We are a little over three weeks away from Thanksgiving, which is a nice checkpoint to see which teams are legit or not. In the last two years, a total of five teams have missed the playoffs after holding a top eight spot on Turkey Day.
Last season, the Flames and Stars fell out in the Western Conference, while the Rangers missed the playoffs in the East. Two years ago, just two teams ended their season early after being a playoff club at Thanksgiving (Nashville and Minnesota); none from the East.
So the next three weeks could tell us a lot about some teams. Is Tampa Bay the real deal? Can the Devils pick up the pieces? Let’s take a look at the five playoff teams from a year ago that are sitting on the outside of the top eight as we speak:
Eastern Conference Ottawa Senators: 12th; 4-6-1, 9 points Buffalo Sabres: 14th; 3-7-2, 8 points New Jersey Devils: 15th; 3-9-1, 7 points Western Conference San Jose Sharks: 11th; 5-3-1, 11 points Phoenix Coyotes: 13th; 3-4-3, 9 points Out of those five, I think we can all agree that San Jose should make the postseason. Their offense is starting to click and the goaltending will come around. However, the other four all have big question marks and/or deficiencies that need to be fixed sooner rather than later.
The Devils have been the talk of the 2010/11 season… for all the wrong reasons. They were considered to be a Stanley Cup contender before the year began; but due to a series of events, they find themselves dead-last in the whole league here on November 2.
Even if John MacLean and company turn it around tomorrow in Chicago, they are facing a steep uphill battle. To reach 92 points (which may or may not be enough for the 8-seed in the East) they would have to go 39-23-7 in the final 69 games – again, assuming they can make things dramatically better instantly. It’s possible, but a difficult task (especially with Zach Parise on the shelf).
The top two Northeast Division clubs from last year are in the cellar due to respective inconsistencies. Buffalo is a woeful 0-4-1 on home-ice, while the Sens have done their best Harry Houdini act in the first month. If I had to choose at this point, I’d say Ottawa is more likely to turn things around, but neither have shown signs of being playoff-caliber.
And then there are last year’s darlings, the Phoenix Coyotes. So far they seem to be a team that you don’t know what you’ll get on a nightly basis. They may go on the road and look like world-beaters in Detroit, but can also put 8,000 home fans to sleep against Tampa Bay. It’s tough to get a gage on whether they are playoff team for a second straight year.
It is a long, grueling 82-game season; the Blues proved two years ago that reaching the playoffs isn’t impossible when sitting in the cellar at the All-Star break. When it’s all said and done, though, this month will be crucial for pointing which direction these teams will go for the rest of the season.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.