The 82-game NHL regular season is never completely smooth. Some teams felt it more than others.

October optimism can quickly turn into a nervous November. Injuries accumulate along with losses. The personality cracks before it is fully formed. Confidence is highly valued. And we’ve barely reached the quarter mark of the season.

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It’s believed the team can’t secure a playoff spot in just a few weeks, but it could be too far behind the race to catch up. Some leaders (among them Boston, Vegas, New Jersey) need to feel secure in their early positioning. Some on the other side may have already been counted out.

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Most teams fall somewhere in between, and some have been particularly hard hit by adversity. We break down some of these intermediate links, from the problems they faced to potential solutions that could help turn the page on a happier post-Thanksgiving chapter this season.

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After all, there is still a long way to go.

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Sabers | Senators | Capital Cities
Flame | Canucks

Buffalo Sabers: Growth Challenges

The Buffalo season has started off promisingly. On November 2, the Sabres went 7-3-0, finishing fifth in the NHL and second in the Atlantic Division. Since then, they have become the worst team in the NHL. Back-to-back losses in the Carolinas and Tampa Bay started a skid that Buffalo has yet to recover from, an eight-loss streak (which the Sabers lost 38-19), with seemingly no end in sight.

Problems: Everyone from coach Don Granato to top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has theorized that the Sabres were in decline. An increasingly impatient Granato, who from the start chalked up the failure to needed experience, has since cited the group’s lack of urgency and identity. Dahlin thinks Buffalo lacks swagger. Killer instinct? They don’t have it. Or at least not enough to break out of this funk.

These are intangible issues. Buffalo’s performance on the ice was difficult.

In the Sabres’ last eight games, only Jeff Skinner has scored more than one goal in five-on-five games. Tage Thompson was an excellent powerplay producer, with unmatched offensive power. Buffalo have averaged the most goals per game since November 3 (4.75), and their penalties have been ranked as the worst in the league ever since.

Eric Comrie’s goal performance deteriorated (0-4-0, .865 shooting percentage and 4.28 goals against average) until he was injured against Ottawa earlier this month, forcing the Buffalo to recall Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen as an addition to the 40-year-old. old Craig Anderson. The veteran Anderson has been beating Comrie (0.881% SV, 3.84 GAA) lately, but at his age, Anderson can’t be on the field every night. Despite the Sabres’ best offseason record, goaltending is again a problem.

There are potential stars on the Buffalo roster. Granato is still figuring out how best to use them. Dahlin deservedly sparked the Norris Trophy buzz, which faded a little along with the Sabres’ hopes of overcoming an 11-year postseason drought. And it’s not Dalin’s fault. He was arguably Buffalo’s best player, taking on a heavy workload and looking after rookie Owen Power when they were paired up. The Sabers just need the most, from everyone, everywhere. And it will be even more difficult now that Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons are also out with injuries.

Solutions: The Sabers didn’t add many pieces during the offseason. They were ready to take on a young core of players who would theoretically be the backbone of future great Buffalo teams. What is happening now is a reflection of that choice.

Granato pointed out too many failed attempts after Buffalo’s recent loss to Toronto. He called for more determination to get the team to “dig” and get out of this hole. Granato believes the Sabres’ youth is a big advantage in this. But how?

Thompson, Dahlin, and Dylan Cozens have consistently made efforts, with or without desired results. This is an example that Buffalo should follow. Their situation does not offer the most obvious solutions, because technically the season is going according to plan. The next generation of Saber is here and doing its best to show itself. Part of this is building the right mindset that leads to consistent execution.

The Sabers showed real glimpses of early potential. It didn’t pass. One fat win to end a streak goes a long way. Forget expectations or post-season pressure. The Sabers must decide, first and foremost, who they are and what habits they hang their hats on from game to game.


Ottawa Senators: launch failure

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion was praised for his off-season moves that brought in Claude Giroud, Alex DeBrink, Cam Talbot and others and were predicted to make Ottawa a real playoff contender. The team’s 4-2-0 start record — even without Talbot fully available through injury — suggested these Senators could live up to the hype.

So far they haven’t been able to. Ottawa have lost seven games in a row since that initial surge, and their two wins since then have been over Philadelphia and Buffalo. The Senators went to the Western Conference last in the Atlantic Division.

Problems: When Dorion came to coach DJ Smith’s defense just 11 games into the season, it was obvious that all was not well in Ottawa.

Top hitter Josh Norris, who had been asking since October 30 due to a shoulder injury, didn’t help. The same with the loss of defender Artem Zub for several weeks. Thomas Chabot, who suffered a concussion earlier this month, was also injured. Then Jacob Bernard-Docker lay on the shelf for a month with a high ankle sprain. Talbot is back with good numbers (0.924 SV%, 2.42 GAA) but no sterling record (1-3-0) to show he’s playing for the Senators with compounding issues.

Captain Brady Tkachuk recently called one of them Ottawa “not ready to play” after losing 5-1 to New Jersey. Smith also cited his team’s lack of effort in this matchup, especially because he didn’t come back strong enough on defense. This is a pattern that Ottawa can’t handle.

The same can be said for Ottawa’s offensive inconsistency. Since Nov. 1, the Senators have been ranked 20th in goals scored, and their power play is only 23rd overall (19.4%), despite significant talent.

DeBrinkat is not yet the top scorer with 41 goals that he was in Chicago; only recently has the winger begun to get back on its feet. Tkachuk has scored one five-on-five goals in his last 11 games. Same with Drake Batterson. The veteran Giroud has always been a mainstay of Ottawa, regularly providing goal support. The opposite trend is seen in the Senators defense, which has only scored five goals since the end of October.

Speaking of the back of the Senators, freshman Jake Sanderson blossoms there. It is important. It’s just not enough. Dorion explores the trading market for the depth that Ottawa desperately needs. However, reinforcements are only one piece of the puzzle. Change must also come from within.

Solutions: It’s easy to blame the coach when the team isn’t doing well. Smith is now in his fourth season on the bench, and Ottawa is struggling to thrive. But what Ottawa needs most right now is consistency.

Tkachuk said last week that “one person” is not to blame for the precarious position of the senators. He is right. It is a combination of factors that, as detailed above, aggravate over time. Too many bad habits. Not enough responsibility. This feeling is weighed down—not elevated—by expectations.

Self-inflicted wounds by senators are often the most egregious of all. It is up to the players themselves to rectify this by paying attention to detail, especially in their own zone, and a commitment to a structure that has placed them in a good position at the start of this season.

Will players like Jakob Cichrun or Erik Karlsson improve Ottawa’s prospects? Absolutely. Rumor has it that Dorion is looking into both players as potential trades. But just as one player isn’t the only problem, one addition isn’t a quick fix. Ottawa has a good base. Senators should play the way they believe in it.


Washington Capitals: Closing Window

The Capitals are a team set to win, but not winning. Washington’s best record was 4–3–0 in its first seven games, and two of those victories came against Montreal and Vancouver. Since then, the Capitals have not won a single victory in a row.

As a result, Washington finished seventh in the Metro division, just above the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Problems: Washington knew that Niklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson would be absent this season. These voids were large enough. TJ Oshie missed an extended spell followed by a potential injury to Connor Brown at the end of the season and other players being cut and hit along the way, only exacerbating their injury problems.

Many of those still on the roster — not named Alex Ovechkin — weren’t playing by the usual Washington standards. The Capitals’ calling card has long been their attack, and so far this is only its shadow. Washington ranks 24th in hitting percentage (9.2%) and 26th in goals per game (2.75). No player scored double-digit goals in Washington’s first 20 games.

The Capitals were also just a shell in the powerplay. Unless Ovechkin scores goals from his right-wing cabinet, there has been no regular action with an advantage among players ranked 24th in the league (18.9%). Washington’s lack of powerplay goals starts with his frequent inability to properly tune in.

Meanwhile, their 15th spot in the rankings from penalties (78.3%) also went downhill, leaving goaltenders Darcy Kemper and Charlie Lindgren hanging to dry with the volume of chances allowed.

Washington’s defense didn’t help his goaltenders either. The Capitals have struggled during the transition, especially against faster opponents, and they have slipped into the bottom half of the league in goals and shots against.

Solutions: Overcoming injury problems early in the season will be…