The calendar has flipped to December, Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and nearly every NHL team has passed the quarter mark of their season. Lots of hockey is left to be played, but the “it’s early, don’t worry” plea is becoming less and less of a valid reassurance for underperforming clubs.

Many teams are in that situation, falling short of expectations. Forget just playoff contenders, there are organizations with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations who are on the outside looking in right now. Coaches are on the hot seat, fan bases are panicking and in some cases, there might be a drastic change in direction if the train doesn’t get back on track.

No playoff contender has dug itself an insurmountable hole — the margin between being in or out is razor thin right now — but the temperature is inching higher. Let’s analyze playoff contenders outside the bar to see what’s gone wrong and rate them from one to five for how worried they should be (1 meaning not worried, 5 meaning full panic mode).

Since teams have played an uneven number of games, we’re going to sort by points percentage instead of raw points (that means Minnesota will draw into a playoff spot and Calgary will be out in the Western Conference wild card).

 

New York Rangers

Record: 11-9-4

What’s gone wrong: The Rangers were tied with the second-best betting odds of winning the Metropolitan Division on the heels of a trip to the Eastern Conference final. Instead, they find themselves fifth in the Metro, behind both of their in-state rivals, the Devils and Islanders.

Igor Shesterkin was superhuman in 2021-22, putting together one of the best goaltending campaigns in NHL history, but he’s come back down to Earth. He hasn’t been bad, but the .913 save percentage he’s managed ranks 24th among goalies with at least seven games played this season. Jaroslav Halak was mightily struggling as the backup with an .881 save percentage and 0-5-1 record before authoring a brilliant performance on Wednesday against the Senators to pick up his first win.