One Improvement Each NHL Team Must Make Right Now
The NHL is all about adjustments, both in-game and in-season. Coaches are canned, lines are adjusted and trades are made with regularity throughout the regular season. Teams are always looking to gain an edge in any way possible.
Well, with the first quarter of the season a few weeks away, every team has some corrections to make. Let's take a look at them.
The Top Line
The Anaheim Ducks have a juggernaut of a top scoring line. Unfortunately, Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf have gotten off to a slow start this season. The Ducks find themselves in a big hole due to poor play all over the ice, but the top line has the ability to pull them out of this funk.
Recently, the Bruins have found a spark. However, before that, the team had struggled coming off a Stanley Cup victory.
Boston just didn't bring a consistent level of intensity.
Claude Julien loves to talk about the compete level of his team. It needs to stay at a high level for this team to claw back into it. They love playing as the underdog, but they will have to get used to playing on top.
Consistency on Defense
The Buffalo Sabres have been hit-or-miss defensively. Despite spending plenty of money on their blue line, the results have been uninspiring to start the season.
Ryan Miler and Jhonas Enroth have been under a ton of pressure to perform, and have most of the time. However, the Sabres would love to have their blue line come together as the season progresses. They have a real shot at winning the Northeast Division.
A lot of things need to improve for the Calgary Flames to get back into the playoff race. They started slow a season ago and stormed back during the second half only to narrowly miss the postseason. They are doing the same thing this season, which will not make qualifying for postseason play very easy.
Jarome Iginla is also starting slow for the second season in a row. He has just five goals and four assists through 16 games. For the Flames to have a prayer of contending, Iginla will have to pick up the pace.
Jeff Skinner has become the star of the Carolina Hurricanes. That is both a testament to Skinner's development and Eric Staal's slow start to the season.
Staal has only mustered 7 points in 17 games. He is also has a plus-minus rating of minus-17.
We all know that Joel Quenneville loves to shuffle up his lineup. There are plenty of talented players on Chicago's roster and it can be tough to arrange those pieces perfectly.
However, sometimes Quenneville does too much shuffling of the lines, and at the wrong time. Tweaking the lineup is great, but dramatic changes, such as moving Patrick Sharp to try and get Toews going (a combo that has never been successful), need to stop.
This is a strong team. A bit of patience can be valuable now and again.
The Colorado Avalanche has fizzled since their hot start to the season and goaltending is a big reason why. Semyon Varlamov has not lived up to the billing as a No. 1 goaltender so far this season. He has a 5-7-1 record, a save percentage below .900 and a goals against average above 3.0. He needs to get his act together.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It's hard to pick just one area on which the Columbus Blue Jackets can improve, but their special teams play has been awful this season. Plenty of things need to improve in Columbus. Special teams play is just the tip of the iceberg.
Puck Possession and Closing Out Games
The Dallas Stars are one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the season, but that does not mean this team is without things to work on. The Stars dropped the final two games of their road trip, and did so by getting vastly out possessed and letting leads slip away in the final frame.
Dallas can't allow themselves to make a habit of that as the season unfolds.
Detroit Red Wings
Executing on the Powerplay
Before Detroit fans jump down my throat, I know the Red Wings powerplay is impressive. When you watch them, they move the puck very well and create chances. However, lately, the team has struggled to punch the puck in on the powerplay for whatever reason. I trust they'll get things turned around as the season moves on.
Defensive Zone Play
As impressive as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have been this season, they have struggled a bit in their own end. They often get stuck there for long periods of time and really haven't fine tuned that part of their game.
Offense will always come easy to these guys. They have skills that a lot of players can't match. However, the defensive part of the game is about more than skill, and these guys will eventually learn that. How quickly they learn this will determine how quickly the Oilers can compete for a playoff spot.
Play Better at Home
Sunrise, Florida seems like a lovely place to be, so it's difficult to understand why the Panthers aren't enjoying much success in their home rink this season. The team is 2-2-3 on the year at home and has struggled to find any sort of consistency in the Sunshine state.
