The Olympics have come and gone, fans are returning to the arenas, and before you know it, the playoffs will be just around the corner! With many Canadian teams having caught up from their COVID-19 induced backlogs, the playoff picture is starting to become more clear, and as we approach the final thirty-something games of the year, lets see where Canada’s seven stand! We start the list off with a shake-up at the top of the standings.
1. Calgary Flames
On January 27th, the Flames lost 5-1 to the St. Louis Blues and since then, they have been a machine. The Flames have rattled off ten consecutive wins and have dispatched division rivals Vancouver, Vegas, and Anaheim on route to jumping into first place in the Pacific Division. Their win over Vegas, in particular, was an impressive display to cement themselves as contenders in the West, easily beating them up 6-0. Their firepower of Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Lindholm and Mangiapane, combined with Jakob Markstrom’s heroics in the sticks have the Flames sitting with a plus 53 points differential, easily the best in the Pacific.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto can feel hard done by being second in this edition of the rankings. They are sitting pretty in the Atlantic with 67 points in 48 games and are well on course for a playoff push. The Leafs are 6-4-0 in their last ten, including a statement win over Stanley Cup contenders, the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins. As can be expected, the Leafs’ firepower up front continues to be ferocious. Like Calgary, Toronto has a solid goaltender in Jack Campbell, and upfront, Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander have combined for 197 points. If ever there was a year for Toronto to make a serious playoff run, this is as good a time as any. Luckily for them, they won’t have to face Montreal at that stage.
3. Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton has recovered from their disastrous form in December and January but it was too late for head coach Dave Tippett. Tippett was fired on February 10th and was swiftly replaced by rookie head coach, Jay Woodcroft. Since then Edmonton has been going in an upward direction. Woodcroft won his first five games in charge before a 7-3 defeat to Minnesota brought them back to earth. That game against Minnesota saw the Oilers pull their goaltender, but goaltending has been an issue for them all year. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith both have save percentages under .900, with 23-year-old Stuart Skinner having the best record at .913. But Edmonton can always rely on top-end talent, after a quiet January by their standards, Connor McDavid Leon Draisaitl are still putting up insane numbers with the two combining for 61 goals and a staggering 141 points. So far the acquisition of Evander Kane has worked out for the Oilers as well, he’s chipped in with ninbe points in just 11 games.
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4. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks gave themselves a massive hole to climb from the dying embers of the Travis Green/ Jim Benning era. The ship has well and truly been steadied under Bruce Boudreau but at this point, any defeat seems like a big playoff setback. For every vital win against teams like Toronto and Winnipeg, there’s been precious opportunity squandered, with heavy losses against the struggling New York Islanders and division rival Anaheim Ducks. Recent losses have made one thing clear, when the Canucks goalies aren’t on form, they’re in big trouble. But there’s hope that the old Elias Petterson might be showing up now, after a slow start, the Swedish centre has so far scored 10 points in February, his best return all year. He’ll need to maintain that form if the Canucks are to have a chance of making the playoffs. If not, then the Canucks may be making some difficult decisions at the trade deadline.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Eleven points so far in February have certainly helped, but the Jets’ biggest problem is that they can’t keep up with the others in their division. Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis and Nashville all have significantly higher points totals, and if Winnipeg is gonna make the playoffs, they’ll need to fight it out for a wildcard spot. To do that, they’ll need more from star players like Connor Hellebuyck, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Blake Wheeler. With five divisional games and matchups against the lowly Devils and Canadiens, the next ten games could be make or break for Winnipeg if they want to be within the playoff running.
6. Ottawa Senators
Since December, the Senators’ form has continued to be somewhat average, which has been an improvement on how things were initially going this season. A record of 4-5-1 shows a team that can compete on the day, but we’ll need to wait until next season to see if they’ll take the next step and compete for a playoff spot. In the meantime, Ottawa will hope the young core can continue to develop. Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle, and Josh Norris continue to lead their scoring charts, and at the back, goaltending is sharpening up. Having survived waivers, Matt Murray has continued his redemption run. The two-time Stanley Cup winner has a .919 save percentage this season, and even put up an incredible .977 effort against the Penguins in which he saved 42/43 shots. Who knows what the future will hold for Murray if this form holds up.
7. Montreal Canadiens
The somewhat inevitable happened after a humiliating 7-1 defeat to New Jersey, upper management fired Dominique Ducharme, replacing him with interim head coach, Martin St. Louis. There have been signs of improvement for the Habs lately. They have amassed a three-game win streak, including wins against St Louis and Toronto. A big reason for the upturn in form is last year’s rookie sensation Cole Caufield recapturing his playoff form. He has eight points in his last four games giving many in Montreal reason to believe that his play last year wasn’t a fluke and that Caufield can be a future star for Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. The season is lost and has been for a while. But with a new GM in place, young talent and plenty of draft capital thanks to a trade with Calgary for Tyler Toffoli, perhaps there is a reason for optimism going forward for this season’s most disappointing team.