NHL

NHL Teams Most Likely to Bounce Back After Slow Starts

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2013

NHL Teams Most Likely to Bounce Back After Slow Starts

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    It's tough to make up ground in the NHL after a poor start.

    A team that has a losing record after the first month of the season is putting itself in a hole. Even if it gets hot later on, it's often tough to rebound in the standings and jump over teams that are ahead because of the many three-point games that will be played.

    But a team with a talented roster can overcome early-season injuries, personnel changes or early-season poor play.

    Here's a look at six teams that are most likely to bounce back after a poor start.

Washington Capitals

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Early-season record and position: 6-7-0, eighth in Eastern Conference.

     

    Top assets: Explosive scoring of Alex Ovechkin, power play and offensive depth.

     

    Analysis: The Washington Capitals should not be panicked by their poor start. They had the worst record in the Eastern Conference halfway through the 2012-13 season and were able reverse direction and roar to their division championship under first-year head coach Adam Oates.

    One season later, it's another poor start for Oates' team, but it's not as bad as last year's. The Capitals are a confident bunch, and they know they can score, as evidenced by their 7-0 road victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Nov. 1.

    While Ovechkin is currently out with an upper-body injury (day to day), he will seize control of his opportunities when he returns. Ovechkin has already scored 10 goals and is the top priority for all opponents.

    If the Caps can get consistent second-line scoring from Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, there should be no stopping the Caps from making the playoffs.

     

Ottawa Senators

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Early-season record and position: 4-6-3, tied for ninth in Eastern Conference.


    Top assets: Excellent goaltending, coach of Paul MacLean, explosive talent of Erik Karlsson.

     

    Analysis: The Ottawa Senators are off to a surprisingly slow start, but this team proved it was indomitable last year when it came back from a slew of devastating injuries. The Sens had the appearance of a last-place team, but MacLean rallied the Sens, who made the playoffs and then beat the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

    The goaltending duo of Craig Anderson (3.16 goals-against average) and Robin Lehner (2.76 GAA) has a chance to be outstanding. However, those two have not reached top form yet, and that's the biggest reason the Sens have a losing record. 

    Karlsson is probably the most talented offensive defenseman in the NHL. He has gotten off to a good start with three goals and 10 assists, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He is just getting warmed up, and it wouldn't be a shock if he registered 70 points or more by the end of the season.

    This team has the talent to make the playoffs and cause damage once it gets there.

New York Rangers

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Early-season record and position: 5-7-0, tied for 11th in Eastern Conference.


    Top assets: Henrik Lundqvist; shot-blocking ability.

     

    Analysis: The New York Rangers have gotten off to a disastrous start under first-year head coach Alain Vigneault. The schedule-makers didn't do the Rangers any favors, as they started the season with a nine-game road trip. They were blown out in back-to-back game by the San Jose Sharks (9-2) and Anaheim Ducks (6-0), and those two games focused attention on a disaster in progress.

    However, the Rangers simply have too much talent to keep playing that way. Lundqvist (2.84 GAA, .908 save pct.) has not played well early in the season, but he is still one of the most talented goalies in the league. Once he gets on his game, he is capable of carrying the team for weeks at a time.

    The Rangers also have been dogged by injuries. High-scoring Rick Nash (concussion) remains out, and Ryan Callahan (broken thumb) has played just five games this season.

    While the Rangers can't use the excuse of having a new head coach in Vigneault much longer—especially with the Vancouver Canucks playing so well under John Tortorella—they still have not played their best hockey. Once they put a winning streak on the board, they'll have a chance to assert themselves in the Metropolitan Division.

New Jersey Devils

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    Marianne Helm/Getty Images

    Early-season record and position: 3-5-4, tied for 11th in Eastern Conference.

     

    Top assets: Leadership and trading ability of general manager Lou Lamoriello; strength up the middle and solid goaltending duo.

     

    Analysis: The New Jersey Devils were hoping to rebound with a fast start following last year's non-playoff season.

    They have struggled getting out of the gate, and the goaltending of Martin Brodeur is one of the reasons. Brodeur, the league's all-time leader in nearly every significant goaltending category, has a 2.94 GAA and an .879 save percentage. That's not going to get it done.

    Brodeur should improve, but the Devils can turn to Cory Schneider (2.14 GAA, .915 save percentage) until Brodeur turns his game around.

    The Devils have capable centers in Damien Brunner, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. That should allow the Devils to play more consistently on the offensive end. That has not happened to this point;  they are averaging 2.17 goals per game, a figure that ranks 24th in the league.

    Look for Lamoriello to make a move that brings the Devils another goal scorer if they don't pick it up on offense in the next couple of weeks.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Early-season record and position: 5-7-0, tied for 11th in Eastern Conference.


    Top assets: Sergei Bobrovsky, physical defense, scoring of Marian Gaborik.

     

    Analysis: The Columbus Blue Jackets had quite a bit of momentum at the end of the 2012-13 season. They were one of the most improved teams in the league last year and had a chance to earn a playoff spot in the final week of the season.

    The move to the Eastern Conference seemed to be a positive development for the Blue Jackets, but they have not played consistently yet. Bobrovsky (2.79 GAA, .910 save percentage) won the Vezina Trophy last year and is capable of stealing games on his own.

    The defense also has the ability to punish opponents, but the Blue Jackets have to do a much better job of killing penalties. Opponents are scoring 24.4 percent of the time on their power plays, and Columbus ranks 27th in penalty-killing.

    That's not going to get it done, and coach Todd Richards must get a better effort from his team in that area.

Dallas Stars

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Early-season record and position: 5-6-2, tied for 11th in Western Conference.

     

    Top assets: Explosive speed of Tyler Seguin; leadership of Jamie Benn and goaltending of Kari Lehtonen.

     

    Analysis: The Stars are struggling right now, but the talents of veteran coach Lindy Ruff and his new players are just starting to mesh.

    Seguin (team-high 14 points) is starting to play with more consistency than he did in his three years with the Boston Bruins. He seems to be thriving in an environment that is far less pressure-filled than the one he was in. 

    Benn is a great leader because he will sell out to help his team win games, and that kind of attitude is contagious. 

    Lehtonen (1.82 GAA, .939 save percentage) is a skilled goalie who has the ability to make a series of highlight-reel saves that allow his team to stay in the game while the offense warms up.

    If the Stars can get a bit more production from their 20th-ranked offense (2.46 goals per game), they should have a good chance to climb in the tough Western Conference.

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