After a season that saw five of the seven Canadian teams make the playoffs in 2015, hockey fans were facing the reality that there would be none in 2016. It was the first time in 46 years. It is now early 2017, and we are witnessing a resurgence of the clubs north of the border, including two that haven’t seen much of the postseason over the last decade.
Montreal has made a comeback this season, sitting first in the Atlantic Division once again. The most important reason is the return of Carey Price and the addition of Al Montoya. In 55 games last season, Mike Condon posted a .903 SV% and 2.71 GAA in Price’s absence. Carey Price, now back healthy, has a .918 SV% and a 2.42 GAA this season. Montoya seems to be a stronger backup than Condon having a SV% of .915 and GAA of 2.54.
Another reason for Montreal’s success this season is the emergence of Alexander Radulov. As a star in the KHL the last few years, he’s posted very good numbers, however, that does not always translate to the NHL. In 54 games, though, he has scored 14 goals and 28 assists, adding up to 42 points. He has 6 power-play goals and a shot percentage of 13.6%.
Shea Weber has also made an impact for this Montreal club, having scored 12 goals and 19 assists in 56 games. 10 of those goals have been on the power-play, 4 have been game winners, all with a shot percentage of 9.5%. He’s also a +16 in +/-.
Ottawa has been another team on a comeback, missing the playoffs in 2016 after their miracle run in 2015. They sit second in the Atlantic with a 28-18-6 record and 62 points. Mike Condon has been much better for them than he was for Montreal, having a .912 SV% and a 2.56 GAA in his 31 starts. Long-time Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, has a .924 SV% and 2.46 GAA in his 19 games. Erik Karlsson, as he has always done, leads the way in points with 44, followed closely by Mark Stone’s 40.
It is likely we will be seeing the Battle of Ontario in the first round, as the Toronto Maple Leafs are surging under the command of Mike Babcock. Mitch Marner, who’s game I fell in love with going into the 2015 draft, leads the team in points with 46, scoring 14 goals and tallying 32 assists. Austin Matthews is second with 25 goals and 19 assists. Everyone remembers his 4 goal night in his first NHL game. Overall, they have four guys posting at least 40 points, Jake Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri being the other two. Frederick Andersen holds a .915 SV%, although it’s clear they win with their stacked offense, as, with the Leafs sitting 28th in shots against by allowing 32.6 per game, Andersen holds a GAA of 2.79. Even so, while Boston currently holds that 3rd spot, with Toronto having four games in hand, it looks as though the top 3 teams in the Atlantic will all be Canadian.
Edmonton has been a surprise this year as one of the best teams in the Pacific.This club was expected to be competitive, but they were not expected to be in the top 3. Before the season, everyone remembers the blockbuster trade with the Devils that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey in exchange for Adam Larsson. At the time, it looked like a horrific trade for Edmonton, but after acquisitions such as Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, it actually helped the Oilers. What they had before was obviously not working. With the moves made, they gained better defense, and didn’t lose much offense. McDavid staying healthy has also been a plus. This is going to be their first playoff appearance since their Stanley Cup loss in 2006.
Calgary is on the cuffs of making the playoffs again after a disappointing season last year. They had surprisingly made them in 2015, prompting high expectations for 2016, and they did not meet those expectations. I saw them rebounding this season, and it looks like they have. They are one point behind LA for that final wild card spot.
Following the successful season for Canadian clubs in 2015, and 46 straight years of at least one participant in the playoffs, it was shocking that none made it in 2016. They sure have made a resurgence, however, and we are going to be seeing new faces in the postseason. It is refreshing to have teams like Toronto and Edmonton in the mix again.