You’ll probably hear a lot in the next couple of days about U.S. Thanksgiving and the fact that teams that aren’t in a playoff position by then are traditionally in tough to climb back into a position by April. (Here’s an article from last year about it.)
True, the Stars, Blue Jackets, and Flyers dug themselves out of considerable holes to make the playoffs last season. They replaced three teams who fell out of position, the Coyotes, Capitals, and Maple Leafs. But the 13 other teams who qualified were all in position by Thanksgiving.
Today, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, there are five teams that made the playoffs last season that aren’t currently in a playoff spot.
What are their chances of battling back?
Columbus (6-12-2): Eight points back of the third-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, it’s going to take a spectacular comeback for the banged-up Blue Jackets. To match their wild-card-worthy record from last season, they’d have to go 37-20-5 in their final 62 games. Pretty unlikely.
Philadelphia (8-9-3): Only three points back of the Rangers, but they’d also have to leapfrog the Devils and Capitals to get into third. Philly plays the Rangers back-to-back on Friday (on NBC) and Saturday, both afternoon affairs. For November, those will be huge games.
Colorado (7-9-5): Five points back of Minnesota for the final wild card spot in the West, the Avs have been a bit better lately, winning three of their last four. Still, after 21 games, Colorado is ahead of only Edmonton in the conference, and it’s asking a lot to leapfrog five teams, even with 61 games to go.
Dallas (8-9-4): Four points back of Minnesota. The Stars actually got off to a decent start, going 4-1-2 in their first seven. But with such a young defense, the goaltending is going to have be a lot better than it’s been the last month. Five on five, Dallas’ save percentage, courtesy Kari Lehtonen and Anders Lindback, ranks 25th out of 30. There’s only so much an offense can carry a team.
San Jose (10-9-4): Tied with the Wild in points, but Minnesota has three games in hand. Despite their uneven start that has coach Todd McLellan feeling the heat, the Sharks seem the most likely of the five to climb back into a playoff spot. The fact 34 of their final 59 games (58 percent of them) are at home should help. Certainly, Vancouver and Calgary shouldn’t get too comfortable in that tough Pacific Division.
Speaking of which, tomorrow we’ll look at the five teams — Islanders, Leafs, Predators, Flames, and Canucks — that missed the playoffs last season that are now in position to make them. What are their chances of hanging on?