Coach Jacques Martin is hearing it from the demanding fans in Montreal.
Much like past seasons, the 2011-12 NHL campaign has commenced in a familiar fashion in that we’ve seen a hangover of sorts for teams that advanced the deepest in the Stanley Cup playoffs a season ago.
Indeed, neither of last June’s finalists, Boston nor Vancouver, has much resembled themselves from last spring. Neither, for that matter, have conference finalists Tampa Bay and San Jose, also looking to gain traction after choppy beginnings to the campaign.
Following are looks at teams in trouble and on the rise around the league as we move into November. Division standings and point totals are through October 25.
In trouble: Montreal (1-5-2, 4 points, 5th in Northeast)
It’s only late October but already coach Jacques Martin is hearing it from the demanding fans of Les Habitants who cannot tolerate losing streaks that reach six games, especially this early in the season. The Canadiens are struggling with injuries, among the infirmed C Scott Gomez and now winger Max Pacioretty, hardly welcome developments for a team struggling to score goals. Potent winger Mike Cammalleri has also missed action in October as Montreal has scored just 18 goals in eight games. Could Martin be in trouble if the slump continues into November?
On the rise: Colorado (6-2-0, 12 points, 1st in Northwest)
Raise your hand if you saw this quick start coming for Colorado, which has included an astounding six straight wins on the road to begin the season. Success at Calgary on Wednesday night would mean the Avs would become only the seventh team in league history to win its first seven games on the road. Defense and goaltending were main problems a year ago when allowing an NHL-high 288 goals, issues addressed by GM Greg Sherman in the offseason. Ex-Caps backup GK Semyon Varmulov, however, has emerged as the surprise number one keeper ahead of J.S. Giguere. This team has won three shootouts already, however, so we wonder if good fortune has also been mixed in with the good results.
In trouble: Columbus (1-7-1, 3 points, 5th in Central)
It took almost three weeks for the Blue Jackets to net their first win, which didn’t come until Tuesday night against a Red Wings side minus GK Jimmy Howard. Goal scoring and power play failures continue to be problems, and the broken foot suffered by offseason addition C Jeff Carter from the Flyers isn’t helping matters. Nor is GK Steve Mason’s (3.25 GAA) rather slow start. There’s hope that the return to the lineup of defender James Wisniewski, who had a commanding presence on the ice in the win over the Red Wings, will signal better things to come, but still a long way to go for the Jackets.
On the rise: Washington (7-0-0, 134 points, 1st in Southeast)
Things can’t be going any better than they are for the Caps, which is a big relief to coach Bruce Boudreau, who came into the season under some pressure. Veteran offseason additions such as Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, and GK Tomas Vokun have solidified the clubhouse and relieved the likes of Alex Ovechkin of worrying about that sort of role on the team. Ward, Brouwer, and Halpern have had practical implications, too, as no longer is it sufficient to simply shut down the Ovechkin line to beat the Caps. The team is deep and explosive and having lots of fun, something the Red Wings found out to their chagrin in a 7-1 loss last Saturday.
In trouble: Winnipeg (2-5-1, 5 points, 5th in Northwest)
No one was expecting too much from the old Thrashers in their reincarnation of Jets II in Winnipeg. What has been a bit disappointing for the Jets is their poor form on the road where they have yet to win a game, as their only two successes have come in front of the appreciative fans at MTS Center, welcoming the NHL back to Manitoba after 15 years. And things don’t get easier with several road trips to the far-flung Southeast Division before realigning next year. Lack of depth on the lines and Dustin Byfuglien’s off-ice problems have not helped. And 18-year-old center phenom Mark Scheifele is not ready to be a saviour just yet, recently sent back to the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts.
On the rise: Toronto (5-2-1, 11 points, 1st in Northeast)
The Leafs rate as a legitimate surprise package in the early going. Toronto has been getting good work in goal from James Reimer, although he has wobbled a bit in the last week, and coach Ron Wilson might be looking to add some backup help between the nets. Wilson’s main job this season was to cobble together a couple of productive lines in order to save his job, but thus far all he has needed is the explosive winger Phil Kessel, off to a blazing start and leading the league in points (15) and goals (9).