Nearly a month into the NHL season, Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record looks safer than Edmonton’s playoff chances, there might be a challenger for the worst team in league history and the Stanley Cup hangover is nowhere to be seen in Las Vegas.
Alex Ovechkin off to an uncharacteristically slow start, the Oilers’ terrible goaltending and the San Jose Sharks losing their first 11 games are among some of the disturbing early trends. Elsewhere, the Golden Knights are rolling, Connor Bedard is scoring for Chicago and the Boston Bruins are back following a disappointing first-round exit.
The traditional Thanksgiving barometer for being in a playoff position is still two weeks away, but there are good signs for Detroit, Vancouver and Anaheim. Not so much for Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Calgary.
Even with some jagged starts, no one except San Jose is more than six points out of a playoff spot.
“It’s a situation throughout the league,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. “There’s a few teams that are firing on all cylinders, but I think there’s quite a few teams that are, like us, trying to find their game and be consistent at it.”
OVI’S 2 IN 10
Ovechkin has scored just twice — once on a power play and once into an empty net — matching his lowest total through 10 games in his nearly two-decade career with the Capitals. Just like the previous two times (in 2008-09 and 2013), it came after training camp with a new coach.
“I’m having chances, but sometimes you just have to look at yourself and think what you should do differently,” Ovechkin said Tuesday. “If you have that kind of slump when you can’t score, you just have to work and find a way to create chances for yourself, for your teammates and find a way to put the puck in.”
Exactly 300 of Ovechkin’s 824 goals — he trails Gretzky by 70 — have come on the power play, and the Capitals are second-worst in the NHL in that department at 9.7%. New Jersey leads at 42.9%.
“We’re trying to fix that,” coach Spencer Carbery said. “Our passing on the power play, passes to him, but also he can help that as well of getting his feet set, being able to adjust off certain passes, seeing a play that’s about to come. So we’re just a little bit off.”
After trading three-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson as part of a teardown that precedes a rebuild, the Sharks were expected to be bad. But this bad?
They entered Tuesday nights’ game 0-10-1 after losing their past two games 10-1 and 10-2, and have been outscored 55-12. Toronto’s Auston Matthews has more goals himself with 13.
San Jose could be worse than the current NHL standard for futility: the 1974-75 Capitals, who went 8-67-5. But there is a long season ahead.
“We’re losing way too many battles,” winger Anthony Duclair said. “It’s way too easy for the opposing team. … Our battle level is just non-existent sometimes, and it’s costing us.”
Losing their top two centers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, to retirement hasn’t slowed down the Bruins in their second season under coach of the year Jim Montgomery. With rookies contributing and goaltenders Jeremy Swayman and Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark sharing the net, Boston is an Eastern Conference-best 10-1-1.
“We rely on them a little bit too much,” captain Brad Marchand said of the goalies, who have a league-best .939 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average. “We can always be a little bit better in front of them, but it’s nice when we break down they’re there for us.”
The Oilers are at the other side of the goaltending spectrum with a league-worst .864 save percentage between Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell, the latter of whom was put on waivers Tuesday. After giving up six goals Monday in a loss to Vancouver, Skinner said: “I can do a lot better to help my team out.”
Edmonton’s defense can also do better to help everyone else out. Only the Sharks have fewer points than the Oilers, whose stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could miss the playoffs in the prime of their careers if the trend continues.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse start to a season in my career, and it’s a test, for sure,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “But I know we have the team to turn it around.”
The only team better than Boston so far is Vegas, which hasn’t missed a beat coming off the franchise’s first championship. It took until game 13 for the Golden Knights to lose in regulation, and their 11-1-1 record for 23 points shows not every Cup winner struggles out of the gate. Vegas is notably 7-0-1 at the “Fortress” just off The Strip.
Taken first in the draft by the Chicago Blackhawks and hyped up arguably more than McDavid or Sidney Crosby, Bedard has delivered early in his NHL career. Bedard’s five goals are tied for the most among rookies, and only three have more points than the 18-year-old forward.
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