Turkey day in the United States often means a lighter-than-usual NHL schedule, but Thanksgiving is no less important for teams in hot pursuit of a playoff spot.
According to an Associated Press report, teams sitting in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving have a 77.3 per cent chance of making the playoffs compared to those teams on the outside. The pessimist will say there is still a close to one in four chance of not making the playoffs, and there are still four-plus months left in the season, but it’s a lot harder to climb in than to fall out.
That should elicit a collective sigh of relief from the Ottawa Senators who have scuffled their way to a 12-5-5 record, which, on holiday Thursday, was good enough for second in the Atlantic Division. That’s not to say the Sens are guaranteed to remain there until season’s end, but that they were even able to achieve such a record despite their wildly inconsistent play is a positive.
Not only do the Sens have a statistical advantage of making the playoffs, but the injury to Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price – and his subsequent re-injury – has opened the door for Ottawa to make a push for top spot. To make a serious run, however, the Sens will have to shore up their play at the Canadian Tire Centre that has been uninspired for much of the season.
Through 12 games the Sens have amassed a disappointing 5-3-4 record at home – only recording their first win against the Calgary Flames in their fifth game at the CTC – which ranks them 12th in the league. But things appear to be looking up for the team who has won four of seven at home since defeating the Flames, picking up points in an additional two games.
As the team has continued to tinker and work on its play at home in hopes of finding the winning formula, winning on the road has remained a seemingly easy feat. The Sens have the sixth best road record in the league (7-2-1), including a 2-0 record on their current three-game trip to the southern and mid-western United States that ends Nov. 28 against the Arizona Coyotes.
If not for their impressive play on the road it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the Sens could presently be dwelling with such teams as the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers in Eastern Conference purgatory. But for as tough as the journey to their current spot has been, December poses an even tougher challenge that could make or break the Sens’s playoff chances.
Ottawa returns home Dec. 1 after the aforementioned abbreviated road trip, which kicks off a busy month that will see them play 15 games in 30 days. With the exception of back-to-back games Dec. 5 and 6, as well as the Christmas break, the Sens will play every other day throughout December.
If fatigue becomes an issue – and conventional wisdom suggests there’s really no way it can’t be – the nine times the Sens have gone to overtime in 2015/16 will only exaggerate the problem. Ringing in the New Year with a healthy roster and record is a must and will go a long way to determining their playoff fate.
Hope you didn’t load up on turkey, Ottawa. You’ll need the energy.