We're past the quarter mark of the 2013 NHL season now, and much is unfolding about as we expected. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks are excellent. The Canucks are atop the Northwest Division. The rest of the Northwest Division is summarily awful.
But there have been surprises too, from the unexpected success of the Anaheim Ducks to the punch and actual truculence of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Those are the good surprises, mind you. Today, we talk instead about the disappointments, the teams we thought were going to be something but, thus far, have been something else, and I don't mean that in a good way.
Here are the five most disappointing teams of 2013 thus far.
5 | Philadelphia Flyers (6-7-1)
This team was more fun last season.
Some of it isn't the Flyers' fault. They lost a character in Jaromir Jagr, but that's because Dallas offered him $4.5 million. They lost another character in Scott Hartnell, but that was due to injury. Ilyz Bryzgalov isn't quite as entertaining thus far, but that's because the organization has been slowly beating the joy out of him.
Paul Holmgren hasn't been as wacky as usual. Mike Knuble? What a quiet, sensible, stopgap move. Remember: caution is for the wind. More bombast, please.
On the ice, the Flyers aren't the same group either. This group led the NHL in scoring last season at 3.33 goals per game. In 2013, they've dropped almost a goal to 2.43, which places them in the bottom third of the NHL this time around.
4 | St. Louis Blues (7-5-1)
For much of January, the Blues looked like last year's Blues. They opened the season with a 6-0 shutout of the Detroit Red Wings. The touchdown was a surprise. The 14 shots to which they limited Detroit was not. Five days later, Jaroslav Halak recorded his second shutout of the season, this time facing 13 shots. Both victories were evidence that the NHL's most uncharitable team was back.
But in the games between these two, the Blues have been uncharacteristically porous. St. Louis averaged 1.89 goals against per game last season. In 10 of 13 this season, they've allowed 3 or more.
In February, either straight up forgot how to play shutdown hockey or their goaltending is just a mess. Probably a little both. Their even-strength save percentage is a sickly .879, and Brian Elliott has looked more like Brian Posehn, which is to say, you know, pretty ugly. St. Louis opened the month with a five-game losing streak, the longest of the admittedly short Hitch era. During that time, they allowed 5, 6, 5, 6, and 4 goals per game. In postgame interviews, they sounded anything but confident and downright miserable.
The Blues finally ended the streak Wednesday night with an overtime win over Detroit, but they still allowed the Red Wings to score thrice. They're still falling short of their usual miserly selves. One letter short, let's say, which explains all the misery.
3 | Edmonton Oilers (5-5-3)
Now, no one expected the Oilers to be a juggernaut (except Adrian Dater). But I think most expected them to be more exciting and competitive out of the gate. With almost the whole core playing together in Oklahoma, I was one of many that thought they'd show more early chemistry than most clubs, and with that collection of offensive talent, and two exciting rookies coming aboard, I thought we might see some track meets.
Instead, Edmonton is averaging 2.15 goals per game, 27th in the NHL (although somehow 3rd in the Northwest Division, because good grief is that division terrible). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 0 goals in 12 games. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have just 3 apiece. Some of it is bad luck, but bad luck is boring.
Again, no one expected the Oilers to win every game. But I think most expected them to be a treat to watch, and apart from a few miracle finishes, they haven't been.
2 | Los Angeles Kings (4-5-2)
The Kings were expected to sidestep the Stanley Cup hangover. Unlike most Cup winners, they didn't have to turn around and start the season three months later, while they were still in the almost post-coital window of a championship. The lockout assured that they had plenty of time to feel like champions before they had to come back down to earth.
Furthermore, they were basically the same team as last season. Most assumed the lack of changeover would help them to continue playing at a high level. Instead, they've been a disappointment, and with just 4 wins in 11 games, they're toiling at the bottom of the Western Conference.
The defensive injuries aren't helping. Jonathan Quick is struggling, and Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are valuable shutdown guys that could help make him look good. Drew Doughty is struggling too, with a league-worst minus-10 rating and zero goals. His 89.4 PDO is probably to blame here. This number suggests he's playing better than, well, the numbers suggest.
But the lack of goals is the big concern. The Kings look about as offensively potent as the Kings of early 2011-12. The 2.27 goals per game they're averaging is good for 25th in the league. Last year, it would have placed them 29th. The powerplay is converting at the rate of a bad evangelist, at just 11.8%.
There are reasons for optimism. LA remains a fabulous possession team that outshoots their opponents and control the puck for long stretches. Those teams tend to do well over time. Plus, history tells us they can catch fire at the right time. But thus far, they've been a disappointment.
1 | Washingon Capitals (4-8-1)
Though they've had their moments, and Adam Oates deserves more time to make this thing work, it's been painful to watch the Capitals for much of this season, both because they've looked dreadful at times, and because, as Bruce Boudreau excels in Anaheim by coaching a team the way he wants to, it's hard not to look back at the run-and-gun Washington Capitals of old and wonder why we aren't still watching them.
“You’ve got to be true to yourself,” Boudreau said this month. “I found that I was getting away from that this year. People were saying, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that.’ I wasn’t doing what I believed was the right thing.”
The Capitals suffered their share of disappointments and embarrassments under Boudreau, from the first-round upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens to being routed, 7-0, by the New York Rangers in the midst of an 8-game losing streak. But they were still a contender. Alex Ovechkin was still a superstar. And now, after three system changes in 14 months, you wonder if the Capitals' edges have been permanently dulled.
After a slow start, in some part due to Ovechkin being shifted from left to right wing, the Russian superstar is beginning to turn it on. He has 7 points in a 5-game point streak. But he remains 58th in NHL scoring, which is about 50 spots lower than we've come to expect.
The team can't defend. They've had terrible goaltending. Once one of the powers of the East, they're now decidedly not, with just 9 points in their first 13 games.
You look at a club like the Chicago Blackhawks, currently running away with the Western Conference, all high-octane and punchy, and you think of how close they were to giving Joel Quenneville the boot at times last season and tightening up. Then you look at where the Capitals are right now, and you thank God Quenneville's still there. The Capitals aren't just disappointing because we thought -- or maybe just hoped -- they'd be better than they are. They're disappointing because you miss who they once were.
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