Canadian teams have playoff potential
By David Song, March 21 2017 —
Last year, not one of Canada’s seven National Hockey League teams made the postseason, generating speculation over the well-being of Canadian hockey. This season has rendered that debate moot, with multiple teams north of the border poised to enter the 2017 playoffs.
With a dramatic 4–3 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 13, the Calgary Flames tied a franchise record of 10 consecutive wins. Brian Elliott is playing like the dominant goalie the Flames traded for, notching back-to-back shutouts, a 1.74 goals against average and a .943 save percentage during the streak. Calgary’s offence has also ignited, outscoring opponents 36–18 over the 10 games. Despite a streak-ending 5–2 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 15, the Flames are the hottest team in the league and seem unlikely to relinquish their playoff spot, as they are neck-and-neck with the Edmonton Oilers in the Pacific Division.
The Oilers remain a threat with a high-flying offence led by sophomore sensation Connor McDavid. Much-improved defence and goaltending sets this year’s Oilers apart from previous seasons. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have bolstered the blueline, while Cam Talbot has a 2.39 goals against average and a .920 save percentage over a heavy, 61-game workload. Only slightly ahead of the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton will need to finish strong, but have all the tools they need to make the postseason.
In the east, the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are currently first and second in the Atlantic Division. Acquiring Shea Weber in the offseason has done wonders for Montreal’s blueline and taken pressure off franchise netminder Carey Price. Max Pacioretty is among the league’s top scorers with 33 goals and there is forward depth behind him. Once a fringe NHLer, Paul Byron is having a career year with 18 goals and 34 points and Alexander Radulov has played consistently and is on pace for 55 points. The Canadiens are in good shape heading into April.
The Ottawa Senators cannot be overlooked either. They are comfortably sitting behind Montreal and ahead of the third-place Boston Bruins. Ottawa’s forward line is characterized by speed and adaptability. Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard and Kyle Turris all have skating ability and two-way versatility. Captain Erik Karlsson leads the charge from the blueline, combining over 65 points with ever-improving defensive play. Goalie Craig Anderson has missed significant time to be with his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer this year, but Mike Condon has been a fairly steady backup with a .913 save percentage.
Then there are the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just a few points back of the Bruins, their hold on a wild card spot is tenuous at best. Although youngsters Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner have contributed plenty on offence, defense continues to be an issue as the Leafs have had particular trouble holding leads in the third period. Of all the Canadian teams fighting for a playoff spot, the Leafs are most likely to lose their grip, with the New York Islanders trailing shortly behind them.
Coming off of last season’s disappointing Canadian playoff vacancies, 2016–17 is shaping up to be a comeback year for Canadian hockey. The NHL regular season ends on April 9 and the race to the Stanley Cup begins April 12.