ottawa earlier this year, which forced Buffalo to recall him Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen For 40-year olds, it can be used as an addition Craig Anderson. Anderson is a veteran who has outplayed Comrie lately (.881SV% and 3.84 GAA), but Anderson's age means that he can't be rolled out every night. Despite the Sabres best efforts in offseason, goaltending continues to be a problem.

Buffalo is home to potential stars. Granato is still trying to figure out how to best use them. Dahlin was deservedly credited with early Norris Trophy buzz, which has faded along with the Sabres hopes of breaking an 11-year postseason drought. Dahlin is not to blame. He is Buffalo's most valuable player. He takes on a lot of responsibility and helps to mentor rookies. Owen Power When they are paired together. The Sabres require more of everything. This will be even more difficult than it is right now. Kyle Okposo Zemgus Girgensons You can also get hurt.

Solutions: The Sabres didn’t add much in the offseason. They were ready to face a young team of players that will be the foundation of great Buffalo teams in the future. This is the result of their decision.

Granato noted too many failures in Buffalo's recent loss against Toronto. Granato called for more determination and for the team “dig down” to dig their way out. Granato believes that the Sabres youth is a huge benefit. But how?

Thompson, Dahlin and Dylan Cozens You've put in the effort regardless of the outcome. This is the model Buffalo should follow. Although their situation may not be the most ideal, it does offer some options. The season is actually going according to plan. The next generation Sabres are here and performing well. Part of this is cultivating the right mindset to ensure consistent execution.

The Sabres displayed real potential in their early days. It's not over. A single greasy win can end a streak. Don't worry about postseason pressure or expectations. The Sabres need to determine who they are first, and then decide what game-after-game habits to adopt.

Five struggling NHL teams are being fixed

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was lauded for his offseason moves This was the beginning. Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, Cam Talbot Ottawa is expected to be a real playoff contender with the addition of others. These Senators are expected to live up to their hype, judging by their 4-2-0 record from the start — even with Talbot out for injury.

They could not. Ottawa lost seven games in a row after the initial surge, and their only two wins have been against Philadelphia and Buffalo. The Senators were last in the Atlantic Division when they left for their Western Conference swing.

Problems: D.J. Dorion became Dorion's coach. Smith's defence was exposed in Ottawa just eleven games into the season.

Top forward Josh Norris It hasn't been easy being out since Oct. 30, with a shoulder injury, and not being able to play. Ditto for the losing defenseman Artem Zub For weeks. Thomas Chabot A concussion that occurred earlier in the month also hurt. Then Jacob Bernard-Docker A high ankle sprain put Talbot on the shelf for a month. Talbot is back posting solid numbers (.924SV%, 2.42 GAA), but it doesn't have the sterling record (1-3-0), because it played behind a Senators team that had compounding issues.

Captain Brady Tkachuk One of them was Ottawa, who was “not ready” to play after the New Jersey 5-1 demolition. Smith also criticised his team's ineptness in that game, pointing out their failure to come back hard enough defensively. Ottawa is failing in this area.

This could also be true for Ottawa's offensive inconsistency. The Senators rank 20th in goals and 23rd in power play since Nov. 1. This despite having a lot of talent.

DeBrincat is not yet the game-breaking, 41 goal scorer he was when he was in Chicago. Only recently has the winger found his feeting. Tkachuk has only one five-on-5 goal in his 11 last games. Same for Drake Batherson. Ottawa's pillar for dependability and regular goal support has been the veteran Giroux. The opposite has been true for the Senators defense, which has only five goals since October.

Referring to the Senators' backend, rookie Jake Sanderson It is flourishing there. That's important. It is just not enough. Dorion is currently exploring the trade markets to find the blue-line depth Ottawa needs. Reinforcements, however, are only part of the solution. The internal change must also be made.

Solutions: When a team fails, it's easy for coaches to be blamed. Smith is now in his fourth season as a bench coach, and Ottawa is struggling. However, consistency is what Ottawa really needs right now.

Tkachuk claimed last week that the Senators' precarious financial situation is not due to “one person”. He's right. It is a combination of many factors that over time, as I have already explained, can lead to a lot of problems. Too many bad habits. It is not enough accountability. Expectations are what make you feel less fulfilled than you should be.

Self-inflicted wounds by the Senators are often the most serious. They must fix this through their own attention, particularly in their zone, and a commitment towards the structure that placed them in a good place earlier in the season.

What would it be like to pursue a player? Jakob Chychrun Or Erik Karlsson How can Ottawa's prospects be improved? Absolutely. Rumours abound that Dorion may be looking at both players to find potential trade targets. One player doesn't solve all problems, so one player won't be the panacea. Ottawa is blessed with a solid foundation. The Senators need to believe it.

