You hear it a lot in the first month or two of a new season.
It's still early.
When Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed three goals or more in four of his first five starts, some may have been asking why one of the world's best goalies wasn't playing to reputation. But stress out about it? Nah, too early.
When the Maple Leafs won just two of their first seven, had a power play that couldn't score, and allowed seven goals against a depleted Penguins squad, it was understandable to the group. But panic? Too early.
Speaking of putrid power plays, Vegas' has inexplicably struggled for some time now and this time it contributed to a slower than normal start for the perennial contender. But so did injuries, with a number of core players out. They'd get more healthy, Jack Eichel is now on the horizon and so, ya, it was too early to draw any negative conclusion about the Golden Knights.
Each of these three cases has already gotten sunnier, with Vasilevsky running a sub-2.00 GAA in his most recent six starts, the Maple Leafs winners of three straight and eight of 10, and Vegas on an 8-2-0 run of their own, seeing Mark Stone return over the weekend.
But when isn't it too early to get real?
Is it the official quarter mark, 20 games in? Is it the slightly less official quarter mark, American Thanksgiving, which is just over a week away? We're at the point now where a bad run in October and November could be something to worry about.
Toronto, Tampa and Vegas had recent history that supported reason to be optimistic about the course correcting. But these teams are far less certain at this time.
It's a red alert after the Canucks dropped three road games in a row by a combined 19-6 score. The Thursday and Saturday losses was the first time since Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 1997 that Vancouver had back-to-back games allowing seven goals against -- three days later those Canucks fired GM Pat Quinn and 10 days after that the coach, Tom Renney, was gone. This year's Canucks followed back-to-back seven-goal losses with a 5-1 defeat to Anaheim.
So what do the Canucks do now?
Current head coach Travis Green just signed a two-year contract extension in May, and the team could have let him walk at that point. It was a vote of confidence not only for the coach, but the GM who hired him and preferred to keep Green after a 23-29-4 season that placed the Canucks at the bottom of the Canadian division. Last year was difficult to measure especially since the Canucks were hit so hard with COVID and faced an extremely condensed schedule for the home stretch. But even before that they had been inconsistent and started much the same they did this season -- 12 points through 16 games. They actually had one more win at this point last season.
They were supposed to compete in the Pacific Division again and, sure, not all the stars are clicking yet. Elias Pettersson has three goals and nine points in 16 games. Brock Boeser four goals and eight points in 13 games. So some of this might naturally turn around with better luck, but time is running thin to wait and hope on that.
In the last full season we had (2018-19) the final playoff seed in the Western Conference qualified with 90 points. These Canucks would need 78 points in their last 66 games to reach that mark, let's say a 35-23-8 record. And it's probably going to take more than that to get the last spot in 2022.
Vancouver heads home this week and has a couple of days off with a mountain of questions and uncertainty before their next game Wednesday against a Colorado team that just hammered them 7-1 last week. It's crisis time, so what will the owner choose to do? Is it the coach? The GM? Player personnel? Or will a lack of action bring out the boo birds for Wednesday's game?
Even worse than the Canucks, Montreal has started 4-11-2, the second-lowest points percentage in the league and they dropped two more roadies on the weekend -- one in Detroit and one in Boston. This hot seat situation is vastly different than Vancouver's, though.
For one, the team just reached the Stanley Cup Final last season, so there is something substantial to hang their hat on. Their most important player and MVP, Carey Price, has been on the sidelines all season to look after himself, so we don't have full view of the Habs really. Head coach Dominique Ducharme received a three-year contract after guiding the team as the interim boss last season. The closest thing to a hot seat situation here might be GM Marc Bergevin, who is in the last season of his contract, and though he had made a case for a substantial extension, now that's maybe less certain. The two sides weren't expecting to get a new deal done during the season anyway.
The thing is, there might be no easy fix to this roster if it is fatally flawed. Nine players are signed through at least another three seasons beyond this one, and most of them are the higher paid players on the team. The Habs may see this thing out regardless, but closing in on the quarter mark they are settling much more into the Shane Wright race than anything close to a playoff one.
Absolutely dreadful. But hot seat? Nah, this was the plan.
