The famed NHL adage is simple: Three-quarters of the teams who sit in a playoff position as of American Thanksgiving will reach the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As the Edmonton Oilers prepare to host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday -- the first half of a home-and-home series -- they lead the Pacific Division. For a team that last made the playoffs in the 2016-17 campaign, the franchise's lone postseason berth in the previous 13 seasons, it's proof positive of the opportunity Edmonton faces, even with 55 games remaining on the schedule.
"I don't think it means much," goaltender Mike Smith countered to reporters recently. "Where we are at in the standings is a bar we've set for now. It'll be difficult, going forward, to stay there. Every team now is looking at the standings, seeing where teams are and where they need to be."
There are obvious outliers with the Thanksgiving theory. For example, the St. Louis Blues were well out of a playoff position a year ago, and even last in all the NHL in early January but went on to win the Stanley Cup. And a few teams annually fall out of a playoff spot, as well.
Therefore, the Oilers can't take their foot off the gas. In fact, they're finding life to be very different being hunted as an upper-echelon squad.
As Smith said: "Teams are coming in going, 'They're in first place, we better be ready to play.'"
The Oilers received a big reminder of that lesson on Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche that ended a five-game road trip.
Going into the Friday clash, the Oilers will be without forward Alex Chiasson after he sustained a concussion against Colorado. He joins Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (wrist surgery) on the shelf. They may have defenseman Matt Benning (concussion) back in the lineup.
The Canucks can also boast about being in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving, but right now they look as if they will fall out of that position soon. They are on a 3-7-2 slide, with the latest loss and inglorious 8-6 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vancouver led 6-3 early in the third period before surrendering five unanswered goals.
"We should've won," Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko said. "There's not much to it. Have to find a way to make a couple stops there in the third. Had a slow start. Good to get back in the game. Have to find a way to win."
Forward J.T. Miller was even more succinct. "Any time you give up eight, you've got to look in the mirror. That's all I've got to say."
The Canucks are still a young club. They may stop the freefall and hold a playoff position, but right now the key is regrouping. Coach Travis Green said the lesson for his charges from the Pittsburgh game is about handling a clash in which you start to lose momentum -- which he said they didn't do well when their lead was cut to 6-5.
"We had a young group of forwards playing, and they probably haven't been in that kind of a scenario in the NHL -- maybe ever -- and it felt all of a sudden like we couldn't make the play," Green said. "We lost puck battles in our zone. And in those kind of games, you've got to pay the price to win. And I didn't think we did."
After the Canucks and Oilers face off Saturday in Edmonton, they will meet again Sunday in Vancouver.
--Field Level Media