Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Bad Starts Don’t Always Sink a Season
There's a heck of a cloud lingering over certain parts of the East Coast right now. Most of it seems to hover over the upper part, particularly within a 50-mile radius or so covering New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. However, this cloud also has broken off, clouding up the otherwise bright skies near Miami, Florida, as well as bringing pockets to upstate New York and over the Edmonton part of Western Canada.
It's the cloud of a losing record for the first month of the NHL season. And for many fan bases, a losing record is a disastrous way to begin a season, living up to the old adage that you can't win a championship at the beginning of the season, but you can certainly lose one.
However, all is not lost (though the Buffalo Sabres are certainly in precarious territory). No one wants to cap off October by being a number of games below the watershed mark of .500, yet a poor October can be caused by a number of things: chemistry, injuries, bad luck. More importantly, there's no reason why things can't turn around.
The most realistic way to establish sensible playoff contention is to be at .500 (or reasonable close) by Christmas. That means that for these teams, a reasonably winning record in November and December can bring them to that plateau. If they can achieve that, then they're in the middle of the dogfight, and a strong January or February can propel them into the playoffs.
It's not unprecedented, but it does take righting the ship in November as a first step. Win streaks ebb and flow for teams, and for most of these teams, a simple four- or five-game win streak can bring their heads above water. To get there, though, each of these teams needs to address what's been going wrong.
For the Florida Panthers, it's goaltending and defense. For the Edmonton Oilers, it's that taken to the nth degree. For the Philadelphia Flyers, it's offense — who would have thought that Steve Mason would be holding them in games? For the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, it's pretty much everything.
The Sabres may have to look at this as merely a rebuilding year, but the Rangers certainly have the tools to do much better than this. Perhaps it's the adjustment period for adjusting to a new coach or perhaps it's the absurdly long road trip to start the season while the Madison Square Garden renovations finish. Injuries to Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist certainly don't help, but the pieces are in place for this team to do better.
For the here and now, though, fans shouldn't feel too defeated — even Buffalo Sabres fans. A burst of a win streak can quickly push things in the right direction; more importantly, the overcoming of adversity can set a team up for stronger resolve and smarter habits when the chips are really on the table after the turn of the calendar year.