It is impossible to accurately predict which teams will make the NHL playoffs next spring, based on their records in the first month of the season. There are trends and patterns that develop, though, that can point to how a team will perform through the rest of the season.
There are many questions still surrounding the Colorado Avalanche at this point in the season.
Is the coach on the hot seat?
Will their No. 1 goalie stay healthy throughout the season?
Who will step up offensively?
Let's take a look at a couple of scenarios, any combination of which could help get the Avalanche into the playoffs.
Avalanche management decided that their biggest need this offseason was in net, so they spent the most on improving that area.
First, the controversial trade with Washington that brought in young star Semyon Varlamov. Then, a veteran signing with the team, adding former Stanley Cup-winning goalie J.S. Giguere. The duo has proved to be more than competent, especially when compared to the goalies the team finished last season with—Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott.
Despite their recent slide, both goalies still have solid stats.
Backup Giguere has posted a 3-1 record so far, showing that he would be competent if anything happened to Varlamov.
Both goalies are giving their team a chance to win almost every night, and that fact should pay dividends come spring.
Matt Duchene continues to improve in his third year in the league. The third overall draft pick from 2009 has shown that he's beginning to really perfect the NHL game.
He has developed a lethal combination of speed and puck-control, and is able to keep up with the physical nature of the league.
Duchene has had slow starts to the past couple of seasons, and if the same pattern holds up, the All-Star from last year will turn it on as we approach the holidays and new year.
If he turns it on hot enough, he may be able to carry the team on his back into the playoffs.
Before the season began, fans and critics had concerns about the Avalanche defensive corps. The team shifted from offensive defensemen like John-Michael Liles to a bigger, grittier style that makes it harder to get to the Colorado net.
Nobody would have guessed that the Avalanche defensemen would lead the conference in scoring from the blueline going into November. But that's exactly where they are.
Kyle Quincey is having a bounce-back year, leading the group with 12 points. Ryan Wilson has surprised with nine points, good for second in the group.
If these guys can keep contributing, and others like Erik Johnson can begin to play up to their potential, they could play a big part in the team breaking into the playoffs.
On Halloween, the Avalanche were tied for fourth place in the Western Conference and only two points out of first.
Statistics show that over 80 percent of teams in playoff positions on Halloween end up making the playoffs that spring; so the team has to be happy with its placement.
Thirteen days into November, though, the Avalanche currently sit at 12th place in the conference. The bright side is that they are only two points out of fourth place, so positioning can change dramatically on any given night.
The fickle nature of the standings this early in the season does take away slightly from the validity of the argument above, but statistics don't lie.
That's good news for Avalanche fans and players alike.
Before Thursday night's win against the New York Islanders, many would have wondered how hot coach Joe Sacco's seat would have been if the team had lost.
Luckily for him, they were able to pull out an overtime victory, and his job is safe.
But after Saturday's loss to the Calgary Flames, the team's third this season, many fans are calling for Sacco to be relieved of his duties.
Should the team flounder in the coming weeks, losing more games than they win, expect Sacco's name to come up when discussing NHL coaches who could be fired.
A coaching change before the end of the year would jump-start the team should they struggle going into the holidays and could be very beneficial for a playoff push down the stretch.
There is no doubt that Avalanche management was counting on Peter Mueller to return healthy this season and contribute, much like Kyle Quincey. But as of Saturday night's game against the Islanders, Mueller has played in exactly three games, registering zero points.
He has missed the past couple of weeks with what coaches call a head injury, but it's not hard to imagine that he still is suffering from concussion symptoms. On the bright side, Mueller has been participating in full practices with the squad, so he could return any day.
If he's able to come back and recapture the chemistry he had with Matt Duchene, it would go a long way toward this team pushing up the standings.
Gabriel Landeskog has lived up to the hype surrounding him when he was drafted second overall this summer. The 18-year-old Swede has five goals and eight points while playing on a very productive third line for the team.
Landeskog will no doubt get looks on the top lines if Peter Mueller's return is delayed; and he could get even hotter with skilled players like Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny.
If Landeskog can get used to the physical game this season, he could really turn into a force for the team.
Nobody expected that the Edmonton Oilers would be at the top of the Northwest Division at any point throughout this season. Or that the Vancouver Canucks would flirt with a .500 record approaching the end of first quarter of the season. All five teams in the division are separated by just five points.
Assuming the Oilers fall back to earth and the Canucks play more to their level, the teams should be pretty evenly matched going into the stretch run.
That would leave a top-three playoff position open to whichever team can elevate their play in the spring.
The collective youth of the Avalanche should allow them to utilize their energy down the stretch and could be an advantage over older teams like the Canucks and Flames.
Two years ago, the Avalanche made the playoffs in large part due to the fact that many teams were expecting an easy win when the saw Colorado on the schedule.
This year could be the same story.
After a horrendous finish to last season, many teams and analysts expected the Avalanche to end up in the bottom 10 of the league again this year. But Colorado stormed out of the gate this year, winning their first five games on the road, surprising teams like the defending Stanley Cup champions.
If they're lucky, the team will carry the stigma of a "lottery" team through at least the first half of the season.
If they do, it will be up to them to prove that label wrong.
After Saturday night's loss to the Calgary Flames, the Avalanche dropped to 2-6 at home so far this year.
That number absolutely must get better.
Assuming it does, and the Avalanche can improve to .500 or better at home, Colorado's success on the road may be able to carry them into the playoffs. Their poise on the road is what has kept this team afloat, so any improvement at the Pepsi Center will be a bonus.
If they can be successful on the road and at home, they'll have a much better shot at finishing the regular season in the top eight.