The calendar has flipped to December, Thanksgiving is within the rearview mirror and practically each NHL workforce has handed the quarter mark of their season. Lots of hockey is left to be performed, however the “it’s early, don’t worry” plea is turning into much less and fewer of a legitimate reassurance for underperforming golf equipment.

Many groups are in that scenario, falling wanting expectations. Forget simply playoff contenders, there are organizations with legit Stanley Cup aspirations who’re on the skin trying in proper now. Coaches are on the recent seat, fan bases are panicking and in some circumstances, there may be a drastic change in path if the practice doesn’t get again on monitor.

No playoff contender has dug itself an insurmountable gap — the margin between being in or out is razor skinny proper now — however the temperature is inching greater. Let’s analyze playoff contenders outdoors the bar to see what’s gone fallacious and fee them from one to 5 for the way fearful they need to be (1 which means not fearful, 5 which means full panic mode).

Since groups have performed an uneven variety of video games, we’re going to kind by factors proportion as an alternative of uncooked factors (which means Minnesota will draw right into a playoff spot and Calgary shall be out within the Western Conference wild card).

Record: 11-9-4

What’s gone fallacious: The Rangers were tied with the second-best betting odds of winning the Metropolitan Division on the heels of a visit to the Eastern Conference remaining. Instead, they discover themselves fifth within the Metro, behind each of their in-state rivals, the Devils and Islanders.

Igor Shesterkin was superhuman in 2021-22, placing collectively top-of-the-line goaltending campaigns in NHL historical past, however he’s come again right down to Earth. He hasn’t been dangerous, however the .913 save proportion he’s managed ranks twenty fourth amongst goalies with not less than seven video games performed this season. Jaroslav Halak was mightily struggling because the backup with an .881 save proportion and 0-5-1 file earlier than authoring an excellent efficiency on Wednesday towards the Senators to choose up his first win.

Igor Shesterkin. (Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

New York’s energy play seemed unstoppable final yr but it surely’s ranked nineteenth within the league this season.

The Rangers have additionally constructed a nasty behavior of blowing leads. They coughed up a 3-0 benefit within the third interval for a regulation loss towards the Oilers final Saturday and adopted that up the subsequent sport by blowing an early 2-0 lead towards the Devils. New York misplaced two different video games earlier within the month the place they blew multi-goal third-period leads.

New York’s backside two pairs have underperformed. Jacob Trouba’s seemed off and the No. 6 spot on the left aspect has been in a state of flux.

Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider are the membership’s solely high-end wingers partly as a result of Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière nonetheless haven’t damaged out.

Outlook: Teams that depend on an elite energy play and out-of-this-world goaltending as an alternative of a secure basis constructed on controlling five-on-five play are often at the next threat of taking a step again.

Elite skills like Connor Hellebuyck (.910 save proportion final season) and Carey Price (.900 in 2017-18) have performed common or solely first rate for a complete season earlier than so it’s not a provided that Shesterkin will instantly return to elite kind even when he has the expertise to do precisely that. New York’s in huge bother if Shesterkin’s common kind persists.

The energy play, alternatively, ought to theoretically resurge in some unspecified time in the future. It’s change into just a little too predictable however there’s an excessive amount of elite expertise on the primary unit for it to not adapt.

I wouldn’t be panicking but, however there are many causes to be involved and really feel uncertain.

Panic meter: 3/5

Record: 10-9-4

What’s gone fallacious: Florida’s in the midst of a spiral, having dropped six of its final seven video games.

The Panthers haven’t totally gelled beneath Paul Maurice, can’t win the additional level when video games go previous 60 minutes (1-4 file in extra time/shootouts) and have actually missed Alex Barkov, who’s missed the previous few video games with an sickness.

Florida’s greatest drawback proper now could be particular groups. The Panthers’ energy play was fifth finest within the NHL final season however sits twenty fifth proper now and the penalty kill hasn’t been a lot better.

Sergei Bobrovsky has completely imploded since late October. He and Spencer Knight have cut up video games fairly evenly so far, however Maurice wants to begin driving Knight.

The blue line’s additionally a weak spot. MacKenzie Weegar’s departure hurts and Aaron Ekblad’s defensive kind hasn’t been adequate when he’s been within the lineup. Ekblad’s surrendered five-on-five pictures, high-danger possibilities and targets towards on the highest fee of all Panthers defenders this season.

The fourth line has room for enchancment as effectively. Eric Staal is pointless in 16 video games and has been outscored 7-2 in his five-on-five minutes.

