Monday, December 2, 2019

Weekend power rankings: It’s no longer too early, especially for the teams that are struggling

When it comes to evaluating a team’s playoff chances, there are three key pressure points on the schedule. The first of those comes on Nov. 1, when Elliotte Friedman’s infamous stat about teams that are four or more points back being all but done kicks in. This year, there were a ton of those teams, including several that have since climbed back into the race.

The second key day just passed. It’s American Thanksgiving, and we’re often told that it’s the cutoff that NHL GMs care about. The Nov. 1 thing is cute, and it’s been oddly accurate over the years, but it always feels like it’s a little too early to panic. But by Thanksgiving, the season is almost a third of the way over. If you’ve dug a hole by now, it’s tough to climb back out.

How tough? Jonathan Willis took a look at the recent history and found that over the past six seasons only four teams that were more than four points out this late in the year were able to claw their way back to a postseason invite. When the calendar flipped over to December this year, seven teams are facing that kind of gap.

Some of those feel like easy calls. The Red Wings, Senators and Kings are all rebuilding teams and are already way out of the race. Can we say with 100 percent certainty that they won’t make the playoffs? Well … maybe, since Dom Luszczyszyn’s model pretty much does. Miracles happen, so we’ll never say never. But for these three teams, it’s close to never.

The Devils fall into the same group in terms of how far back they are. They were supposed to be far enough along that they weren’t a rebuilding team in the same sense as the others, although maybe they will be again by the trade deadline. A few of the experts had them as a playoff team, and newcomers like Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes have been starting to find their groove, so there’s a chance they can get back into something that feels like a race. But they’ve got so much ground to make up that they’re all but done.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Lightning are technically five points out of a playoff spot this morning. But they’ve played the fewest games in the league, and are already holding down a spot in terms of points percentage. Also, they’re the Lightning. They’re not a lock to make the playoffs, but it’s virtually impossible to be five points out in December and be in any better shape than Tampa Bay is right now.

That leaves us with two teams that fall into more of a grey area. Columbus has six points to make up and five teams to pass, so they’re in rough shape. But they’re not so far back that it feels impossible, and they did have 98 points and a playoff round win last year. That was a very different roster, and they may have lost Zach Werenski, so maybe it’s wishful thinking, but we can’t rule them out entirely. And the Blackhawks have shown flashes this year, including a four-game win streak just a few weeks ago. They’ve given back a lot of that ground since, losing five of six. Informally, I can report that Hawks fans rank towards the top of any crankiness power rankings these days. But if somebody’s other than Tampa is going to make a push, Chicago looks to have the bests shot.

(By the way, the third key checkpoint for non-playoff teams is a new one for this year: the first week of January, when last year’s Blues hit their low point before turning their season around. From that moment on, teams that are still struggling won’t be able to play the “But what if we’re secretly the Blues?” card anymore. That will be a sad day for a lot of GMs. Let’s let them enjoy these last few weeks while they can.)

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

We haven’t mentioned the Flyers much in this section, and they’re not in this week’s top five. But they’ve been hot lately, including a win on Saturday on an overtime beauty from Ivan Provorov:

The Flyers have been somewhat quietly climbing the Metro standings, and even briefly moved into second with that Provorov goal, before the Islanders retook the spot later that night. Hey, speaking of whom …

5. New York Islanders (17-5-2, +11 true goals differential*) – For the first time in a while, a few warning lights are blinking on the dashboard. They lost three straight for the first time this season, scoring just twice in the process. And while Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Blue Jackets snapped the streak, they gave up 39 shots and may have lost Thomas Greiss, who left the game in the first period with an undisclosed injury. The Islanders are a team that goes as far as its goaltending can take it, so losing one for any length of time would be worrying. We don’t know that that’s the case yet, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

4. Colorado Avalanche (16-8-2, +22) – The Avs reached as high as second in these rankings in October, but haven’t cracked the list in a month. That ends this week, thanks to three straight wins in which they outscored their opponents 16-6. But more importantly, Mikko Rantanen is back and looks like his old self. They’re still missing Gabriel Landeskog and Andre Burakovsky, and they have the Stars and Jets nipping at their heels. But with the fifth-best points percentage in the league and a big star back in the lineup, it’s time to get them back into the top five.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment