'American Thanksgiving' a key stop in journey to NHL playoffs

'American Thanksgiving' a key stop in journey to NHL playoffs

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SportsPulse: NHL insider Kevin Allen looks at who has been impressive at the quarter mark of the season. USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings are in playoff position on Thanksgiving, but will they be there when the regular season ends in April?(Photo: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

In the NHL, Thanksgiving means turkey, pumpkin pie and knowing where you stand in terms of playoff expectations.

Although the season is only about a quarter complete, players and coaches understand that if you are not in playoff position by what Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland calls “American Thanksgiving,” it is an uphill fight to get there by April.

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Since the introduction of the salary cap in 2005, 78% of teams that have been in playoff position at Thanksgiving were still there when the regular season was completed. That means three or four teams in the playoffs today will not be there in April.

Here’s our look at teams that can still get there and those in danger of falling out of a playoff spot:

Can get there

New York Rangers:After looking disorganized in the early going, the Rangers have sharpened their game. With eight wins in their past 10 games, they are performing like a playoff team. The defense is tighter, and Henrik Lundqvist looks like his old self.

Ottawa Senators: Just remember how impressively this team performed during last spring’s playoffs. That confident group is still in there somewhere. Newly-acquired Matt Duchene finding his comfort zone is crucial to the Senators grabbing and holding a playoff spot.

Anaheim Ducks: Despite numerous injuries, the Ducks have kept their heads above water. When this team gets healthy, it can play like one of the league’s best. It's hard to see the playoffs starting with the Ducks on the sidelines.

Chicago Blackhawks: While the perception of the Blackhawks is that they are on the decline, this team knows what it takes to be a playoff team. Goalie Corey Crawford’s .932 save percentage might carry them into the playoffs.

Vulnerable

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings’ defense has been better than expected and Jimmy Howard has been strong in net. However, their hold on a playoff spot is fragile. They are trying to rebuild on the fly and need everything to go right to make the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils:  While the Devils’ improvement is noteworthy, they have won three of their past 10 games. It will be no easy task holding off the likes of the Rangers and Hurricanes.

Vancouver Canucks: Their 11-8-3 start has been one of the Western Conference’s biggest surprises. But they haven't been sharp at home, and it’s fair to wonder whether they can maintain this level of play. The Canucks have only been the playoffs once in the past four seasons.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have played OK, but there are five other Western teams tied with them in points. Doesn’t it feel as there will be five playoff teams from the Central Division? If that happens, the Sharks won't make it. 

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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/columnist/allen/2017/11/24/american-thanksgiving-key-stop-journey-nhl-playoffs/893375001/

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