5 Worst Defensive Teams Early in the 2013 Season
It's difficult to conceive of any team winning a Stanley Cup unless it is strong on the defensive end.
A few generations ago, the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s could string together championships because they could outscore everyone. They had Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
In the early 1970s, the Boston Bruins set scoring records and won two Stanley Cups even though they did not always play stellar defense. They had Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.
Today's contenders must play air-tight defense.
In the early part of the season, a few teams are playing themselves out of contention with poor defensive play.
Going into the game action of Feb. 6, five teams had allowed 31 or more goals and appear to be playing the worst defensive hockey in the NHL.
A year ago, the Washington Capitals got it together just in time.
After playing indifferent hockey for the majority of the regular season, they picked it up in the final month and finished seventh in the Eastern Conference and made the playoffs.
Instead of falling apart when they played the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round, they played air-tight defense and upset the Bruins in seven games.
That air-tight defense is just a memory in 2013. First-year head coach Adam Oates has a team that is giving up scoring opportunities and goals by the boatload.
In their first 10 games, the Capitals have given up 36 goals.
Goalie Braden Holtby, who keyed the playoff upset of the Bruins and helped the Caps push the Rangers to seven games in the second round, has been struggling badly.
Holtby has a 4.52 goals against average and an .862 save percentage. Michal Neuvirth has provided some relief in the net but he has not been stellar. Neuvirth has a 2.99 GAA and an .893 save percentage.
During the offseason, the Sabres decided they needed to add tough players like Steve Ott and John Scott to keep opponents from taking liberties with them.
The Sabres were tired of getting run out of the rink by physical teams.
They figured that if they could display a bit of grit and sand paper, they had the scoring with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville along with the defense to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
The defense, of course, is backstopped by goalie Ryan Miller. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender following the 2009-10 season and also played sensational for the U.S. Olympic hockey team.
But in 2013, the Sabres defense has been letting head coach Lindy Ruff down. The Sabres have given up a league-worst 37 goals and Miller's once-stellar goaltending has been disappointing. He has a 3.11 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
The Winnipeg Jets are playing competitive hockey through their first nine games and have a shot to compete for a playoff spot based on their early-season performance.
However, they have given up 34 goals and the defense has been butter soft. Forward Blake Wheeler is starting to become a legitimate offensive force, scoring nine points in nine games. However he has a minus-eight rating already.
Defenseman Tobias Enstrom is an excellent playmaker who leads the team with 12 points. However, he has a minus-four rating.
The goaltending has been substandard. Starter Ondrej Pavelec has played eight games and he has a 3.31 goals against average and an .889 save percentage. The Jets are going to find it difficult to stay in contention if those numbers don't improve.
The Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division last year and appeared to be a team on the rise.
However, those results may have been a false positive.
The Panthers can't stop opponents from putting the puck in the net. They've allowed 33 goals so far in the season as their defense has given opposing forwards freedom to create in the Florida defensive zone.
Defenseman Filip Kuba has a minus-eight rating while center Tomas Fleischmann is a minus-seven.
Goaltender Jose Theodore has not been satisfactory with his play between the pipes. He has a 3.32 goals against average and a .896 save percentage.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have given up more goals than any Western Conference team.
They've allowed 32 goals in their first 10 games.
While that is not a good performance, the Blue Jackets have been more competitive than they were a year ago when they ranked 28th in goals allowed.
Neither Steve Mason nor Sergei Bobrovsky have been dependable in the net. Mason has a 3.00 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
Center Vinny Prospal has just been floating around. His minus-eight rating indicates that he is paying little attention to his defensive responsibilities.