It gets late early out there — Yogi Berra
I know what you’re about to say — it’s frickin’ early. And you’re absolutely right, it is.
In fact, it’s more than just ‘early’, it’s practically aboriginal. After all, a handful of teams have skated just a couple of games, and nobody has yet played more than four. How can things possibly go off the rails in such a short span of time?
The quick answer is, of course, that they can’t, and everybody knows it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few teams that are expected to challenge for the playoffs that have gotten off to early pedestrian starts. Fans being what we are, those of us following teams in early funks are already dissecting the various problems: shaky goaltending, suspect defense, an anemic offense. Or if you’re the Los Angeles Kings, a moribund combination of all of the above.
With all that said, the following are five teams that likely will be better before it’s all said and done, but so far have been fumbling all over the ice to start the season.
Minnesota Wild (0-1-2)
There are few truly wild things in America’s frozen hinterlands, and I’ll tell you this much: at 2.33 goals per game, offense sure isn’t one of them. The Wild invested a lot of money over the past two years to invigorate an offense that has finished in the bottom ten in goals scored seemingly 100 years in a row (ok, five), but so far, the early results are mixed. The defense has played respectably this year, but that just hasn’t been enough to stop Minnesota from losing all three of their games, two coming after regulation. For a club that rose dramatically in the standings last year after four straight non-playoff seasons, that’s just not good.
The Wild shoot the puck a fair amount (32/game) and play their usual stingy brand of defense (24.3/game), but when the only offensive player that really stands out early on is Zach Parise, you know there’s been an early power outage in the Midwest.
Washington Capitals (1-2)
The Caps captured the now-defunct Southeast division title five of the last six years, topping 100 points three times. No, they haven’t gone anywhere in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the upper-tier regular season teams. With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, Grabovski and Green, the offense seems to come in waves in the nation’s capital.
At 14th overall so far, however, not so much in the early part of this year. Worse still, the defense makes L.A.’s 22nd position look attractive at 4.00 goals/game. Like the Kings, they can’t win the five-on-five battles, ranking just one notch better. Washington has been a one-line club so far, which doesn’t really work well for the other 40 minutes of the game.
New York Rangers (1-2)
Admittedly, I pegged the Rangers to be one of the most overrated teams going into the 2013-14 NHL season, but that doesn’t mean I thought they’d be bad. Again, it’s too early to say they are, but with a 1-2 record, an invisible offense (2.00 goals/game), the fewest shots taken per game (24), the third-most allowed (36) and the second worst goals against total in the league (4.67 goals/game), you just know bellicose New Yorkers will start a collection to buy new coach Alain Vigneault a one-way bus trip to the Yukon Territory if things don’t improve — fast.
Los Angeles Kings (1-2)
When you’ve lost at home convincingly to a team already identified as struggling, you know you’ve got early problems. The Kings have that and more, with an offense equally as ineffective as the Rangers (2.00 goals/game) and a defense that ranks a mere 22nd in the league. Worse still, the team’s even-strength goals for/goals against is dead last in the league. To summarize, other than special teams, Los Angeles’ rankings in most major statistical categories ranges from unremarkable to outright terrible.
Kings’ captain Dustin Brown is in one of his invisible modes to start the season, as has been Mike Richards. On the other end of the ice, when goaltender Jonathan Quick isn’t scoring on himself, he’s been pretty “meh”.
Philadelphia Flyers (1-3)
No sooner did the Flyers drop-kick spacey goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov halfway to Minsk, but their offense has now started to suffer, scoring just five goals combined in the first four games of the year. Steve Mason has been surprisingly good, but little else has gone right, as the defense has given up 31.8 shots/game and the team is just 23rd in the faceoff dot.
Brayden Schenn seems poised for a breakout campaign, and Vinny Lecavalier is still Vinny Lecavalier. Other than Mason’s surprising resurrection, however, nobody else has stood out on the stat sheets. Early or not, the lack of tangible good coming out of the City of Brotherly Love is the reason why head coach Peter Laviolette is standing in the unemployment line as we speak.