- Craig Custance
It's become a Twitter inevitability. When a player scores his first goal of the season, as Tom Wilson did Tuesday night in the Capitals' blowout of the Islanders, at least one fan of the team excitedly points out that the player now has one more goal than Claude Giroux.
Perhaps the most telling Giroux-related tweet came Tuesday afternoon from the account of Uber Hockey Facts (@UberHockeyFact). It pointed out that 433 players have more goals than Giroux this season. After Tuesday night's games? That number is now at 445.
Giroux doesn't have a goal yet in 2013-14. He's sitting at zero this season, same as you and me. He's 0-for-29.
Compounding the misery, when it looked like the Flyers might be able to build off a 1-0 win over the Devils, they collapsed late against the Hurricanes on Tuesday. A late goal in the third and an overtime goal from Manny Malhotra meant that Carolina continued to send Philadelphia's season spiraling.
Making it worse for Giroux, he was defending Jordan Staal when the Canes center scored the tying goal.
"I think so," Giroux confirmed after the game when asked by the Philadelphia media. "It happened pretty quick."
There was one thing he was certain about: This was as frustrating a loss as there's been all season for the Flyers.
"Yup," Giroux said.
That's saying a lot.
When looking at the list of disappointments in the NHL as one-quarter of the season is nearly expired, the Flyers top it by a long shot. There's the early-season coaching firing that reeked of a lack of planning. There's the superstar without a goal. There's the embarrassing goalie fight that league executives found so problematic that it could lead to a rule-change proposal at next week's GM meetings. The Flyers have one of the five highest payrolls in the league and entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations yet are sitting second-worst overall, with just two more points than a Sabres team that's in full rebuild mode.
It's disappointment that's hard to top, but we know misery loves company. Here are the nine other most disappointing developments of the early NHL season:
2. The Eastern Conference's pathetic showing versus the West. You instinctively knew the Western Conference was the stronger of the two conferences, but last season's lockout-induced schedule meant we didn't have proof. The Bruins played the Blackhawks tough in the Stanley Cup finals, proving that the best teams in the East can compete with anybody out West. Even this season, the Bruins and Penguins are teams you'd have a hard time picking against in the Cup finals against anyone. They also both have winning records against the West.
But from top to bottom? It's not even close. The West's depth has dominated against the East, with an overall record of 66-26-10 against the Eastern Conference.
"Overall, the West might be more responsible defensively," said understated Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. "There's a lot more odd-man rushes in the East. That goes back to the West concentrating more defensively, trying to win a game 2-1 rather than 4-3. That makes a difference if you're playing a team in the East that doesn't share that philosophy. If things aren't going well that night and plays aren't being made, it could be a tough night." The East has had a lot of them so far this season.
3. Tim Thomas' stalled comeback. We were thrilled when Thomas decided to rejoin the hockey world and play for the Panthers, so it's been frustrating to see a groin injury slow it down. He's played six games this season, but two were cut short by injury and the anticipated return to Boston this week is up in the air as Thomas continues to recover.
4. The Panthers as a whole. Florida was never going to be a topflight Cup contender this season, but the addition of Thomas along with the mix of late-summer veteran additions and high-end young talent like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson made it an interesting team to watch. But any hope of the Panthers being a surprise playoff team has disappeared as the losses pile up. Tuesday night's loss to the Oilers was the Panthers' sixth in a row, and they haven't won a game since Oct. 19.
5. The Blackhawks' penalty kill. Chicago is clicking along just fine in the standings, with a 9-2-4 record that hides an ugly development: Its penalty kill has been awful. It's currently at 73.2 percent, which is ranked last in the league. Last season, the Blackhawks had the third-best PK in the league. You can win a Stanley Cup with a below-average power play, but it's nearly impossible to win one if you're giving up a bunch of power-play goals. One of the quiet losses from the Cup-winning team was Michael Frolik, who was a big part of Chicago's PK last season. That's an area for GM Stan Bowman to address as the season continues.
6. Dallas Eakins' NHL coaching debut. At this time a year ago, Eakins and Jon Cooper were the two hottest young coaching commodities in the AHL. Both built reputations as guys who could develop talent and win games. Since then, they've been given an opportunity to prove it at the NHL level. Cooper has the Lightning off to a surprising 10-4-0 start on top of the Atlantic Division. Eakins? Dead last in a Pacific Division that is the best in hockey. But Eakins is already making adjustments. Credit him for admitting early-season mistakes and simplifying the team's play in the defensive zone, as this Edmonton Journal story pointed out last week.
7. Stephen Weiss' offensive production. The signing of Weiss to a five-year contract seemed like the perfect Red Wings offseason move. Bring in a talented player who underachieved elsewhere, ingrain him in the Red Wings' philosophy, hand him over to Mike Babcock and watch him blossom. Well, it's still a work in progress. Weiss has just three points in 16 games and is minus-3. On a team that likes to control the puck, Weiss has a Relative Corsi of minus-12.1, the second-lowest on the team among regulars. To add salt to the wound, the guy he replaced in Detroit, Valtteri Filppula, has 11 points in 14 games for the Lightning.
"He's been really, really good," Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois said of Filppula when we chatted recently. "He has a high hockey IQ. He's skilled, fast, competitive. He calms things down for us. When he's on the ice, you can see he has things under control."
8. The Ducks' power play. Maybe we're splitting hairs here, because Anaheim has been great this season. It's on top of the Pacific at 12-3-1. But 6.7 percent on the power play? For real, Anaheim? The Ducks have four power-play goals all season. The Capitals had four Tuesday night.
9. Jonathan Quick's save percentage. Quick started last season slowly and found his game in time for an impressive playoff run, so Kings fans don't need to be too concerned that he's sitting at .896 this season. But what about Americans? Goaltending is supposed to be the huge edge Team USA has over Canada in the Olympics. Quick is supposed to be the starter in Sochi. There are 13 Canadian goalies with better save percentages among the league leaders. That's not how you send an Olympic-year message up north, Jonathan.
10. Ilya Bryzgalov's extended free agency. C'mon, Garth Snow or Craig MacTavish. You know the NHL is more fun with Bryzgalov around. He's only two seasons removed from a .921 save percentage. He has a career save percentage of .913. This is a bounce-back candidate just waiting for a chance. Do it for all of us.