Teams struggling?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

It may be a bit too early to panic, but the panic button is still never far from reach.

Rarely does a fourth game of the season mean so much as it did for the Senators and Calgary Flames last night at Scotiabank Place.

Both teams, who are expected to contend, find themseleves struggling a bit.

While the NHL schedule is less than 10 days old, the heat is already being turned up with some teams off to slow starts. You can bet trade talks are going to heat up in the next week.

"I would say by the end of next week you're going to have teams calling around trying to see what's available because they're not where they should be," said an NHL executive yesterday.

"You can't afford to wait until you've played 20 games before you make changes. It's all about making the playoffs now and if teams want to stay in the race they're going to have to decide pretty quickly what they're going to do."

Points lost now are going to mean a lot in April when the push is on for the final playoff spots in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

The belief among GMs is it's going to take 92 points to make the playoffs. The top eight teams are going to have to play .500 hockey if they're going be in the post-season.

"You're going to find the talk heating up here real soon," said another NHL source.

Naturally, a big part of the issue is the salary cap. Because only four teams are under the $40-million mark, many trades will have to be dollar-for-dollar.

Most eyes are on the Phoenix Coyotes. The club is coming off a 9-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings with goalie Curtis Joseph taking the brunt of the shellacking.

The belief is Phoenix GM Michael Barnett should be on the phone to see which teams might want to move a goalie.

There are options: Buffalo's Martin Biron is expected to be dealt before the March deadline, while Anaheim's J.S. Giguere and San Jose's Vesa Toskala are also being mentioned. The price may be right for Mikael Tellqvist, part of a three-man goalie tandem in Toronto.

The Coyotes won't be the only ones shopping for help. The defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes haven't performed the way anybody expected.

Neither have the Senators, Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Will the Senators be shopping? That's doubtful. The Senators are widely regarded as a team with a lot of talent that may just need time to gel.

CORVO CLOSE: D Joe Corvo, who broke his foot after blocking a shot in the pre-season, has been skating for the last two days and could return next Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. "He's doing pretty good," said Senators coach Bryan Murray. "We're hoping (he can practise with the team) Monday." The return of Corvo could force the Senators into a decision on Russian C Alexei Kaigorodov. He hasn't played in the first four games, but is scheduled to suit up tomorrow in Montreal. It's expected LW Denis Hamel will come out of the lineup.


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