Circle Monday, Nov. 23 on your calendar, folks. By the end of that fateful day, either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New York Islanders will have a victory. Guaranteed. The NHL’s last two winless teams, the Leafs (0-6-1) and the Isles (0-3-3), face off against one another on that date, thereby ensuring one of them will have a mark in the win column when the sun comes up on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Granted, it’s possible The Teams That Parity Forgot will eke out a victory in the five weeks between then and now – perhaps even two or three. Dare to dream, right? But for the sake of the surviving members of the 1943-44 New York Rangers (who own the NHL record for the longest winless streak at the start of a season, at 0-14-1), let’s take a look at the schedule and see what the future holds.
For the Leafs, not much. As in, Toronto is in the midst of a week-long hole in its schedule; the Leafs’ next game is at Vancouver on Saturday. The trip to the Left Coast kicks off a five-game road swing that includes stops in Anaheim, Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal. As road trips go, this isn’t too severe; of the five teams the Leafs face, only the Sabres have started the 2009-10 season in a winning way.
Toronto could win any or all of these games – we’re talking theoretically, so anything is possible – and maybe a good, long time away from home is exactly what the Leafs need. Or at least, one of the things they need. With a full week to prepare, the Maple Leafs are surely keying on the Canucks, who have endured some early-season injuries and a subsequent slow start.
If things keep going south while Toronto is out west, the Leafs return home to host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 3. The Bolts may be better than last year, but this is a winnable game. The rest of November presents a challenging run of teams (until the Isles arrive on Nov. 23, of course).
The Leafs have a home game against the struggling Minnesota Wild Nov. 10 and visit archrival Ottawa Nov. 17, but will be in tough against the likes of Calgary, Chicago, Detroit and Washington. There are also a couple of games at Carolina; perhaps some southern hospitality will be offered up.
The Isles, who probably have the inside track to finish last overall in the league this season, have a more favorable schedule. Between now and Nov. 23, they play at Montreal twice; have a home-and-home with familiar foe Buffalo; visit Florida and Minnesota; and, host Atlanta. Also, Edmonton is in town once.
The Islanders should be able to hold their own in all of these contests and maybe even win one or three. Other games before fateful Nov. 23 include a road tilt at New Jersey and away games at Washington (twice), Carolina, Boston and St. Louis. When the matchup against the Leafs finally rolls around, it will be the Isles’ seventh game on a seven-game road trip. In other words, it’ll be tough to win the battle of the losers.
But that’s OK. The two clubs meet up again Dec. 9, Dec. 23 and one more time March 14. By that time, both teams should boast at least a few wins.
OTHER ALSO-RANS ARE A-OK
Don’t look now, but Colorado is 6-1-1 and atop the Western Conference standings. Three points behind the Avs are the Phoenix Coyotes, at 5-2-0 (THN picked Colorado 14th and Phoenix 15th). In the East, the Atlanta Thrashers are off to a franchise-best 4-1-0 start (THN predicted the Thrashers would finish 14th and the Islanders 15th.)
LESS THAN WILD
The Minnesota Wild, picked by THN to finish 13th in the West, appear to be having trouble adapting to new coach Todd Richards’ up-tempo style of play. The Wild is 1-6-0, last in the West and, uncharacteristically, last in the West in goals-against average. And they’re second-last in goals for, barely averaging two goals per game.
After winning the first two games of the season with five goals and a shootout-winner, Nashville’s offense has checked out. The Preds are on an 0-4-1 skid, mostly due to the fact they can’t score. Nashville has tallied a mere four goals during its five-game freefall, which has included a 6-1 loss to Edmonton and a 6-0 defeat at Dallas (a game in which starting goalie Dan Ellis surrendered three goals on the first three shots before being pulled). The Sabres also shut out Nashville, 1-0. And with No. 1 center Jason Arnott out until early November with an arm injury, the Preds are without a key cog of their forward corps.
Like Nashville, the Canadiens won their first two games of the season before things quickly went bad. (Well, things went bad in Game 1 when defenseman Andrei Markov went down with a torn Achilles tendon and in Game 2 when blueliner Ryan O’Byrne injured his knee, but Montreal was able to win those contests.) Five consecutive losses – all in regulation time, so not even any loser points – are a tough pill to swallow, but the Habs were only blown out once (albeit, a 7-1 loss to Vancouver in Carey Price’s first NHL game in his home province).
Like Nashville, Montreal has had trouble scoring. Mike Cammalleri has looked dynamic, but has just one goal to show for his efforts. Same for Scott Gomez. Brian Gionta, the other high-profile forward signed in the off-season, is faring better, with three goals through seven games.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a contributor to THN.com. His blog and his column, From The Point, appear regularly.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.