In a shortened season, the margin for mistakes is just so slim. When one bad week, one injury, or one losing streak can cost you a chance at a playoff run, all NHL teams wanted to get out of the blocks quickly in 2013.
We are roughly seven games into this shortened 48-game campaign, so even though it’s still early, there are some teams that are in real trouble.
Calgary are off to a 1-3-1 start – again I reiterate it’s early – but this is a team that needs to make the playoffs. As I write this, they are dead-last in the Western Conference, tallying just 14 goals in their five games thus far. They have conceded far too many (21), and have looked pretty lifeless out of the gate.
This is a team at a cross-roads to be honest. If they turn this around, and look like they can contend, they keep franchise player Jarome Iginla for one last crack at the cup. But, continue down this anemic path – and Iginla trade rumours start swirling again – as they do every year when the Flames miss out on the post-season. Mikka Kiprusoff has also seen better days between the pipes, so does this team blow-up the current roster and finally start to build for the future? Well, if their next five games mirror their first five, then we may see that beginning of the end of the Iggy era in Calgary. Sadly, all good things must come to an end.
The Washington Capitals were a team that knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions in the playoffs last year. They had a hard-nosed, no nonsense coach in Dale Hunter. Hunter walked away after this playoff success, and Adam Oates was appointed as the new Caps bench boss. It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for Oates thus far. It’s getting to the point that he may have to come out of retirement to help his team! Washington are 1-5-1 as I post this – and have blown leads for losses in Ottawa and Toronto this week. They have allowed 25 goals in seven games, ranking them 28th out of 30 NHL teams (Florida have given up 27 goals, Columbus 26). Absolutely awful, and they are last in the Eastern Conference.
Oates was an offensive superstar in his playing days, and many thought his approach would benefit the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom. I also thought that both of those players would come in firing on all cylinders, after their domination in the KHL. It hasn’t happened that way. Backstrom has four assists in seven games, and has yet to score, while carrying a -2 rating. Ovie hasn’t been much better with three points (2G, 1A) in seven, with a -3 hanging over his head. This ship had better get turned around and quickly, or Coach Oates could be the first firing of the 2013 season.
The Stars need to Align
The Dallas Stars made some serious moves this off-season. They said good-bye to longtime enigma Mike Ribeiro, and brought in proven vets Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. Both of these guys were signed to help steady the ship, and be complimentary to the players already in Dallas. The likes of Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder have proven they can score – Whitney and Jagr would help such players. The big issue for Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk was getting their most important player back in the fold. Jamie Benn was coming off his best NHL season with 63 points (26g, 37A) in 2011-2012.
Nieuwendyk’s issue was not the play of Benn – but the price tag. So, as we’ve seen before, the best player sits out until the money and term align in his best interest. Dallas were without Benn for five games before his new contract was agreed upon. The Stars are happy he’s now back, and need him to start picking up where he left off last year, as they are currently 2-4-1, and occupying 13th place in the West. Not exactly the position they thought they’d be in with their new roster. Head Coach Glen Gulutzan is only 41, but is considered to be a dynamic coach, and the type of new visionary that brings different ideas and systems to the dressing room. He had better hope that the likes of Jagr and Whitney start to pay some dividends with big wins, before the season gets too long in the tooth, with the Stars on the outside looking in.
As we head into another big weekend of NHL action, these are three clubs that need to start earning some points. None of these three can afford another 5-7 games like they’ve already played. It’s early days, but with the lockout and all the issues after the fact, a bad start is certainly killing playoff aspirations down the stretch. Can these teams turn it around?! Stay tuned, watch this space, and enjoy your hockey weekend wherever you are watching.
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