Canadian NHL teams poised for playoff return
Post-season probability strong for several clubs at season's halfway point
Good news, Canadian hockey fans: the national playoff drought will probably end this year.
With about half of the NHL season in the books, several of the country's teams are in contention for a playoff spot while the rest are in striking distance with plenty of time to catch up.
Things are pretty, pretty good right now, but — without curbing too much enthusiasm — a lot can still change over the next few months.
In the meantime, here's a look at how Canada's seven teams have fared so far and what fans can expect in the second half of the season.
Record after 42 games: 26-10-6 (1st in the Atlantic Division)
Leave it to the Habs to trade one of the faces of their franchise and still be first in the division.
Shea Weber has made an immediate impact on both ends of the ice, tallying 10 goals and 18 assists and an impressive plus-19 rating while averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game. A healthy Carey Price doesn't hurt either (20-6-4 with two shutouts), and the Max Pacioretty-led offence is fourth in the league in goals scored.
The Canadiens will need to play more disciplined down the stretch as the team is in the top 10 in penalty minutes and the bottom third in killing off those penalties. Montreal is also dealing with a slew of injuries, including major losses in Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov, but players like Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry have stepped up to keep the offence firing.
Record after 39 games: 21-14-4 (3rd in the Atlantic Division)
The notoriously streaky Sens have held on to a top-three spot in the Atlantic thanks to some statistical symmetry — despite scoring the sixth-fewest goals in the league, Ottawa is in a playoff position in part due to allowing the sixth-fewest goals.
This is especially impressive considering No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson has been away from the team since early December to support his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment.
Erik Karlsson continues to be the engine that powers the Sens as he makes a case for a third Norris Trophy, but the biggest surprise has to be second-year winger Ryan Dzingel. The 24-year-old from Wheaton, Ill., complements Kyle Turris well on the top line and has already doubled his point total from last season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Record after 39 games: 18-13-8 (two points out of a divisional playoff spot)
Yes, the Leafs can't hold a lead and they haven't beaten Montreal since Stephen Harper was prime minister, but at least this team is fun to watch thanks to first-year phenoms like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
Nazem Kadri has embraced his new role of a checking forward and local kids Connor Brown and Zach Hyman both have potential, but the team still needs a fourth defenceman and more consistent play from goalie Frederik Andersen.
Whether the playoffs are in the cards for this year remains up in the air, but things are looking much brighter in Toronto than they were at this time last year.
Record after 44 games: 20-21-3 (one point out of a wild card spot)
Before sustaining a concussion on Saturday, Patrik Laine was well on his way to becoming the Teemu Selanne for a new generation of Jets fans.
The second coming of the Finnish Flash scored a team-high 21 goals in his first 42 games and sits third in overall points behind second-year standout Nikolaj Ehlers and long-tenured Jet Mark Scheifele.
Winnipeg already had major issues to deal with before Laine's injury, including substandard play on special teams, and the team as a whole will need to step up in the rookie's absence.
Record after 43 games: 21-15-7 (3rd in the Pacific division)
In his first 82 NHL games, Connor McDavid reaffirmed his standing as not just one of the league's future stars, but a force to be reckoned with right now.
Linemate Leon Draisaitl is on pace for a career year and the recently acquired Milan Lucic is looking like the 60-point scorer that helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Cam Talbot has shouldered most of the workload in net, and the team will need to find a steady backup in the absence of the waived Jonas Gustavsson. However, the onetime "City of Champions" could be in store for another run of playoff success after years of struggling.
Record after 43 games: 23-19-2 (1st in the wild card race)
If this year didn't have Matthews and Laine to drool over, Matthew Tkachuk would be a front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Keith's kid is doing it all for Calgary this year, contributing 27 points and a plus-10 while flanking Mikael Backlund, the team's leading scorer.
Johnny Gaudreau is on a hot streak following his return from injury and the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are steadily making gains, but this young team will need to continue maturing in order to crack the Pacific's top three.
Record after 43 games: 20-19-4 (one point out of a wild card spot)
Turns out Nike was right: Bo knows hockey, just not the Bo they were talking about.
Bo Horvat's team-leading 29 points helped earn him his first all-star nod while helping the Canucks even out after the team's four-game win streak to open the season was washed a way by a nine-game slide.
The Canucks are still in the bottom third in the league in goals and goals allowed, but a balanced attack led by the Sedin twins could see the team grind its way back into the post-season conversation.