What’s wrong with struggling teams?

The woeful performances thus far of the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils have been well documented, but several other NHL teams have also struggled in recent weeks.

Entering this week, the Edmonton Oilers had the worst record in the league, sitting dead last in the Western Conference with a 3-6-2 record for a measly 8 points.

A quick examination of the Oilers stats indicated their problem wasn’t finding the back of the net (they were 13th overall in goals-per-game average) but keeping it out of the their own, sitting with the league’s third-worst goals-against average (3.46).

Starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has been solid in some contests, less so in others, though it doesn’t help that his teammates have given up the fifth-most shots-against (34.1) or that they had the worst penalty-killing percentage (a pathetic 69.2 percent).

Perhaps the reason the Oilers struggles haven’t attracted much attention is expectations were low for this rebuilding team entering this season. Having finished dead last in 2009-10, Oilers followers are contenting themselves with the performances of promising youngsters like Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall plus the improvement of veteran forwards Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

No matter how badly things go for the Oilers this season, there’s a shared feeling between players and fans that better days are ahead. It certainly hasn’t hurt attendance as the Oilers have played to full capacity in their home arena so far this season.

Cooldown in Phoenix

The same, however, cannot be said for the Phoenix Coyotes, who began this week with a record of 4-5-4 for 12 points.

Despite last season’s franchise-best performance, which saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the Coyotes had the lowest attendance numbers in the league after six home games, playing to an average of barely 59 percent of their arena capacity.

Part of the reason for that poor attendance can likely be traced to the uncertainty over the Coyotes future, but their uneven start to this season certainly hasn’t helped.

Like the Oilers, the Coyotes main problem is their defensive game. In 2009-10, they had the fourth-best goals-against per game average while giving up the 12th fewest shots, but so far this season have given up the eighth-most goals-against per game (3.15) and fourth-most shots-against (34.5).

If the Coyotes wish to turn things around, they must regain their strong defensive form of last season.

Flame out in Calgary

For the recently slumping Calgary Flames, losers of four straight heading into this week tying them with the Coyotes in the standings, a combination of declining offense and inability to hold a lead is generating concern in the Stampede City.

In each of those four losses, the Flames took the early lead but were unable to hold it, and scored only four goals in their last three games.

Part of the reason for the popgun offense is the play of team captain Jarome Iginla, who managed only two assists in those four games, which certainly won’t quell the rising trade speculation swirling about him.

The Flames aren’t shopping Iginla, but they need more production from their franchise player in the coming weeks to avoid sliding further in the standings.

East Coast slumps

Back in the Eastern Conference, the rebuilding New York Islanders opened the season with a respectable 4-2-2 record but have come crashing back to earth with seven consecutive losses, dropping them into a three-way tie with Buffalo and the Florida Panthers for the second-fewest points in the conference.

Seemingly everything that could go wrong for the Isles has gone wrong. They lost top defenseman Mark Streit and promising forward Kyle Okposo to shoulder injuries during the preseason. Goaltender Rick DiPietro, who played a grand total of only 13 games the previous two seasons, has struggled to regain his form.

The Islanders were tied with Atlanta for the most goals-against (3.50) and while they’ve done OK with the man-advantage (15th overall), they’ve struggled to score at even strength.

Few expected the Isles to be a playoff contender this season and if they don’t do anything to address their current skid soon, they could find themselves out of it by New Year’s.

Meanwhile, the Panthers entered this season hoping for a strong start, which has eluded them in recent years, ultimately dooming their playoff hopes, but only a dozen games and their record was 5-7.

Inconsistency has been the issue as the Panthers haven’t won consecutive victories since mid-October. For the most part it’s been win one, lose one, peppering the Atlanta Thrashers with 55 shots but losing 4-3 only to turn around the next game and beat the Carolina Hurricanes 7-4.

A key reason for this inconsistency is their power play, ranking amongst the league’s worst in both goals and opportunities.

Still, the Panthers continue to feel optimistic heading forward and their coaching staff is pleased with their puck-possession game.

Back to normal

In Toronto, meanwhile, the feeling is the Maple Leafs, which opened the season winning five of their first six games, have returned to reality, winning only one of their last nine games since mid-October.

The Leafs have made improvements this season, particularly their defense and goaltending. Veteran netminder J-S Giguere had a 4-3-2 record with a 2.31 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. Entering this week, the Leafs had given up the ninth fewest goals-against per game (2.46) and the fourth-fewest shots-against per game (26.9).

As with last season, however, the Leafs problem is their offense. By the end of last week only New Jersey, Nashville and St. Louis had scored fewer goals than the Leafs, only Minnesota and Edmonton had generated fewer shots per game, and their power-play was ranked 20th overall.

Leafs management would love to bolster their scoring depth, especially at center, but thanks to the salary cap such a move isn’t likely to occur until perhaps midseason and by that point, it might not come soon enough to help them.