Outlook: There’s a lot elite scoring expertise {that a} turnaround on the ability play needs to be a freebie. That alone will clear up a lot of issues as a result of the Panthers have a plus-six purpose differential at five-on-five along with a few of the most dominant underlying numbers within the league. Knight’s been strong and continues getting higher which ought to assist stabilize the goaltending.

The scenario seems to be dangerous proper now however the Panthers are such a robust even-strength workforce that I’d guess on them rising.

Panic meter: 1.5/5

Record: 10-11-3

What’s gone fallacious: Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin haven’t performed a single sport but. Connor Brown is completed for the season after an ACL surgical procedure, whereas T.J. Oshie’s returned however missed 11 video games earlier within the yr. Dmitry Orlov has been out since early November.

Injuries and age are merely catching up with the Capitals. It hasn’t helped that their energy play is just twentieth within the league.

The ahead accidents and struggling energy play have left Washington with a muted offensive assault.

John Carlson’s delivering dependable offence as common however continues to guide the highest pair to questionable defensive outcomes. Carlson’s allowed high-danger possibilities and targets towards on the highest fee of all Caps defenders at five-on-five.

Outlook: Backstrom and Wilson have been skating but neither has participated with the team in formal practice which suggests their returns aren’t imminent. There are simply too many ahead accidents and never sufficient high-end offensive talent past Alex Ovechkin.

The competitors to make up floor can be very fierce. The Metro is the hardest division in hockey and the East as a complete has too many high quality rivals. Washington’s blue line will get a lift with Orlov’s return and Darcy Kuemper has been strong between the pipes, so these are optimistic indicators, however the uphill climb could also be too steep.

Panic meter: 4/5

Ottawa Senators

Record: 8-13-1

What’s gone fallacious: Ottawa wasn’t essentially anticipated to make the playoffs, however the membership wanted to be within the race and present a decisive step ahead after GM Pierre Dorion’s aggressive offseason. Instead, the Senators have made firm with the Connor Bedard tank contenders.

The blue line’s been troublesome, particularly when Artem Zub was harm. Travis Hamonic, for instance, shouldn’t be having to play top-four minutes at this stage in his profession.

Ottawa’s particular groups and goaltending have been peculiar, too. Josh Norris’ damage has created a serious top-six gap down the center.

Outlook: The Sens have actually performed lots higher than their file would point out. They play with velocity, management video games pretty effectively at even power and have misplaced many shut one-goal video games the place they deserved a greater destiny. That dangerous luck will reverse — they aren’t legit contenders for a top-three choose — however the blue line is just too flawed and the standings gap they’ve dug is just too deep for them to realistically make the playoffs.

Panic meter: 5/5

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Senators goalie Cam Talbot makes a save on Rangers’ Vincent Trocheck. (Marc DesRosiers / USA Today)

Calgary Flames

Record: 10-9-3

What’s gone fallacious: The Flames personal the second wild-card spot by uncooked factors however slip out of it by factors proportion to the Wild. Calgary’s missing a dynamic top-end offensive punch proper now. Jonathan Huberdeau’s solely notched 12 factors in 19 video games and whereas Tyler Toffoli’s an excellent participant off to a robust begin, it doesn’t bode effectively when your main level producer solely has 16 factors in 22 video games.

The energy play specifically is off to a troubling begin, rating twenty second within the league.

Jacob Markstrom’s been leaky as effectively, rocking simply an .889 save proportion.

Outlook: Calgary’s a extremely high-quality workforce on paper and may stabilize. The Flames are adjusting to a ton of change with their core which might generally take time to totally click on. They additionally had one of many hardest schedules within the league to open the season — it’s going to be simpler sledding the remainder of the best way.

Ultimately, it is a workforce with glorious centre depth (Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Backlund), an elite winger in Huberdeau that may work out of his stoop, top-of-the-line high fours within the NHL with Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev and MacKenzie Weegar, and Markstrom, who was a Vezina finalist final season.

The Flames are nonetheless driving even-strength play, with their 53.9 % five-on-five shot try differential rating fourth finest within the NHL.

Goaltending-wise, you won’t be capable of assure {that a} .913 save proportion netminder like Shesterkin will instantly return to elite kind, however it’s best to really feel fairly assured {that a} sub .890 Markstrom will not less than change into competent once more, which might give the Flames a major increase.

The Western Conference can be noticeably weaker than the East which provides Calgary a larger margin for error as they determine issues out.

