Friday , April 23 2021

TRAIKOS: Five NHL teams that could be in the playoff – and five who are in danger of falling

When asked why Edmonton Oilers fired Todd McLellan earlier this week, general manager Peter Chiarelli made reference to the fact that US Thanksgiving was coming and the team still was not in a playoff spot.

For years, the holiday was a crystal ball for the future.

If you're in the playoff by the third week of November, chances are you'll stay that way when the season is over. So again, it's not a hard and fast rule. Last year, five teams ended up falling out of the playoff after Thanksgiving.

Who knows, this year there may be several teams changing places.

With the holiday behind us, here are five teams that could be on the rise and five in danger of hitting hard:


2nd in the Metropolitan Division

How did they get here? This should be a year of rebuilding for the Rangers. Instead, they are tied with the Blue Jackets for first place in the Central Division. Henrik Lundqvist (0.919 percentage savings) deserves a lot of credit but has been veterans like Chris Kreider (12 goals) and Mika Zibanejad (19 points) who are acting as substitutes until the youngsters are ready to take over.

Why they may be falling: The Rangers have benefited from playing in a weak division where the Penguins and Flyers are fighting and the Devils do not look like the same team that made the playoffs last season. If any of these three teams agree, New York will be in trouble.


3rd in the Atlantic Division

How did they get here? After ending last season's worst record, Sabers entered US Thanksgiving with the NHL's third-best record thanks to seven wins in a row. Much of their success came from their top line. Jack Eichel leads the team with 25 points while Jeff Skinner is tied for second in the Rocket race Richard Trophy with 15 goals.

Why they may be falling: Skinner has a percentage of 21.1 shots, double the average of his career. If he stops marking, the Sabers' lack of secondary offense could haunt them. In addition, there are question marks about whether Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark can maintain a combined salvage percentage of 912 for the entire year.


2nd Wild Card Spot at the Eastern Conference

How did they get here? Give up on Marc Bergevin. The Canadiens' GM has been criticized for its previous deals, but the deals to bring Max Domi (11 goals and 26 points) and Tomas Tatar (nine goals and 17 points) to Montreal worked better than one could imagine. The fact that Carey Price is not playing her best hockey – or that Shea Weber did not even play – means we have not seen the best of this team yet.

Why they may be falling: Although it's good Montreal is winning, despite Price's saving percentage of .895, netminder will eventually have to be old if the Canadiens wait to make the playoffs. After all, it's not as if the team had a plan B to use.


1st Wild Card spot in Eastern Conference

How did they get here? The top line of the Bruins was once again their greatest weapon. David Pastrnak leads the NHL with 17 goals, while Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combine by 15 goals and 47 points. And with Tuukka Rask still finding his game, Jaroslav Halak came on the scene and recorded a saving percentage of 935.

Why they may be falling: The injuries will test the Bruins in the coming weeks. Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy are just a few of the names on the list. These are your top five players. If Rask does not approach and save the day, Boston can easily escape the dispute.


3rd in the Pacific Division

How did they get here? Let's face it: the Pacific Division is a joke. Third place, the Ducks, would have the sixth best record – and would be out of the playoffs – if it was in the Central or Atlantic Division. That said, Anaheim is where he is today because of John Gibson (0.927%), who should win Vezina, as well as the Hart Trophy, if that continues.

Why they may be falling: The Anaheim striker (Ryan Getzlaf) has six goals and 16 points. On Friday morning, 90 players scored more goals. It will not cut. Nor is it the fact that the Ducks have a minimum of 16 (!) In the goal balance.


8 at the Eastern Conference

How did they get here? This is intriguing by the simple fact that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel combined for 27 goals and 75 points. And unlike other teams lining up their stars in a row, Crosby, Malkin and Kessel are not even playing together. In other words, look at the .877 salvage percentage of Matt Murray as the main culprit.

Why they may be rising: Never bet against Crosby, especially when Malkin and Kessel surround him. Obviously, the Penguins need Murray, who is now out of weeks with a lower-body injury, to play better when he returns. So far, it's up to Casey DeSmith (0.924 percent) to reclaim Pittsburgh in contention.


9 at the Eastern Conference

How did they get here? It's been a family problem in Philadelphia where the goalie was the history of the year for all the wrong reasons. The team, which has the second-worst goal average (3.62) in the league, has already used four different goalkeepers.

Why they may be rising: The team just returned James van Riemsdyk, who scored a goal and two assists in a 6-5 loss in overtime for Lightning. And while the goalkeeper failed for most of the year, Brian Elliott allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven games. He will need to continue if the Flyers want to make the seemingly impossible climb up the standings.


9 at the West Conference

How did they get here? No one really expected anything from the Canucks, so the fact that the team is out of the playoff is not surprising. Still, Vancouver could easily have been higher in the standings if Jacob Markstrom (896%) saved just a few more.

Why they may be moving: Whenever you are playing in the Pacific Division, you will always have a chance. Bo Horvat has 11 goals and 21 points, while Elias Pettersson has 12 goals and 19 points. Based on their ages, the odds are the best yet to come. But the only guy to keep an eye on is Brock Boeser, who scored four goals before suffering a groin injury, may be due to a big breakout when he returns to the schedule.


10 at the West Conference

How did they get here? After starting the season in an 8-4-1 run, the Oilers lost six of their next seven games, prompting the team to replace trainer Todd McLellan with Ken Hitchcock. The main problems are goltending (Cam Talbot has a save percentage of .888) and lack of offense from someone not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

Why they may be rising: Hitchcock, who won in his debut, could be the change Edmonton needed. He may not be able to unlock Milan Lucic's scoring potential, but he has a way of making teams play better defensively. Also, never count a team that has McDavid placing more than 100 points.


12 at the West Conference

How did they get here? From the Stanley Cup finalist to the end of the pack. Even Cinderella did not fall into disgrace so difficult. Losing Nate Schmidt for the first two months definitely hurt, but lack of offense was the biggest problem. William Karlsson (five goals in 23 games) is well off the pace of 43 goals last year, while Max Pacioretty has contributed only eight points so far.

Why they may be rising: Schmidt is back and Pacioretty, who has four goals in the last three games, is finally finding the bottom of the net. With Erik Haula and Paul Stastny expected back from injury, there is still hope that Vegas will have their storybook ending once more.

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