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Time to Panic? Top NHL Teams Off to Rough Starts

Vegas, Colorado and Toronto are off to ugly starts this season, surprising many with the poor overall play of a few of the league's Stanley Cup contenders. Is it time to get worried?
Evgenii Dadonov and Andre Burakovsky

By Stephen Whyno

By the time the St. Louis Blues won their fifth consecutive game to open the season, the Florida Panthers had already become the first team since 2015 to open with six victories in a row.

Along with the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, they made NHL history with four teams starting 5-0-0 for the first time. Preseason Stanley Cup contender picks Colorado, Vegas and Toronto have combined for six wins — and 13 losses.

It’s getting late kind of early for the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Maple Leafs — even if it’s just two weeks into an 82-game season.

“Those teams had great expectations, so I think when you go through two weeks and you’re not playing great hockey, people get a sense of a little bit of a panic, especially at the start of the year,” said former coach Rick Tocchet, who’s now a TNT analyst. “I don’t think I’m as alarmed with Colorado. Even Vegas (because) they got some guys hurt. Toronto, I’m a little bit surprised.”

The Leafs have lost five of seven, including a 7-1 drubbing in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Auston Matthews, last season’s goal-scoring leader, didn’t get his first until game seven and All-Star winger Mitch Marner has not been on the ice for a Toronto goal.

“That noise and the panic from the outside can’t shake us because there’s really no reason it should,” Matthews said. “Within the room, we realize obviously that we need to play better. But at the same time, it’s not like an end all, be all. It’s not the end of the world right now.”

The Golden Knights tried to send that message on social media after starting 1-2-0 by tweeting: “FACT: there are 79 games left.” Two more losses followed for Vegas, which is without captain Mark Stone and top winger Max Pacioretty long term and ranks 29th out of 32 teams in scoring. 

“We haven’t scored,” coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Sunday. “We still have to find a way to win games. That’s where we’re at.”

The Golden Knights snapped a four-game skid and handed the Avalanche a fourth loss in five games, but remain the only team not to score a power-play goal and are now 0 for 14.

The Avalanche missed MVP finalist Nathan MacKinnon for their first two games after he tested positive for the coronavirus and captain Gabriel Landeskog for two after he was suspended for boarding. Both are back now, though.

“It’s an experienced group, obviously a group that’s had a lot of success,” new Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper said last week. “Everyone knows what we’ve got to do. We’ll just keep working, and I’m confident we’ll get this righted here.”

There’s no lack of confidence around the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, who went until their seventh game before winning in regulation and won’t have back-to-back playoff leading scorer Nikita Kucherov for several weeks because of injury. Veteran winger Alex Killorn acknowledged players were “fighting it” a bit and figures some gritty goals could get the Lightning going.

The Leafs certainly hope for the same. Only the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes have averaged fewer goals, and only the solid play of goaltender Jack Campbell has kept Toronto from giving up more.

“We have to prove that we’re going to break some bad habits,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “The intensity has to go up, and we’ve got to realize that we’ve got to bounce back.”

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