Five struggling NHL teams are being fixed

The Capitals are a team who is not in win-now mode. Washington's best run was 4-3-0 through seven games. Two of those victories were against Montreal and Vancouver. Since then, the Capitals have failed to win consecutive games.

Washington is now seventh in the Metro Division. Washington is just above the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Problems: Washington knew that it would be without Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, to begin this season. Those voids weren't too big. T.J. Oshie A potential season-ending injury could result in you being forced to sit out for a prolonged period. Connor Brown Their injuries were only exacerbated by other players getting nicked or bumped in the process.

Many are still in the line-up — they have not been named. Alex Ovechkin — haven’t played to Washington’s usual standards. Capitals' call card has always been their attack. It's been a shadow for them so far. Washington is 24th for shooting percentage (9.2%), 26th for goals per game (2.75). In Washington's first twenty games, no player has scored double-digital goals.

The power play has been another weak spot for the Capitals. Ovechkin is the only one who has been able to get pucks home from his right circle office. This leaves little time for regular action on the man advantage, which ranks 24th in league (18.9%). Washington's failure to score power-play points is due to its inability often get properly set-up.

Their 15th-ranked penalty kill (78.3%), has been a problem, too, which left goaltenders with little to no options. Darcy Kuemper Charlie Lindgren Hanging out to dry with the high-danger chance volume allowed.

Washington's defense isn't helping its netminders. The Capitals have struggled in transition against faster opponents and have fallen to the league's bottom-half in goals and shots against.

Solutions: It will be crucial to overcome the early-season injury issues. Backstrom has been skating again in recent weeks. Wilson is skating. Oshie could be next. It will be a great boost to get each one back. But is this enough?

Washington's regular skaters are failing to contribute. Evgeny KuznetsovWhat are the two goals of's in 19 games? Surprising. Lars Eller You have seven points in 20 games Conor Sheary With 10? Washington urgently needs more contributions. Capitals need more contributions because once these players are back, they must be able to get the ball rolling (if not already).

Ovechkin chasing Wayne Gretzky's all-time goal mark of 894. Although he still has a lot of work ahead of him, the Capitals are determined to support him. While Washington's chances of catching Gretzky are slim, it's unlikely Washington will stage a full rebuild.

This is irrelevant, however. Washington's window of opportunity to be a Stanley Cup contender is closing rapidly. If the Capitals can find what is limiting them offensively, beyond injuries and puck luck then there is still hope for a turnaround.

Five struggling NHL teams are being fixed

Calgary's summer was filled with more drama than “The Bachelor”

Johnny Gaudreau Columbus left in free agency Nazem Kadri He was granted free agency by a team that he had previously rejected. Matthew Tkachuk A trade was made for the wanted out Jonathan Huberdeau MacKenzie Weegar.

The net-positive was enough to leave the Flames with high expectations, especially after they won the Pacific Division last year. These expectations were not misplaced by their 5-1-0 start.

The wheels started to slip with a 0-5-2 stretch that saw Calgary tied in mid November with the same record of the lottery-winning Chicago hopefuls. The Flames are on the brink of reaching playoff status, and have shown some signs of improvement.

Problems: The Flames wanted both Gaudreau, and Tkachuk. A pair of 100-plus-point scorers would be a great addition to any team. Brad Treliving, GM, was certain that he could replace those contributions by Kadri (comes off an 87-point campaign), and Huberdeau (135). However, it hasn't worked out as planned. They were 24th in goals scored during the Flames' winless streak (just 16 goals in seven games).

Huberdeau has had a very poor output, with only two goals and eight points in 14 games before a lower-body injury that he suffered earlier this month. Kadri had at most 15 points in his 17 first games. All the rest took their time catching up.

Elias Lindholm He had great success last season on the line with Gaudreau, Tkachuk, but was slow to record similar numbers again with only three goals in his 11 first games. Andrew Mangiapane His 2021-22 breakout season was not as successful as his three-goal effort in 2018. Calgary's offense has lost its scoring depth, but that could partly be because of a lackluster chemistry among a new group.

These are the Flames' problems up front. Their goaltending has been a bigger problem. Jacob Markstrom He was undeniably a top-tier player last season. He earned a league-high nine shutouts and second-team All Star honors. Markstrom's statistics through 14 games: 7-4-2;.887 SSV%, 3.11 GAA. Backup Dan Vladar There have been worse (1-3-3,.881 SSV%, 3.33 GAA).

