5 NHL Teams It's Not Too Early to Count Out of the Playoff Picture

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2013

5 NHL Teams It's Not Too Early to Count Out of the Playoff Picture

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    No teams have been mathematically eliminated from the 2013 NHL playoff race yet.

    Teams have overcome poor starts in the past and they may do it again, but we see five teams that should be counted out as far as the postseason is concerned.

    It's not that these teams have so far to climb that they couldn't make it to the top eight in the Eastern or Western Conferences. It's that they have too many problems and issues to make the turnarounds that would be necessary for them to reach the postseason.

    The other problem that faces all teams is the dreaded three-point game. When teams gain a point for sending a game to an overtime or shootout and then losing, it makes it tough for the teams that are on the outside looking in to rally and claw their way to the postseason.

    It can be very discouraging from a psychological perspective when a team wins four or five games in a row but can't get over the playoff line because opponents are getting that extra point that comes from more than 60 minutes.

Washington Capitals

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    Record: 5-10-1, 11 points

    Position: 15th, Eastern Conference

    The Capitals were hoping to use last year's playoffs as a springboard to a great start in 2013. They beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the postseason and extended the New York Rangers to seven games before losing in the second round.

    When Dale Hunter abruptly stepped away from the Caps at the end of their playoff run, it should have been an indication that something was wrong. However, the addition of new Hall of Famer Adam Oates behind the bench gave Caps fans the hope that the offense would be strong and allow the Caps to contend in the Eastern Conference.

    But the Caps have been perhaps the most disappointing team in the league. They have not scored enough and they are often out of position in their own end.

    Alex Ovechkin (five goals in 16 games) no longer appears to be an elite player and Nicklas Backstrom has been ordinary (one goal).

    Oates is starting to realize that the Caps have miles to go to compete on an every-game basis and that the 2013 season won't be a banner one in Washington D.C.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Record: 5-10-2, 12 points

    Position: 15th, Western Conference

    The Blue Jackets are showing a lot more life this season than they did in last year's disaster, and there's every reason to think that team president John Davidson can provide the game plan that will allow the Blue Jackets to become a consistent playoff contender.

    However, it's not going to happen this year and the feisty Jackets are not going to be in the playoffs in 2013.

    The Jackets have had goaltending issues for several seasons, and this season is no exception. Sergei Bobrovsky has a 2.79 goals against average and a .902 save percentage while Steve Mason has a 3.00 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

    The loss or Rick Nash (traded to the New York Rangers) hurts because Columbus no longer has a star who can take over a game. However, it's their defensive shortcomings that are this team's biggest problem.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Record: 6-11-1, 13 points

    Position: 14th, Eastern Conference

    The Buffalo Sabres rallied at the end of last season but fell just short of earning a playoff spot. When they added hard-edged Steve Ott and enforcer John Scott, it appeared the Sabres would be a tougher and meaner team in 2013.

    They probably are quite a bit tougher. But they are not better. The Sabres have played inconsistent hockey and their defense has been leaky all season.

    The Sabres are the only team to beat the Boston Bruins in regulation this year—and they have done it twice—but they have struggled to play 60 minutes of hard-hitting and effective hockey on a game-in, game-out basis.

    After a 2-1 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets Feb. 19, the Sabres fired long-time head coach Lindy Ruff the next day. Interim coach Ron Rolston is charged with turning this team around.

    He may not have enough to work with if his goal is to get the Sabres to the playoffs. Thomas Vanek is an explosive scorer, but the Sabres make too many mistakes to make a legitimate run at the postseason.

Calgary Flames

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    Record: 5-7-3, 13 points

    Position: 14th, Western Conference

    To the surprise of nobody, the Flames are on the outside looking in at the playoffs once again.

    The Flames have not made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season and they haven't won a postseason series since 2003-04.

    They are the definition of mediocre. The Flames often find a way to make a game exciting and keep it close for the majority of the 60 minutes, but they regularly lose these games.

    They have a difficult time keeping the puck out of the net. Miikka Kiprusoff and Leland Irving have been in the net for the majority of the Flames' games, and both have save percentages below the .890 mark.

    That's simply unacceptable for any team with designs on the postseason.

    Flames general manager Jay Feaster is fooling himself if he thinks his team is going to play postseason hockey.

    It's time for the Flames to look to the future and rebuild their team. They probably should have started the process a year ago, but they didn't.

Florida Panthers

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    Record: 5-7-4, 14 points

    Position: 13th, Eastern Conference

    The Panthers were Southeast Division champions a year ago and general manager Dale Tallon wanted to build off that this year, but it's been a challenge for the Panthers to play consistently every night.

    The Panthers are coming off an impressive 5-2 road win at Philadelphia Feb. 21, but they had lost five games in a row prior to that victory. Three of the losses in that streak had been by shutout.

    The Panthers have gotten a lift this year from impressive rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with eight goals and 13 points, but clutch scoring from his teammates has been an issue.

    Even if the Panthers learn how to score at key moments, the goaltending of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen has not been adequate.

    Theodore has seen the bulk of the action and he has a 3.37 goals against average and an .893 save percentage. Clemmensen has been even worse, with a 3.86 GAA and a .862 save percentage.