Canadian Western Conference teams push for playoff spots

Canadian Western Conference teams push for playoff spots

Last season only one Canadian team made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was a big deal at the time. After all, hockey is quite important in Canada, and when the New York Rangers disposed of Montreal, it again deprived the country of a team within its borders of winning a Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993.

And before the season when you looked at the roster of Canadian teams, it seemed possible that just one would make the playoffs again – the Canadiens duh. But hold up.

Along with Montreal, there are currently three in the Western Conference in playoff positions. You have the Vancouver Canucks (61 points and three points clear of Minnesota for being out of the playoffs), the Calgary Flames (63 points) and the Winnipeg Jets (64 points).

Everyone saw this coming – said nobody.

While all three teams are securely in at the moment, the race could (and will) tighten up.

Right outside the playoff picture are four teams who made the postseason a year ago in the Wild, the Kings the Stars and the Colorado Avalanche. Can one jump in over the three teams? Can three?

It’s a tough call. Since such immense and quick growth of these teams was not expected, it’s easy to look at them and think one or two will fall off instead of say … San Jose.

Here’s a view at three teams and the potential pitfalls that await them.

Winnipeg Jets

Make the playoffs: Dude… they’re six points ahead of being out (albeit with having played three more games than the Wild). They’re even in front of San Jose – the third place team in the Pacific Division. If anyone’s going to drop, it’s not going to be the Jets. They simply have too big a cushion, even if they collapse.

Miss the playoffs: Have you seen what’s gone on with them recently with Evander Kane? Winnipeg could have easily handled everything in-house. Since the Jets have let it spill out, it has caused a major distraction at a time when teams don’t need one.

From the Winnipeg Free Press:

If this, however, turns out to be the beginning of the end, the Jets will have exposed themselves in the worst of ways. They will have shot themselves in the foot and it will have been all so unnecessary. And they'll have themselves to blame. From top to bottom.

Verdict: Make, just based off how many points they are ahead of being out of the playoffs.

Calgary Flames

Make the playoffs: Have you seen this team’s defense? Have you seen its goaltending? The Flames have the most mobile, puck-moving two-way group of defensemen in the NHL. Mark Giordano is having a career-year. Dennis Wideman? T.J. Brodie? Jonas Hiller has been a rock for them with a 2.34 goals against average and .915 save percentage.

Miss the playoffs: We’re still waiting for this team to regress – since they don’t possess the puck nearly enough. Look at the amount of positive Corsi-on players they have 5-on-5 per Behind the Net. Johnny Gaudreau has played 13 more games than he did a year ago for Boston College. A wall shall be hit at some point.

Verdict: Make. Every time we think they’re going to lose – such as winning Monday night. They’re going to be this year’s advanced statistical outlier.

Vancouver Canucks

Make the playoffs: Here’s a cool trivia question. When was the last time Canucks first-year head coach Willie Desjardins of Climax, Saskatchewan missed a playoff of any kind as a full-season Major Junior or American Hockey League bench boss. The answer? Never. Man just knows how to win. If this wasn’t such a pattern, then I wouldn’t use it as an argument. But it’s a pretty incredible record Desjardins, who is in his first year as an NHL head coach.

Miss the playoffs: Vancouver’s forward scoring is balanced. The Sedins are near a point-per-game pace. Radim Vrbata is on pace for over 30 goals. But the Canucks are soft on D. Alex Edler leads the group with over 24 minutes per-game. But he’s not elite. And goal has been up and down this year with Ryan Miller having lost five of his last seven starts, and allowing three or more goals in all but two of those games. Just look at Miller’s stats after a trade to St. Louis last year. They’re not great – 2.47 goals against average and .903 save percentage. He tends to right the ship in big games, but, he needs to find a way out of this downward funk.

Verdict: Miss. They have three games left against the Kings where Los Angeles can make up ground.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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