We are getting dangerously close to American Thanksgiving. On this date, the third Thursday in November, clubs excluded from the playoffs by a few points generally remain excluded at the end of the season.
Last year, for example, no team that was two points or less away from the last playoff spot was able to qualify. Here are five currently shut out teams that we didn’t necessarily see in that position at the start of the season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-0 on Sunday to move within two points of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the final playoff spot, but new coach Kyle Dubas’ offseason efforts have given them hope for a better than 9-8 record.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still working at full capacity at 36 and 37, respectively, Erik Karlsson, a first- and second-round pick, has nearly a point per game, but inconsistent goaltending has hurt.
On the other hand, the Penguins are 6-2 since coach Mike Sullivan adopted a less aggressive forecheck, better suited to his current personnel, during a recent trip through the American West. If the trend continues, Pittsburgh has a chance to make it.
2. New Jersey Devils
Like the Penguins, the Devils are not far from a playoff spot, three points behind Tampa, but with two games in hand. However, this young team finished third overall last year with 112 points and we saw them gain momentum, falling short of an 8-7-1 record against Action of grace.
But the Devils owe much of their success to young sensation Jack Hughes, 99 points in 78 games last year, and losing the boy for a few weeks in November was painful. New Jersey has lost four of six games without Hughes, 22 points in 11 games this season. Hughes’ absence coincided with the absence of another attacking center, Nic Hischier, who has been lost since late October.
3. Buffalo Sabres
This young team finished a successful last season with a record of 7-2-1 in their last ten games and came within one point of the last place that allowed access to the playoffs. Most observers finally predicted their first qualification this year, after twelve years of failure.
Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, Alex Tuch and Casey Mittelstadt were coming off career-best seasons, and guard Owen Power scored 35 points in his first full season.
But it might be bold to entrust the net to 21-year-old, Quebec’s Devon Levi, even if he did well at the end of the season following his NCAA career. Carey Price, Steve Mason, Carter Hart and Marc-André Fleury are the only goaltenders his age to play 40 or more games in a season over the past two decades.
Levi is struggling, with a 3.65 GAA and .881 save percentage, and the hope we no longer believed in, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 24, has taken over the top spot with some success at this point. He played in eight of the Sabres’ last twelve games after being ignored for the first six. Buffalo is three points out of a playoff spot. Nothing is impossible, but Thompson’s injury hurts.
4. Edmonton Oilers
Coach Jay Woodcroft had the bad idea to change his team’s defensive system after two seasons with more than 100 points and three playoff wins. He recently lost his job. The Oilers beat the Islanders and Seattle Kraken, but lost 6-4 to the Lightning on Saturday since the arrival of new coach Kris Knoblauch.
Connor McDavid has three points in as many games since hiring his ex coach in the junior ranks for 13 points in 14 games, far from his standards.
Edmonton sits seven points behind the Arizona Coyotes and is in the last playoff spot. It will take quite a turnaround for the Oilers to emulate the St. Louis Blues 2019. If only goaltenders could get the job done. Stuart Skinner, who shined enough to be considered for Rookie of the Year last year, is struggling, while Jack Campbell is doing even worse in the American League with a $5 million annual salary.
5. Minnesota Wild
General manager Bill Guerin had just lathered his players in Sweden after their fifth straight loss, including three regular season losses. Nothing predicted that scenario in Minnesota, coming off 113- and 103-point seasons and very few personnel changes in the offseason.
The absence of defenseman Jared Spurgeon at the start of the season didn’t help, goaltender Filip Gustavsson went from a rising star last year to a mediocre goaltender this fall, and offensive stars Kiril Kaprisov and Matt Boldy are underperforming at all. their standards. The emergence of young Marco Rossi and Brock Faber is not enough.
The Wild have the worst goals-against average behind the poor San Jose Sharks and are last in the NHL in man-less play. Coach Dean Evason appears to still have Guerin’s trust, but for how long? Minnesota is four points out of last place, which gives it access to the playoffs. Shall we give Evason one last electric shock, the recall of the sensational young 21-year-old goalkeeper Jesper Wallstedt, before we fire the coach?
*Honorable mention to the Ottawa Senators, who had similar aspirations to the Sabres. Three straight wins brings them closer to the playoffs, but they are still four points behind Tampa, have three more games and five clubs to beat.
A well-deserved reminder
Jayden Struble was never considered the organization’s top defensive prospect. At the end of last season, forward Sean Farrell received an NHL contract that allowed him to join the Canadiens, while Struble was offered a professional tryout in Laval to finish the season in the American League.
This 2019 second round pick, 46e overall, he was part of the first big wave of cuts in training camp along with Tobie Bisson, Stanislav Demin, Miguel Tourigny, Olivier Galipeau, Noah Laaouan, Christopher Ortiz and John-Parker Jones. All of these defensemen, except for Bisson, are in the ECHL today (Parker-Jones was just called up to Laval).
Two left-handed defensemen like Struble, Mattias Norlinder and William Trudeau have had every opportunity to shine in training camp, especially Norlinder, who was cut after the final preseason game of camp.
But Struble has had a strong start to the season with the Rockets and is the first left-handed defenseman to be recalled from Laval this season to replace Arber Xhekaj.