Bottoms Up is a semi-regular feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, let’s do the panic again.
Yes, it’s that time of the season again: the time when everyone is rushing to snap judgements of teams based on ridiculously small sample sizes. While it’s good times for fanbases of teams that have gotten off to hot start on the season, fans of teams in the basement are beginning to panic. And thanks to the condensed nature of the 48-game schedule, people feel justified in panicking so soon.
Normally, even the mainstream media would hold off on judging teams too quickly, suggesting that we wait at least 10 games before jumping to conclusions. Even 10 games in, however, is far too soon to judge a team. But that’s not stopping the media, most of whom have a vested interest in playing up the importance of every single game.
Four teams have just one win so far this season: the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, and Calgary Flames. The Flames are the only team that isn’t a surprise in that list, considering their ageing core and the fact they haven’t made the playoffs in the last three seasons.
The Panthers, however, won the Southeast Division last year, the Predators had 104 points, and the Capitals made the playoffs fairly comfortably and were expected to perform better under new head coach Adam Oates. No one expects any of these teams to be at the bottom of the standings by the end of the season, but you can see the panic starting to seep in.
For the Predators, Pekka Rinne has yet to pick up a win. Shea Weber has no points. Patric Hornqvist, their leading goal-scorer from last season, is out 3-4 weeks. Is it time to panic yet? Not necessarily. Three of their losses have come via the shootout and they have a 982 PDO, meaning some of the bounces are going to start going their way. With that said, they’re also dead last in the NHL in shots per game, which is generally not a good sign. But people have been betting that the Predators would miss the playoffs every year, and yet they keep getting in.
The Capitals are troubling. Alex Ovechkin has just 1 goal and 2 points in 5 games and he’s skating on a line with Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle, which sounds more like a fictional law office: Crabb and Beagle. Meanwhile, they can’t seem to decide on a starting goaltender between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, with neither of them seizing the reins. Time to panic? Not yet, at least. Neither Neuvirth nor Holtby are as bad as their statistics would indicate right now and Mike Ribeiro and Joel Ward have picked up some of the offensive slack. Their PDO of 959 is among the lowest in the league, and their shooting percentage, as well as Ovechkin’s individual shooting percentage, will turn around.
There is cause for concern, though, as the Capitals were one of just two teams that made the playoffs last season with a negative goal differential. With goal differential being one of the strongest indicators of future performance, that doesn’t bode well. The other team that had a negative goal differential? The Florida Panthers.
The Panthers are currently bleeding shots against, with the second worst shots against per game in the league. Jose Theodore is performing well so far, but he can only do so much against that volume of shots. The Panthers scored 5 goals in their opener, but have scored just 3 since. Stephen Weiss has been hurt and has no goals, Kris Versteeg hasn’t played a game, and they’re relying on a 39-year-old Alex Kovalev to provide offence. Is it time to panic? Well, maybe a little. The Panthers had a brutal minus-24 goal differential last season and rode a wave of 1 and 2-goal victories to the Southeast Division title. It would be hard to expect the same thing to happen two seasons in a row.
It is (ridiculously) early, however, and the Panthers do have the worst PDO in the league at 930, so their fortunes should turn around. Their team shooting percentage is a paltry 2.1%, which simply isn’t going to last. Some of their shots are going to find the back of the net.
Meanwhile, some of the teams that got off to a strong start are going to fall back to the basement in time. Montreal won’t be able to sustain their current shooting and save percentages and seem to be a likely candidate to fall out of the playoffs, even with a rejuvenated Andrei Markov. The Islanders are barely at .500 with an unsustainable 11.3 shooting percentage. The Dallas Stars are getting drastically out-shot and it’s going to start costing them. But even then, it’s still early, and maybe even these teams will establish some better trends in the next couple weeks.
Heck, maybe it’s even too soon for Flames fans to start panicking. I say give it one more game. Maybe two.