Tales of NHL Halloween Horror 2022
It’s Halloween again, folks, when kids prepare for trick or treating while we entertain ourselves with scary stories involving ghosts, ghouls, and other macabre creatures.
With the NHL finally returning to a normal regular-season calendar for the first time since 2019, it’s also a time when struggling teams face the horrifying prospect that their playoff dreams could be coming undone.
We start with the Vancouver Canucks, whose strong second-half performance after stumbling through the first two months of last season saw them remain in the playoff chase until the final week of the schedule. Any hope of building on that effort entering this season has quickly fallen apart after going winless in their first seven games.
The Canucks’ woes sparked grumbling among their followers, with one fan tossing a jersey on the ice in disgust during a loss at home to the Buffalo Sabres. It also sparked speculation over the future of head coach Bruce Boudreau, as well as reports of management warning some players that any changes could be with the roster rather than behind the bench.
Moving on to Columbus, the Blue Jackets made headlines this summer by signing superstar Johnny Gaudreau and re-signing winger Patrik Laine. Despite those moves, the Jackets have won just three of their first nine games.
The gifted but oft-injured Laine missed six games with an elbow injury. Gaudreau, meanwhile, has held up his end with eight points but it hasn’t been enough to improve his club’s anemic offense and porous goaltending.
In Nashville, the Predators kicked off the season with back-to-back wins over the San Jose Sharks in Prague. Since returning from their European excursion, they’ve managed just one win in their last seven contests.
Led by Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, the Predators finished 13th last season in goals-per-game (3.20). As of Oct 29, they tumbled to 2.44 and 30th overall. Perhaps that jaunt overseas did more harm than good.
The Minnesota Wild enjoyed a franchise-best 113-point performance in 2021-22. Expectations were high that this season’s version could become a Stanley Cup contender. Instead, they’ve played sub-.500 hockey with a 3-4-1 record through their first eight games.
Inconsistent goaltending and defense were big issues early on. Veteran starter Marc-Andre Fleury was horrible in his first two games but has steadily improved since. The defense also got better after veterans Alex Goligoski and Jonas Brodin saw more playing time. Time will tell, however, whether these are signs of genuine improvement.
The St. Louis Blues were off to a fast start by winning their first three games. They’ve since dropped their last four, including blowing a 3-1 lead to the Montreal Canadiens in a 7-4 loss on Oct. 29.
A lack of discipline and focus has dogged the Blues in recent games. They’re taking undisciplined penalties and are making uncharacteristic mistakes with the puck that end up costing them on the scoreboard.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have also dropped four straight following a red-hot start that saw them tally six goals in each of their first four wins. Their offense has since dried up as they managed just one goal in each of their last three defeats.
Losing sniper Jake Guentzel to a head injury for four games certainly didn’t help, but a team with superstars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed just six goals during those four losses while giving up 16. Their special-team play was terrible during that stretch.
And then there’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering this season with their fans hopeful of an end to their long Stanley Cup drought, they’ve lurched to a 4-4-1 record. Three of those losses came to lesser teams like the Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks.
Led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, the Leafs are usually among the league’s highest-scoring teams. Thus far, their goals-per-game average of 2.67 ranks 28th overall. Matthews, the two-time Richard Trophy winner and last season’s Hart Trophy winner following his 60-goal performance, has just two goals thus far.
There’s enough time remaining in this season for these teams to reverse their sagging fortunes and climb up the standings. For some of them, however, what we’re seeing now could foreshadow what could become a disappointing outcome to this season.