Panic meter: 1/5

Record: 10-9-2

What’s gone fallacious: Nashville ranks thirtieth within the NHL by way of its all-situations targets for fee. Why? Well, proper off the bat, Matt Duchene, Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have all seen their manufacturing decline after taking part in a few of the finest years of their respective careers final season. It’s not that they’ve been dangerous, they only aren’t packing the identical elite punch they used to.

The scoring points on the high finish have been exacerbated as a result of a few of their younger expertise hasn’t contributed sufficient. Tanner Jeannot scored 24 targets final season however has registered simply 5 factors thus far. Philip Tomasino went from impressively producing 32 factors in a restricted function as a rookie to being demoted to the AHL. Eeli Tolvanen and Cody Glass haven’t taken a lot of a step both.

Nashville’s energy play has additionally been anemic.

The incapacity to attain targets was particularly problematic early within the season when Juuse Saros was struggling, though he’s rebounded and is absolutely beginning to roll now.

Outlook: Saros discovering his groove is a good signal. On the opposite hand, the again finish’s not as formidable as I assumed it might be. Ryan McDonagh hasn’t had the smoothest transition because the Predators have been outshot and outchanced by huge margins when he’s been on the ice.

It’s additionally truthful to surprise how the workforce will clear up its goal-scoring woes.

My greatest concern is that final yr’s playoff push relied on the highest skaters plus Saros taking part in to absolutely the peak of their potential. Sure, if they will replicate that, a postseason ticket shall be earned, but it surely looks like a whole lot of issues have to interrupt their manner for that to happen.

Panic meter: 3.5/5

Record: 11-11-0

What’s gone fallacious: Jordan Binnington has been omitted to dry in just about all defensive conditions. The Blues have made it too straightforward for opponents to entry the within uncontested. St. Louis’ penalty kill is twenty ninth within the NHL and the membership hasn’t defended a lot better at even power both.

The blue line lacks high-end expertise. Colton Parayko’s up-and-down play has continued. He’s pushed only a 44.8 % share of shot makes an attempt and has been outscored 18-7 throughout his five-on-five minutes. Torey Krug has been inconsistent and whereas Nick Leddy hasn’t essentially been a difficulty, he merely shouldn’t be a top-pair defender on a contending workforce.

St. Louis’ high 9 hasn’t fairly been the identical offensively both. David Perron’s departure hurts — it has particularly impacted Ryan O’Reilly — and the workforce as a complete had some powerful ending luck, particularly within the early going.

Outlook: The Blues are actually a extremely powerful workforce to judge partly due to the risky swings they’ve been on.

They misplaced eight in a row at one level, instantly adopted that up with a seven-game win streak and have dropped three of 4 video games since. You nonetheless see glimpses of the particular offensive assault that made them a pressure to be reckoned with within the common season and the veteran resilience which gave the Avalanche a troublesome sequence.

It is regarding how usually they’ve been outshot and outchanced at even power this season. Binnington’s resurgence — he’s been a lot better than his .900 save proportion would point out — supplies hope they will get struggle again right into a playoff spot. But in the end the membership’s defensive lapses and blue line holes are a purple flag.

Panic meter: 3.5/5

Record: Sep 11-3

What’s gone fallacious: Vancouver’s penalty kill is among the worst within the league for a second consecutive season. The Canucks have been nearly equally permissive at even power the place they’ve surrendered rush possibilities, backdoor tap-ins and simple rebound targets with alarming regularity. The again finish desperately lacks bona fide top-four expertise past Quinn Hughes, particularly with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers’ two-way play regressing.

Thatcher Demko was capable of paper over the workforce’s defensive deficiencies for lengthy stretches final season however he’s managed simply an .885 save proportion.

The Canucks have additionally blown a ton of multi-goal leads.

Outlook: The West is weak sufficient that the Canucks aren’t too far behind the pack but however there are many considerations. Sure, the workforce has some gifted offensive items, particularly on the ability play, however the roster’s two-way particulars and habits — by way of net-front protection, puck battles, and in-zone defensive reads — don’t look the a part of a playoff workforce.

Even the Canucks’ latest stretch the place they picked up 5 of six wins earlier than Tuesday’s loss towards the Capitals wasn’t constructed on sustainable basis because the membership was carrying a 42 % five-on-five anticipated purpose share and driving the very best taking pictures proportion within the NHL.

Demko ought to play higher in some unspecified time in the future which is able to assist and there’s an excessive amount of expertise for the membership to essentially backside out. But there are too many query marks with the penalty kill, blue line and the membership’s total five-on-five kind to really feel assured about their playoff possibilities.

Panic meter: 4/5

(Top photograph of the Calgary Flames: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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