Canadian teams bookend NHL

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

They already have been told, in a screaming headline on the front page of the daily tabloid, to "Wait 'til Next Year" so what is left to be said to the Toronto Maple Leafs now?

Ah, the good news is they at least waited until after the second game to make the declaration?

Or, who knew the Florida Panthers were coming to town?

Or, that McKlutz headline was left over from the Joe Clark days?

The forecast for absolute doom always seemed a bit premature, especially when it was still just seven games into the season, although the evidence was certainly mounting and the notion still can't be entirely dismissed.

And what about the other five Canadian teams, two weeks into a new season? There have been whopping blown leads, a long losing streak, shoddy defensive play, a coach already accused of not communicating, a pending goaltending controversy ... and those were just yesterday's clippings!

Recent history has proven that the teams usually left standing at the end, run, not stumble, out of the gate in the fall. Tampa Bay, winner in 2004, was 6-0-1 in October. Carolina, winner in 2006, was 8-2-1 the first month of the season. Anaheim, winner last season, started 9-0-3. The past 10 champions were a combined 78-17-14 in October. You get the idea.

Let's examine the six Canadian teams and their starts and chances.

Ottawa

There certainly isn't much to complain about, as the Senators contemplate heading to Muskoka for three days of relaxation next week, although they admit there have been nights when they won but still could have played better. The presence of two top goaltenders -- with Martin Gerber terrific again and Ray Emery healthy again -- gives Bryan Murray an eventual option to find a little more scoring to balance the attack, which appears to be the only major, though not yet debilitating, shortcoming.

Vancouver

Before last night's business, the Canucks were second-worst in the West in goals against, which normally would prompt the question, when is Roberto Luongo expected back? That's the rub, Luongo has been good, but the Canucks' defensive play has not. If not for a couple of wins over Edmonton, still very much a work in progress, the panic in Vancouver would be taking on Toronto-like proportions.

The good news is the power play has been strong, the Sedins have been producing and Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison have shown indications of bouncing back, though after those four the dropoff in scoring is severe and troublesome.

Calgary

Finally able to win at home and, at least Tuesday, unable to protect a four-goal lead on the road, the Flames are still very much finding their way. Just like the Canucks, they have been giving up a ton of goals and doing so with Miikka Kiprusoff playing. That goals-against total hasn't been helped by the league's second-worst penalty killing numbers, of course. The question marks on defence remain. The good news is both Daymond Langkow and Jarome Iginla have contributed heavily toward a potent offence.

Edmonton

A wise-acre would suggest the just-completed golfing venture in Phoenix was about preparing for spring, which will not involve the playoffs, but that would be unfair and slightly premature, too. The Oilers, like we said, are a work in progress, developing some terrific young talent and hoping the progress is quick and as painless as possible. Losing defenceman Sheldon Souray hurts big time. Overall, they obviously need to reduce their goals against, which is in the lower third in the league, and find some offence, and inspire the power play, which was dead last at a crisp 3.7% efficiency. The good news is the play of young Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner, both building blocks for the future. Make no mistake, this team is rebuilding.

Montreal

In many ways, the Canadiens seemed to have played better than their record would indicate, but not surprisingly there are assorted mini crises, with Alexei Kovalev questioning the coach for not calling a timeout, the coach questioned for his communication skills after sitting out Steve Begin, and on it goes. Guy Carbonneau has acknowledged that his team is not a powerhouse, especially on offence where it ranks 26th. They are obviously sound in goal, but have to find ways to score at the other end.

Toronto

Where to begin? These guys are on an emotional roller-coaster. They are still not good defensively, they have blown leads and wasted golden opportunities to beat better teams, despite a potent offence the power play has struggled, and they are life and death ever time they lace 'em up.

They managed to battle back to beat Florida, otherwise there would be full panic. They have Chicago and Atlanta on the horizon, two more games that can't give false hope, but can help keep the wolves at bay, not Bay Street.


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