The Halloween season is in full effect, but some NHL fan bases are already experiencing some demons of their own. A handful of teams have gotten off to scary starts, and CBS Sports is here to investigate just how terrified they should be.
The Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins, two teams that entered the season with high expectations, find themselves in an early hole. Are things really as terrifying as they seem, or is there some hope they can escape unscathed and go on a deep postseason run?
Other squads, like the Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken, might have even bigger problems on their hands. Things look bleak for both of those franchises, and they might get tricked more than treated throughout the season.
Here are the six NHL teams off to the scariest starts, based on the highly scientific Scare Meter:
Nivison: Things have gotten terrifying pretty quickly in Edmonton. The Oilers entered the season as one of the Stanley Cup favorites, but they have just two wins in their first eight games, and there are some major red flags.
The goaltending situation has to be the most frightful in the NHL. Jack Campbell still looks like one of the worst free agent signings in recent memory, and Stuart Skinner did not pick up where he left off after finishing second in Calder Trophy voting last season.
The other concerns involve a couple of key players. Mattias Ekholm posted fantastic five-on-five impacts after being acquired by the Oilers before last year’s trade deadline, but those have dipped to start 2023-24. Beyond that, Connor McDavid has been quiet at five-on-five too. Prior to his injury, McDavid had just four shots on goal and 0.6 expected goals in those situations. All of that is highly concerning for an alleged Cup contender, but there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.
The Oilers are absolutely loaded with offensive skill. That part of their game will click eventually. The question is whether they will be able to outscore putrid goaltending enough to climb up the standings. That remains to be seen, but the underlying offensive numbers indicate that this isn’t a “Saw” level horror show … yet. Scare Meter: 6/10
Nivison: The Flames are off to another cold start, and this team looks an awful lot like the one that missed the postseason in 2022-23. Decent five-on-five numbers don’t paint the full picture of how frustrating this team has been so far. As a team, Calgary has controlled play at five-on-five relatively well. The issues become apparent when you look at which players have struggled the most on an individual basis. Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Rasmus Andersson have all struggled, and they are the players Calgary is relying on to drive the bus — which is simply not happening right now.
In net, there has been a slight improvement over last season, if only because Jacob Markstrom is no longer one of the very worst goaltenders in the league. Dan Vladar remains one of the most unreliable backups around, so if Markstrom can’t elevate his game anymore, Calgary might be in trouble.
If this slow start was a new thing for the Flames, I might be inclined to give them a pass, but this is exactly what they did for 82 games last year. Key players are falling flat, and the goaltending situation isn’t nearly good enough to bail them out. Like the “Halloween” franchise, the same old problems are back to wreak havoc in Calgary all over again. Scare Meter: 8/10
Nivison: One of the few things scarier than a giant sea monster that can swallow boats whole is the regression monster. That is what the Kraken are dealing with out of the gate. Can they shake it in time to make a playoff push?
Last season, I was skeptical of Seattle’s success at five-on-five, primarily because it led the league in shooting percentage. That has come down in a major way through the first couple weeks of the 2023-24 campaign. Jaden Schwartz and Jared McCann are off to decent starts for Seattle, but that is about it. Matty Beniers, Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, Andre Burakovsky and Eeli Tolvanen have combined for three goals. Eventually, players like Beniers and Burakovsky will get theirs, but the lack of offense overall is troubling, as is the fact that the Kraken are giving up more chances than they’re getting. Combine Seattle’s lack of offense with its highly suspect goaltending tandem, and you get the “Drag Me To Hell” sequel, “Drag Me Back to the Bottom of the Pacific.” Scare Meter: 9/10
Bengel: After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons, the Penguins were faced with quite a conundrum: tear it down or go for one final run at the Stanley Cup? Pittsburgh elected to keep the band together and made a splash by acquiring All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson in a trade with the San Jose Sharks.
After landing Karlsson, the expectations were incredibly high for the Penguins. Through the first couple weeks of the season, the return hasn’t exactly been what many envisioned. The Penguins have just a 3-5-0 record through the first eight games. If that wasn’t underwhelming enough, Karlsson hasn’t been incredibly productive out of the gate as he’s registered just four points (one goal and three assists) during that span.
Pittsburgh has received solid goaltending from starting netminder Tristan Jarry, who re-signed with the team in the offseason. The goal scoring remains the biggest issue as the Penguins are scoring just 2.88 goals-per-game, which ranks 19th in the NHL. While that’s not abysmal, it’s unacceptable when you have as deep of a forward group as the Penguins do.
Eventually, it’s possible the Penguins start putting the puck in the net at a more consistent rate, and Karlsson gets more acclimated with his new team. Still, it’s quite alarming that this team isn’t producing like a Stanley Cup contender early on. Scare Meter: 8/10
Bengel: The Panthers got hot at the right time last year as they rolled all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before eventually falling to the Vegas Golden Knights. After advancing to their second Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Panthers haven’t exactly picked up where they left off entering the 2023-24 campaign.
Florida owns a 4-3-0 record thus far and has been lackluster in the goals department. The Panthers are putting the puck in the net just 2.86 times per contest, and they are barely outscoring their opponents so far. While a 4-3-0 mark isn’t bad, it hasn’t exactly been the type of start a defending Eastern Conference champion wants.
Now the Panthers are a little shorthanded on the back end. Defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are currently out of the lineup following shoulder surgery, and they are likely to miss a good chunk of the 2023-24 season. That’s certainly enough to cripple any team’s production. The Panthers are obviously playing without their full roster, so that has to be taken into account. That’s probably why I’m not exactly panicking with this group just yet, but they’re going to need to start lighting the lamp more often. Scare Meter: 6/10
Bengel: Prior to missing the postseason in the 2022-23 season, the Capitals hadn’t missed out on an opportunity to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup since the 2013-14 campaign. Is this going to become a trend? The early portion of 2023-24 may lead some, including myself, to believe that to be true.
Over the past two decades, the narrative for the Capitals has been that the team goes as Alex Ovechkin goes. Is it possible that Ovechkin is a shell of his former self? There’s certainly some red flags when it comes to Ovechkin at this stage of his career. Ovechkin has scored just two goals through the team’s opening six games, which puts him on a pace for 27 goals this season. To put that into perspective, 27 would be the fewest number of goals Ovechkin has ever scored in an 82-game regular season. According to MoneyPuck, the Capitals have just 14.88 Expected Goals For, which is 22nd in the NHL. That takes into account factors such as shot location and game situations. Ovechkin still leads the Capitals in points (8), while Dylan Strome is the only player that has registered more than two goals as he has six on the season.
This Capitals team faded out of the playoff race… [continued]