If your team absolutely bombs during the months ending in -ber, not even a miraculous run in the spring will be enough for them to climb out of their hole.
Just ask the New Jersey Devils.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it is absolutely essential to start off the season with a bang if they want to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Why is it that the Leafs of recent years have always been able to make a late-season push after having put together a miserable record leading up to the All-Star break?
There is speculation that this phenomenon is a result of a team playing with nothing to lose.
At one point last spring, however, the Leafs came within three points of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Despite ultimately placing 10th, eight points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, there was a point in time last spring when the Leafs were truly in the fight for that last playoff spot.
The squad that the Leafs have assembled for this season is better, if only a little, than the one that made that late playoff push last season.
However, in order to carry last spring's momentum over to this fall, a few things will need to happen.
Here are seven of those things.
The Leafs will begin the 2011-12 season with five home games.
Aside from Montreal, which should be considered a bubble team, the others are non-playoff teams.
The Leafs should also be considered a bubble team, which means the first five games of this season are very winnable.
Anything worse than a 4-1-0 record in those games, in my opinion, should be considered a failure.
Looking to November, the schedule doesn't get any better.
Therefore, a big step for the Leafs towards making the playoffs this year will be to win their first five games.
Winning those games will at least allow a little room for error during the first few weeks of the season.
After starting last season with four straight wins, everyone in Leafs Nation was feeling pretty good. It was nice seeing the Leafs at the top of the standings as opposed to the bottom for a change.
The Leafs would go on to win only one more game in the rest of October and only three in all of November.
Winning four straight to start a season is great, and so is showing some promise during a preseason.
But when you start enjoying your small successes a little too much, you lose sight of the big picture.
It'll be a small step in the right direction for sure if the Leafs can pull off four or five straight wins to start the season, but they cannot let it get to their heads.
Nothing would sicken Leaf fans more than another season like the last one.
Toronto's 1A line consists of Joffrey Lupul, Tim Connolly and Phil Kessel.
Unlike the 1B line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, the 1A line has not shown any kind of cohesion.
Connolly has, to everyone's surprise, been injured, so no on-ice chemistry will develop until he returns.
Oh, and guess what?
Tyler Bozak centred Lupul and Kessel during a recent practice.
Let's hope that Connolly gets well soon.
The Leafs cannot afford to have a top line consisting of players who don't know how to play with each other.
With MacArthur off serving a suspension for two regular-season games, rookie Matt Frattin has been given a temporary spot on the 1B line alongside Kulemin and Grabovski.
Frattin will have to learn how to keep up with them and other NHLers in general, but it will also be important for Kulemin and Grabovski to learn how to play with him.
Once MacArthur returns from his suspension, the reunited 1B line will have to continue to do what they do: win puck battles, baffle defenders with their set plays, beat people in foot races and score lots of goals.
The 1B line is by far the Leafs' best line, so they will be heavily relied on this year, probably more so than last year.
During the preseason, Matt Frattin played well enough to deserve serious consideration for the third line winger position. Once Nazem Kadri got injured, there was no question that Frattin would survive the last cut.
Jake Gardiner was even better and never gave the Leafs brass much of a chance to even consider sending him to the Marlies.
Keith Aulie, who was penciled in by most to start the season on the top pairing with captain Dion Phaneuf, was sent down to the Marlies as a direct result of Gardiner's stellar preseason play.
Of course, the kids said the usual stuff during the interviews: "Oh, I won't take anything for granted. I'll just work hard, play my game, do what it takes to win."
However, Thursday is when it gets real.
Frattin and Gardiner must remember what they did to warrant a spot on the Leafs' roster and to continue doing those things.
They are the best players as of right now to fill the spots they've been assigned to, but another thing they'll need to remember is that if they slip up, they'll be quickly replaced by someone who is just as desperate for playing time.
They will be doing important jobs for the team, so it will be important for them to do their respective jobs well on a consistent basis.
From what little I've seen of the current Leaf squad's penalty killing unit, I think they've been much better than last year's PK unit. I suppose at 77.45 percent efficiency, there's not much further down you can go anyway.
Last year, the opposing team's power play unit would almost always be able to get set-up and get shots through.
So far, the Leafs' penalty killers have done a decent job of taking away passing lanes and shooting lanes and pressuring the puck.
If by November I'm not cringing every time the Leafs take a penalty, I'll take it as a sign that the shake-up behind the Leafs' bench was a good move.
Saturday night is Hockey Night in Canada, and if the Leafs are playing at home in the Air Canada Centre, there should be no excuse for losing.
"Electric" is not a word that I am particularly fond of using in describing the atmosphere of a venue, but I can think of no better word to describe the ACC during a Leafs game on a Saturday.
The best way to take a crowd out of a game is, of course, to score a goal against their team.
Therefore, the Leafs will need to take advantage of the environment they're playing in during Saturday home games and score first.
It is humiliating for the players and insulting for the fans when a team consistently loses on home ice.
I don't know why the Leafs lose so much on Saturdays, both at home and on the road, but they will need to figure it out if they want to have a successful season.