DENVER (AP) – Carve an extra piece of turkey to celebrate, David Backes and T.J. Oshie, because St. Louis is well on its way to the postseason. Treat yourself to another slice of pumpkin pie, Max Pacioretty, since Montreal’s virtually in, too.
At least, the numbers seem to suggest as much.
Since the 2005-06 season, NHL teams in postseason position entering the American Thanksgiving holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup playoffs 77.3 percent of the time, according to STATS.
So enjoy a heaping helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, Cam Fowler, because Anaheim is in prime position as the Ducks lead the Western Conference. After all, the top three teams in each conference on turkey day make the field nearly 90 percent of the time.
Just don’t mention those figures to players, because “it is too early to think about playoffs,” Washington forward Troy Brouwer said.
Fair enough, but what these numbers illustrate is that a fast start does, indeed, set up a team for success – or the lack of it.
A quick start to a season may be even more beneficial in basketball, though. An NBA team in postseason position by Christmas – that’s slightly more games than an NHL squad plays by Thanksgiving – goes on to make the playoffs 84.4 percent of the time since ’05-06, according to STATS.
Translation: Be good by the holidays or say goodbye to the postseason.
“I don’t believe you can make the playoffs in the first 20 games. But I do believe you can miss the playoffs in the first 20 games,” said Eddie Olczyk, an NBC hockey analyst who’s also a former player and coach.
So if that Thanksgiving stat holds true, come April, these will be your Eastern Conference playoff representatives: Montreal, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Washington, Boston and Toronto.
In the Western Conference, it would be: Anaheim, Nashville, Vancouver, St. Louis, Calgary, Chicago, Los Angeles and Winnipeg.
Most noticeably absent? Philadelphia and the New York Rangers in the East, along with Colorado in the West.
All three have some work to do to get back to the playoff stage. Then again, the Flyers weren’t in the postseason picture last Thanksgiving, only to rally late behind the play of Claude Giroux.
No reason to panic, though. Most teams have barely played a quarter of their schedule.
“I would never think that people should count us out,” Avalanche defenseman Zach Redmond said.
The teams seeded in the top three at the moment are definitely in solid shape. That would be you, Canadiens, Penguins and Islanders (Lightning in the mix as well). And also you, Ducks, Predators and Canucks (Blues and Flames are right there, too).
Only five teams seeded in the top-three at Thanksgiving have failed to make the postseason over the past eight seasons (2012-13 didn’t get rolling until January). The last to do so was Minnesota in ’11-12, in research provided by STATS.
Here’s a reason why it’s so difficult to jump over teams: The NHL’s three-point system. A winner of a game receives two points, but if the loser happens to get beaten in overtime or in a shootout, it still gains a point.
Olczyk isn’t a big fan of that system, believing, “if you win, you should get the whole ball of wax. If you lose, you get nothing.”
His logic is this: A team can go 1-5-4 in a 10-game stretch, but still pick up six points. In any other league, that would be a 1-9 skid and bury a team in the standings.
“It gets so exhausting when people in January and February talk about, ‘Oh, I can’t believe how close the race is,'” Olczyk said. “Well, hold on a second. Why is it so hard to believe? A good percentage of the games have three points being given out. The races should be close. Nobody should be surprised how close it is.”
The deeper into the season races go, the more conservative teams may play, just to secure at least a point.
“Playing life and death (hockey) when you’re trying to make the playoffs at the end of the season can be taxing,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Certainly we don’t want to be in a position of playing life and death (hockey) to try to get in at games 80, 81 and 82.”
Not that the Blackhawks have anything to worry about – they’re a virtual cinch to be in. At least, according to the numbers.
On the flip side, a team like Colorado is in postseason jeopardy, if you placed stock in those stats.
“I’ve never been a huge believer in stats,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It’s a long season and there’s a lot of hockey left.”
By Pat Graham, Associated Press Sports Writer
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)