It was clear the Coyotes were tanking the season and eyeing the top draft pick, though the degree to which they've been dominated hasn't been a good look for the team or league. Since getting their first win of the season against expansion Seattle, Arizona has dropped three more, the latest a 4-1 loss to Nashville. Arizona is now 1-13-1, which could have them on an historically awful trajectory.
Remember the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche, the worst team of the salary cap era? They finished 22-56-4 for 48 points. But even they started 7-8-0 before going off the tracks.
Right now the Coyotes are on pace for a roughly 16-point season, which would be even worse than the 1974-75 Washington Capitals that went 8-67-5 for 21 points. They are often cited as the worst team in NHL history and if the Coyotes don't watch out, they could give them a run for their money.
A popular bounce-back pick, like Vancouver, the Dallas Stars experienced some difficulty off the ice last season, with pauses due to a COVID outbreak and a devastating local storm. Their back end of the season was extremely compressed as well, and even though it was a tough uphill climb, the Stars still made a chase of it and hung around the playoff race late into the season.
Two years ago they were in the Cup Final and mixing in with the vets on the league's second-oldest team were youngsters like Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson. Their team defence was one of the most suffocating in the league and they added Ryan Suter to it in the summer. So, it figured, they could get back on track with things returning to comparative normal this season.
Not so fast.
After being one of the best two or three teams at defending against shots, and especially high quality shots, at 5-on-5, Dallas has fallen down those rankings early this season. And their offence, which hasn't been their strong suit the past couple of years, has sagged even further to 29th in the league so far. Incredibly, they are the only team that hasn't won a single game in regulation -- even Arizona has done that.
Changes have already been made. Blake Comeau and Tanner Kero were put on waivers and sent to the AHL. On Saturday night, Jeff Marek reported assistant coach John Stevens was no longer on the bench, moved to an upstairs view.
Head coach Rick Bowness, who got the promotion when Jim Montgomery had to step away, signed his two-year extension prior to last season and could find his way on to the hot seat before long. We've seen a players only meeting, we've seen roster changes, and now it's time to see some results. A 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Saturday is a good start.
It's not necessarily over for these teams (though we're pretty confident the book is closed on at least Arizona). Remember in 2018-19 the St. Louis Blues were 30th in the league by standings points on Jan. 1 and then turned it all the way around into a Stanley Cup championship.
That is definitely not the norm though, and it's time to ponder how to fix the slowest starters in the league.
• Connor McDavid's impressive rip up the career points list continued over the weekend, with another milestone hit at rapid historical pace. Edmonton's captain became the sixth-fastest player to 600 points, hitting the mark in his 421st game Sunday night, putting him behind just Wayne Gretzky (274 games to 600 points), Mario Lemieux (323), Peter Stastny (394), Mike Bossy (400), Jari Kurri (419). McDavid beat Crosby by nine games to the mark. McDavid is only picking up steam it seems, which is hard to believe after he crossed 100 points in only 56 games last season. McDavid has somehow improved that points per game mark so far, averaging just shy of two per game in 2021-22. Amazingly, that's only good for second in league scoring, as he trails teammate Leon Draisaitl by four points. But where Draisaitl has been kept off the score sheet twice this season, McDavid has recorded a point in each of his first 14 games and who's betting against him keeping that going for a while? The best points streak by an active player to start a season is Patrick Kane in 2015-16 and he got to 26 games. The best point streak to begin a season ever? Wayne Gretzky of course, and McDavid has a ways to go to get to No. 99's run of 51 games.
• P.K. Subban is in further hot water after another slew foot incident on the weekend, this time against New York's Sammy Blais. Could a suspension be incoming? The Devils defenceman has already been accused of slew footing three times this season: In the pre-season against Ryan Reaves, receiving no supplemental discipline. In October he was fined $5,000 for an incident with Milan Lucic and a week later, Subban was fined $15,000 for "tripping" Anaheim's Trevor Zegras. "A lot like the Reaves one that I saw," Rangers coach Gerard Gallant told the media after Subban's latest. Will this cross the line into suspension territory? Blais left the game with a knee injury and could miss some time.
• If you haven't yet indulged with some Battle of Florida action, you're doing yourself a disservice. As the Florida Panthers rise as a possible contender, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still there and now we've got a recent playoff history to draw on, too. Saturday's was a 3-2 OT decision in Tampa Bay's favour and it was a show of all things -- great rushes and offensive chances and fantastic goaltending at both ends of the ice. If Sergei Bobrovsky is really back, as he's looked to be this season, the Florida rivalry can hit another gear. Now, the Panthers have to be careful here as they hit the first bump of their season -- they have now lost four games in a row, two of which came in regulation. The Lightning didn't start fast, but have gone 5-0-2 in their past seven. The champs got back on track quickly, as a true contender does. The Panthers play the Islanders, Devils and Wild at home this week, and will be tested to show they are among that top tier.
• Small, but significant, update: Troy Terry keeps going and has now recorded a point in 14 straight games, matching Connor McDavid for the longest active run. His centre, Ryan Getzlaf, has now surpassed his point total from all of last season. Ya, we'd say he's back.
Red And White Power Rankings
1. Edmonton Oilers (11-3-0): The power play is still a ridiculous 41 per cent. Draisaitl and McDavid are unstoppable and Jesse Puljujarvi has been a great early-season story as a point per game player. The down side to the week was the news that Mike Smith had suffered a set back in his injury and left the road trip, which wraps in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Mikko Koskinen, after a great start, has allowed 12 goals in his past three starts, all wins. Something to monitor.
2. Winnipeg Jets (8-3-3): Have gotten at least a point in 11 straight games and Mark Scheifele, finally, got on the board in a dramatic way Saturday, scoring his first of the season in overtime. The penalty kill is a spore spot, though, with just a 65.8 per cent kill rate.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (10-5-1): A bumpy start has been washed away with a 6-1-0 November so far in which the sleepy power play has awoken with a 41.2 per cent success rate. The lines were jumbled on Saturday in the second half of a back-to-back and though it wasn't always the smoothest, the only thing that matters -- the result -- was. Now it's about making this the normal.
4. Calgary Flames (8-3-4): A head-to-head loss to Toronto on Friday has to bump the Flames down these rankings a bit, but that's no intended knock on the Flames, who have been playing good hockey. They got the two points they needed Sunday against a COVID-depleted Sens lineup. And don't look now but following Oliver Kylington, another unlikely story is developing in Calgary as backup goalie Dan Vladar put together two good games, going 1-0-1 against Toronto and Ottawa on the weekend with a .969 save percentage.
5. Montreal Canadiens (4-11-2): A little bit of bad luck contributed to this weekend's results, but it feels like a long road back for the Canadiens anyway. It's all about the small victories these days. Ryan Poehling got on the board for his first of the season Saturday and Michael Pezzetta, a sixth-rounder from 2016, followed with his first on Sunday. The down side coming out of the weekend is that goalie Jake Allen is day-to-day, so the Habs are down to Sam Montembault and Cayden Primeau for the time being.
6. Ottawa Senators (4-10-1): The league is doing the Sens no favours by running them out there nightly even with 10 players on the COVID protocol list. We saw how taxing it was for teams to deal with COVID outbreaks last season and although everyone on the Sens is vaccinated, the challenges remain immense as a lineup gets pieced together. Saturday's win over Pittsburgh was a monumental effort, and the following 4-0 loss to Calgary the very next day completely understandable -- not that the team is in the business of making excuses.
7. Vancouver Canucks (5-9-2): For an organization in crisis mode, there is nowhere else to rank the Canucks but at the bottom this week. Buckle up for what could be a wild ride ahead.
The Week Ahead
• Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Monday night in Toronto. Congrats to the 2020 class for finally getting their day: Ken Holland (builder), Kim St-Pierre, Doug Wilson, Kevine Lowe, Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa. Who will have the speech of the night?
• When the Blues were navigating their own COVID situation they appealed to the league for salary cap leniency to give them more flexibility for player call-ups, but that didn't come. One thing that would have allowed them to do was bring up 23-year-old defenceman Scott Perunovich, who is tied for the AHL scoring lead in his first year out of college. Well, the 2018 second-rounder was finally called up Monday morning, so keep an eye out for his debut this week. The Blues host Arizona Tuesday and San Jose Thursday. Perunovich was named USA Hockey's college player of the year in 2020.