x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Canada's other hockey guys are doing just fine

While the Montreal Canadiens have disappointed and underachieved this season, Canada's six other NHL teams - welcome back, Winnipeg - have resided mostly at the other end of the spectrum.

Paul Gaustad, left, and the Buffalo Sabres have been doing the same thing most of the NHL have been doing this year, trying to chase down Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Paul Gaustad, left, and the Buffalo Sabres have been doing the same thing most of the NHL have been doing this year, trying to chase down Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the Montreal Canadiens have disappointed and underachieved this season, Canada's six other NHL teams - welcome back, Winnipeg - have resided mostly at the other end of the spectrum.

The Vancouver Canucks, last year's runaway league leaders in the regular season who fell to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, returned with their core intact and look good to again win their division and challenge for the top seed in the West.

Success can only come in one form in Vancouver - a victory in Game 7 of the final rather than a loss - but the Canucks are on track for another shot, and that is all you ask for.

Over in Ontario, the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs have been feel-good stories all season. The Senators dropped to the bottom of the standings last year, and expectations were low heading into 2011/12 with a 39-year-old captain coming off back surgery, several young and unproven players, and questions in goal.

But Daniel Alfredsson and his team have been perhaps the biggest surprise so far, not only challenging for a play-off spot but pushing the Boston Bruins, the defending champions, for first place in their division.

Not to be outdone, the Leafs got off to a great start and remain in a play-off position, thanks largely to breakout campaigns by linemates Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and leadership from the captain Dion Phaneuf. Toronto have not qualified for the play-offs since 2004; not only do they look like post-season candidates this year, they have the weapons to do some damage once they get there.

Moving back west, whatever the Winnipeg Jets accomplish this season will be cheered loudly by the locals, who remain ecstatic that the NHL has returned after 15 years.

Winnipeg lost their first three games this season, tempering expectations, but they have been competitive since then, and the fact that the Jets are hanging around the play-off race is a bonus.

In Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers started strongly, thanks to their bevy of young stars, but have been slowed in recent weeks by the usual culprits - a wave of injuries and a third-rate defence.

Still, the rise of the young stars (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle) is promising, and Nikolai Khabibulin has had a renaissance in goal, allowing Devan Dubnyk, the young back-up, time to grow.

Edmonton's Alberta rivals, the Calgary Flames, continue to toil in that netherworld of being competitive enough to vie for a play-off berth but still far from truly contending.

The Flames have Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff and a few other support players of note, but Calgary might be the Canadian team that faces the most hardships in the coming seasons.

 

sports@thenational.ae