Out of playoff spot by Thanksgiving, which NHL team has the best chance to recover?

      Which team on the outside has the best shot of climbing back in by April?

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      We’ve made it. The crucial standings signpost of the NHL season. U.S. Thanksgiving. As the adage goes, the playoff picture is mostly decided by this time of year. If you’re in, you tend to be in good shape, and if you’re out, well, the odds are against you.

      So, Roundtable: examine the standings through play on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Of the teams not in playoff spots, which one has the best chance to fight back and get in?

      MATT LARKIN: I did a double-take when I checked the standings and saw the New Jersey Devils four points out of a Wildcard spot. Yikes. This was my Stanley Cup pick! I’m keeping the faith. They’ve played 10 of 17 games without captain Nico Hischier; they’re 4-2-1 with him, 4-6-0 without. Superstar Jack Hughes also missed five games, during which they went 2-3-0. Hughes is back, Hischier is on the mend, and the Devils should get hot soon. They need better goaltending, though. I’ll concede that.

      FRANK SERAVALLI: Man, I’m sure tempted to take the Edmonton Oilers, but this three-game road losing skid (14 goals against in three games through Wednesday’s games!) is making me question everything. In that case, I’ll go with the Minnesota Wild. This team had back-to-back 100-point seasons with mostly the same group. Like Edmonton, they’ve struggled to get saves, ranking above only the Oilers in save percentage. Unlike Edmonton, I have a lot more faith in Filip Gustavsson and Marc-Andre Fleury. Their penalty kill has been atrocious at 65 percent and only has room to improve. Getting either one of those things, let alone both, should allow them to bounce back. And what we’re seeing in the Central and Pacific after the top three teams in each division is really quite soft, leaving plenty of room for a Wildcard berth.

      SCOTT MAXWELL: I think the Pittsburgh Penguins will find a way to make the playoffs. They’re just too talented to not do better than they have so far. Their defense has been relatively mediocre this season, but their offense has been one of the best at generating chances, and they’ve actually been getting the goaltending to go along with it. Erik Karlsson has started to settle in, and Reilly Smith has been the perfect addition to their top six to rejuvenate Evgeni Malkin. It’s hard to really pick out what’s wrong with this team, as outside of a 3-5-0 record in close games (one-goal games before empty net goals), there’s nothing to really indicate that bad luck is in play here. That said, they’re still right at .500, so the season is far from lost, but if they keep at this pace any longer, they’ll just lose more and more runway to actually make the playoffs. I do think there are a couple teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture that could easily fall out and give the Penguins room to squeak in, namely the Washington Capitals or the Detroit Red Wings.

      STEVEN ELLIS: I know Frank backed out on the Edmonton Oilers, but I’m not ready to give up on them yet. They’re at the point where they have to know course correction isn’t possible without change. Ken Holland needs to do something to save his job (albeit his contract expires after this season), but we know the team shouldn’t be giving him much runway. This team has too much talent to just collapse like this. Goaltending has been awful, but anyone could have seen that coming. If Connor McDavid isn’t healthy, they need to just sit him for a few games to reset for the longer-term picture. I know it’s a difficult task ahead if they’re going to make the playoffs, but they can’t possibly be worse than any of the seven teams in front of them outside the Wildcard race, right? 

      MIKE GOULD: I’m going to throw a curveball and go with the Arizona Coyotes, who are in a bit of a rut right now but have occupied a Wildcard spot for much of the season to date. Once they start to get some of their more consequential players back from injury, I think their depth at forward will set them apart from the rest of the pack. They can’t get a save right now — that’ll change. It’s anybody’s guess as to who will make it out of the Central, but I like Arizona’s chances.



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