Calgary did run aground, with some defensive injuries to Oliver Kylington. Chris Tanev Michael Stone Calgary is a good Darryl Sutter-coached team, and it does a great job limiting shots against (28.1 per match, fourth least). However, it is not as efficient in keeping out shots that reach the net.

This could explain why Flames begin games well (scoring the fourth most first-period goals), but don't finish them (getting outscored by 20-11 in third period).

Solutions: Calgary's roster was given a complete overhaul. These adjustments were necessary. The Flames must now push on.

Priority 1 is reliable goaltending Following their drought, the Flames won three of four games, but Markstrom's stats (.873SV% and 3.44 GAA) in those games were still troubling. This must change.

Some of Sutter's offensive moves seem to be paying off. Lindholm's line Tyler Toffoli Adam Ruzicka It has been an extremely effective combination. The Flames have scored 11 goals and 22 points in five-on-five games since Nov. 1 with this combination.

Calgary needs bottom-nine contributions from its defense and more input. While forwards like the Flames managed to score four goals in November against defenders, they only managed to score four. Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund Dillon Dube They aren't as visible on the scoresheet as they were before. While the Flames should see an improvement in their results as the infirmary closes, Calgary will not be able to keep up with the NHL's top teams as a one- and two-line team. This team has too much firepower to believe it can't rebound quickly.

Five struggling NHL teams are being fixed

Vancouver was so happy to have Bruce Boudreau as coach that they assumed the Canucks would do even better with an established Boudreau and a healthy cast of characters. J.T. Miller This will end his story of whether he'd stay or go.

The season then began.

Vancouver finished the seven-game series with a record of 0-5-2. They scored more than three goals in one game, and were left feeling utterly shaken by every negative outcome. Although the Canucks are making some progress in November, they can't seem sustain any momentum.

Problems: Miller's story ended in September. Boudreau's was only beginning. Jim Rutherford, team president, appeared during the Canucks’ early slide to retrospectively criticize Boudreau’s camp for its lackluster intensity and to call out his coach for not adequately preparing his players to open their schedules for a five game road trip. This is the type of conversation that leads to change behind the bench. Only Boudreau remains there with a dark cloud over him future. It doesn't inspire confidence. It can even do the opposite.

Vancouver has had enough. They are currently near the bottom in league shots allowed (33.2 per match) and goals against (3.89 each game) because of their ongoing problems with defensive zone coverage and rush defense.

Quinn Hughes Without a doubt, it was early in the game. Luke Schenn His side is off to a better start. Thatcher DemkoGiven his previous success,'s net play is especially baffling. Vancouver's netminder, Demko, had a record of 2-8-0 in 12 starts with a.884SV% and 3.77 GAA. Demko has been left out by the Canucks, who allow too many odd-man rushes and cross-seam passes. The Canucks' problems early on could be attributed to their goaltending and defense instability.

The Canucks have performed better offensively. Their offense is ranked in the top 10, but their scoring is top-heavy. Miller is the only player. Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson Andrei Kuzmenko — have scored at least four goals this season. Pettersson, however, has a double digital point total at even-strength. Vancouver's No. 26 ranking in goal differential (+9) makes more sense.

Vancouver's fourth-ranked power team (29.7%), has proven to be a valuable asset in scoring opportunities. However, the 31st-ranked penalty killing (65.0%) can quickly erase any advantage. This could be a microcosm of the Canucks overall. There are highs and lows. There are ebbs, and there are flies. It's not easy to have great starts, but it can lead to poor finishes. This is not the way Vancouver intended. They can do something about it.

Solutions: Boudreau and all Canucks deserve a solution. Vancouver is ready to go all-in on its coach? Rutherford could give him a Dorionesque stamp of approval to let everyone breathe easier. That might go beyond trying to recruit another voice (again).

Demko is now ready to go. The team should get a boost from Demko's 37-stop effort against Los Angeles, which was a season high. Brock Boeser He also gave a great performance, scoring his first goals of the season.

There are other reasons to be hopeful. Ilya Mikheyev He is now back from injury, scoring nine goals in his 15 first games. Horvat is one of the NHL's most prolific scorers and, with more fans behind him, should lead by example with a strong 2-way game that could help slow down some of the Canucks defensive woes.

Vancouver must also address the problem of Vancouver's penalty kill. The Canucks have allowed at least one power play goal in every game except three of their 18 first-round games. Hughes has not had the same success with PKs as he did last season. Demko's downturn also hasn't helped. It will take more from them both.

Vancouver needs to buy in, and the team must believe they can make it through despite their disappointing start. Victories like the one from L.A. could serve as a jumping-off point. The Canucks will only rise from here…

Leave a Comment