Los Angeles Kings
Given how much money the team spent up front in the offseason, the Kings are having a surprisingly difficult time finding the back of the net to start the year. They have a Vezina-caliber goaltender with a solid defensive unit in front of him. Now, they have to help him out with some more offense.
The Minnesota Wild are off to a terrific start in the Northwest Division, but the team has been a bit hit-or-miss this season. At times, the forecheck will completely disappear and zero offense will be generated. It's clear that the Wild will be fine in terms of keeping pucks out of their net. However, putting some pucks in the opposition's net would certainly help their cause.
The Montreal Canadiens have struggled mightily on the power play this season. Not only are they having trouble generating goals, but they are allowing too many shorthanded goals to their opposition as well.
The Nashville Predators struggled to score goals, so one would think that they would welcome a man advantage. However, the team struggles even more with the man advantage. Offensive talent is a huge need for this team moving forward.
New Jersey Devils
For the past two seasons, the Devils have been a bad team with the man advantage. A bad power play can turn wins into losses pretty quick. Those losses pile up on a team and leave them in the cellar of the division. New Jersey has to find a way to turn things around.
New York Islanders
Play on the Road
The New York Islanders haven't won a single road game this season. It's no wonder they are currently the worst team in the NHL right now.
New York Rangers
Brandon Dubinsky finally scored his first goal of the season the other night, but the team needs more than one goal in 15 games from Dubinsky.
The Ottawa Senators have young pieces in place for a rebuilding effort. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not Craig Anderson will be a part of that. He has been abysmal to start the 2011-12 campaign.
Play the Full 60 Minutes
Don't look now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are just as strong this season as they have been in the past few campaigns. With Chris Pronger in the lineup, the defense has settled down. And while Ilya Bryzgalov has had his lumps this season, his presence is a huge boost to this team.
The problems they have had stem from not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey. I trust that this team will learn to do that in time, as the Flyers are a pretty young bunch.
Mike Smith is standing on his head so far this season, but for the Phoenix Coyotes to sustain their early season success, more offense is needed.
Sidney Crosby's Health
Evgeni Malkin and company have done a fine job to get the Pittsburgh Penguins in first place of the Atlantic Division, but the return of Sidney Crosby is, obviously, going to be a huge boost to this team in so many ways. His improved health is Pittsburgh's best shot at a Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues
Letdowns are tough to overcome in a hockey game. Just ask the St. Louis Blues, who have had plenty of them in the early portion of the 2011-2012 season. New coach Ken Hitchcock has made this a focus area for the team moving forward.
San Jose Sharks
Antti Niemi has hit a bit of a rough patch recently and needs some time to refocus himself. Niemi, however, always starts the season slow only to have phenomenal second halves. So, we'll assume Niemi can pull out of his early season funk, like he usually does.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Dwayne Roloson has had a fine start to the season. It hasn't been anything special, but definitely satisfactory. The backup goaltending, though, has been suspect at best. Garon hasn't establshed a great rapport with his teammates and has posted mediocre numbers.
This wouldn't normally be a huge deal, but considering Roloson's age, a quality backup would be nice to have.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have shocked everyone to start the season. Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are emerging as the players Brian Burke envisioned when trading for them, and the team is starting to look like a legitimate contender.
However, an injury to James Reimer has left Toronto's goalie situation a bit unsettled.
Ben Scrivens has been great for short periods of time, but a reliable veteran would be so valuable for the Leafs as a backup.
Enough is enough. I've always been one to defend Roberto Luongo, but he really needs to start turning things around. His focus is way off to start the season. I don't care about his notoriously slow starts. The Canucks are only going to go as far as Luongo will take them. It's that fact that is getting the best of Luongo. He needs to stop over thinking things in the net and let his instincts take over.
He has eight points in 15 games. He has already been benched. And he continues to take lazy penalties. That's right, Alexander Semin is once again the problem child in Washington D.C. This time, though, I get the feeling that, if he doesn't improve, he'll be shipped out of town.
While it was to be expected, given the amount of travel they have had to endure, the Winnipeg Jets have struggled big time on the road. The team is 3-6-3 on the season away from Manitoba, and things aren't going to get a whole lot easier the rest of the way for the Jets. They just have to weather the storm for now.