Slow-Starting NHL Teams Most Likely to Rebound This Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2017

Slow-Starting NHL Teams Most Likely to Rebound This Season

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Projected as NHL playoff contenders, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are among several teams off to slow starts this season. However, both clubs have sufficient time remaining in their schedules to reverse their fortunes.

    Several factors are behind these early poor performances. Some teams are hampered by a lack of scoring. Others are coping with injury-depleted rosters or heightened expectations.

    Despite their issues, these clubs also carry the ingredients to regain their winning ways. Veteran leadership, superstar talent or roster depth could help turn things around.

    Here's a look at the six slow-starting NHL teams most likely to rebound this season. As always, you can express your views in the comments section.

Anaheim Ducks

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    After advancing to the Western Conference Final last season, the Anaheim Ducks are off to a disappointing start to 2017-18. After six games, they have a record of two wins, three losses and an overtime loss.

    Injuries took a toll upon several of the Ducks' core players. Center Ryan Kesler and defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen remain sidelined by offseason surgeries. Top-line center and team captain Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

    The Ducks, however, will be getting healthier soon. Getzlaf, Lindholm and Vatanen should all return to action before the end of October. In the meantime, they still carry sufficient talent to turn things around.

    Rickard Rakell is coming into his own as a center, and it's only a matter of time until Jakob Silfverberg regains his scoring touch. They still have considerable blue-line depth, led by Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. They're also getting solid goaltending from John Gibson.

Boston Bruins

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    L.E. Baskow/Associated Press

    The Boston Bruins opened the season with two wins and three losses in their first five games. They were soundly beaten in back-to-back games by the Colorado Avalanche (4-0 and 6-3) and suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

    Injury and illness sidelined top-line center Patrice Bergeron (lower-body injury) and right wing David Backes (diverticulitis). Younger players, such as forwards Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and defenseman Charlie McAvoy, are adjusting to full-time NHL action. Prior to suffering a concussion, goaltender Tuukka Rask struggled in his four starts.

    Bergeron and Backes' eventual returns will be welcome boosts to their forward depth. They will also provide more stability and experienced leadership to the Bruins' ranks. If Rask isn't sidelined for long, he should quickly regain his usually reliable style.

    DeBrusk, Bjork, McAvoy and blueliner Brandon Carlo have considerable potential and should continue to improve. Top scoring forwards Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak remain in fine form.

Edmonton Oilers

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    After reaching the playoffs last season for the first time in a decade, expectations were high entering 2017-18 for the Edmonton Oilers. But after shutting out the Calgary Flames in their season opener, the Oilers dropped three straight games, including a 6-1 pummeling at the hands of the Ottawa Senators.

    A lack of secondary scoring and porous goaltending are the main reasons behind the slide. Their production drops sharply beyond top-liners Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who's on injured reserve with a concussion. Workhorse goalie Cam Talbot covered up defensive shortcomings last season, but he's given up 12 goals in four starts this term.

    Look for a better effort from first-line left wing Patrick Maroon and second-liners Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Those three could be poised to break out of their scoring slumps. Draisaitl is expected to return to action soon, providing an additional boost to their offense.

    Talbot is a better goalie than his stats suggest. Entering Thursday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he had a career goals-against average of 2.34 and a save percentage of .921. It shouldn't take long for him to bounce back.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens have won just once through their first seven games of 2017-18. With only three points, the Habs sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

    While the Canadiens are fourth in shots (36.6), they are last in goals for per game (1.43). Scoring forwards Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher and hard-shooting blueliner Shea Weber have gone cold. Goaltender Carey Price (3.56 goals-against average, .885 save percentage) is also struggling.

    However, there is some reason for optimism. Price is an elite goaltender and capable of playing at a higher level. Some of the goals he's allowed resulted from bad bounces. The breaks should soon start going his way.

    The same goes for Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Gallagher and Weber. They are far too talented to be kept off the scoreboard for long. Offseason acquisition Jonathan Drouin looks good, with five points in seven games.

New York Rangers

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The New York Rangers are off to a brutal start to this season. After seven games, they have a record of one win, five losses and one overtime loss. They are sitting at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.

    Apart from Mika Zibanejad, they lack skilled depth at center. Wingers Chris Kreider (three points) and Rick Nash (one point) are producing below expectations. The Rangers have yet to settle on a regular defense partner for Ryan McDonagh. Kevin Shattenkirk has six points but also has the worst plus/minus (minus-six) among the Blueshirts defenders.

    Still, the Rangers possess considerable talent capable of turning things around. Leading scorers J.T. Miller (seven points) and Zibanejad (six points) have put up decent numbers. David Desharnais has shown promise in the second-line center role. Nash and Kreider are capable of better performances.

    The coaching staff will eventually settle on a suitable partner for McDonagh. Offseason acquisition Shattenkirk is a skilled puck-moving blueliner. He should soon adjust to his new teammates and the pressure of playing for his hometown club.

San Jose Sharks

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The waters have been choppy early in this season for the San Jose Sharks. They won only two of their opening five games, sitting sixth in the eight-team Pacific Division.

    During that stretch, the Sharks scored more than three goals in just one game, a 5-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday. Four of leading scorer Logan Couture's five points came during that game. Reliable scorers Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are also struggling. Goaltender Martin Jones was inconsistent, giving up eight goals in his first two games.

    The offense, however, could be on the verge of breaking out. Couture seems to be regaining his scoring touch. Thornton, Pavelski and Burns should soon find their offensive range. Sophomore winger Kevin Labanc is off to a hot start, with 5 points in as many games.

    Jones, meanwhile, is showing signs of improvement. In his past two games leading, he gave up just two goals in each.

                

    Stats and standings (as of Oct.18) via NHL.com. Injury reports via TSN.