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Which struggling NHL teams need to hit the panic button?


MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 19: Goaltender Jake Allen #34 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at Centre Bell on October 19, 2021 in Montreal, Canada. The San Jose Sharks defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

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Earlier this week we looked at some NHL teams that have maybe exceeded expectations in the early part of the season and tried to determine which ones are for real.

This is the opposite end of that spectrum.

Here we are taking a look at some teams off to rough starts and which ones need to consider hitting the panic button. Nobody wants to panic a week-and-a-half into the season, but sometimes you can get a sense for when things are just not going well with your team and the roster is all wrong. Some teams might already be there.

Montreal is a mess

Not only did they fall to 0-5-0 with Thursday’s loss to Carolina, continuing one of the worst starts in franchise history, they got embarrassed on home ice with offer sheet twins Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi combining for three goals in the 4-1 decision.

There is a lot going on here because the 0-5 start just after a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is definitely staggering. But a lot of things had to go right for Montreal to reach the level it reached a year ago. They had to play in the right division to allow them to even make the playoffs. Get the right playoff matchups (again the result of the division). Get the white-hot goaltending for three rounds.

[Related: Should Canadiens be concerned about slow start? ]

Now they are back in a division and conference loaded with Cup contenders, and a lot of players that helped make that run possible a year ago are no longer on the ice. Carey Price is sidelined. Shea Weber is done for the season, and maybe for his career. Phillip Danault, Kotkaniemi, and Tomas Tatar are playing for new teams. The result has been four goals in five games, zero wins, and a lot of ugliness.

Is it time to hit the panic button? In the sense of them making the playoffs? Yes. That was always going to be a struggle and it is clear this team has some issues. But it is not this bad. You hope that Price is able to return soon. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki are great young talents that will be better. There is some talent on this team. It will get better. Just probably not enough to make the playoffs in a tough division and conference.

Chicago is an even bigger mess

At least the Canadiens have some excuses.

What’s Chicago’s excuse? The Blackhawks got their No. 1 center back, made big splash after big splash over the offseason in terms of adding players and spending money, and they are still lousy.

[Related: Looking at Blackhawks’ lousy start]

Through five games they are 0-4-1, have been outscored 21-9 overall, 17-3 at even-strength, been booed off the ice in their only two home games, and perhaps even more shockingly, have yet to play a single second with the lead this season. They have either been trailing or tied all year. And given how early they have given up goals in games, they have spent the majority of their time playing from behind. How much time? They have trailed for 225 minutes this season. They have played 301 minutes of hockey. That is literally 75% of the season.

The only other teams that have trailed for more than 130 minutes this season are Montreal (200 minutes) and Seattle (174 minutes).

Is it time to hit the panic button? Most definitely. They should be slamming it. This is not a team missing people, or dealing with injuries, or a team that is less than 100 percent. This is the team as it was supposed to look. But what is staggering about that is nobody should have had any illusions that things would be dramatically better. They have missed the playoffs three out of the past four years, only sneaking in one time because of the Return To Play bubble when they were the 23rd ranked team in the league. Their solution for the offseason was to throw a monstrous contract at a declining defenseman, acquire a 37-year-old goalie that was going from a Cup contender to a defensive sieve of a team, and Tyler Johnson. Even the good moves had serious questions. Bad times ahead here.

Things are going as planned in Arizona

Okay, maybe Coyotes management will not come out and admit that, but this season is clearly not about winning hockey games. It is about tearing things down and accumulating as many future assets as possible.

Mission accomplished.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No need to at any point this season. Nobody should have had any thoughts about this team contending after trading Darcy Kuemper, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak, and Conor Garland over the offseason. The only thing that should cause a panic here is if they do something outrageously stupid, like trade Jakob Chychrun.

What’s up with the Islanders?

Despite their recent playoff success the Islanders have never really been a great regular season team. They have that one 15-game stretch every year where they go 12-0-3, bank a ton of points, and then fumble along at a .500 pace the rest of the year before wrecking the playoffs for everybody.

But one thing they always do well is defend.

And that is not necessarily happening this season. At least not yet. And that is probably the most concerning development about their 1-2-1 start. They are not really playing like the Islanders yet.

Is it time to hit the panic button? No, probably not. This is still a good team with great goaltending, a great coach, and an outstanding defense. And even though they are not a dynamic team offensively it is still a team with a deep collection of forwards with few weaknesses. They will get there. The one thing that might be a little bit of a concern is the 13-game road trip to open the season that has them criss-crossing North America. You do not want to get off to a slow start that many games into the season. That can be tough to get out of.

Colorado will be fine

Maybe the most surprising start is the Colorado Avalanche being 1-3 through four games, including a three-game losing streak.

This is a team that only had two three-game losing streaks all of last season -- a three-game streak late in the regular season, then losing four games in a row to the Golden Knights in the playoffs.

They have not yet been at 100% this season, with Nathan MacKinnon missing two games, Gabriel Landeskog being suspended for two games, Valeri Nichushkin being sidelined, and Devon Toews not yet playing.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Not even close. This is still the best roster in the league on paper and it is only a matter of time until they get rolling again. Especially once we see them at full strength.