By Timothy Pain Van Der Kooi, Staff Contributor
Change symbolizes the beginning of a new year for many people. NHL hockey fans are no different.
The new year marks the midway point of the NHL season, and consequently, it affects hockey fans’ thinking patterns. They consider the midway point of the NHL season to be like a novel: after the completion of a book they turn hopefully to the new, exciting possibilities of the next one on the shelf. Thankfully, most Canadian hockey teams – with the exception of Edmonton – have put themselves in favourable positions to advance into the postseason. Let’s take a look at the possible future for all six Canadian NHL teams.
With the great defensive presence from players such as Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester backed by goaltender Mikka Kipprusoff, it’s hard to put it past the team ranked fourth in goals allowed. If Rene Bourque can continue to put up goals, combined with supporting actors such as Curtis Glencross and Nigel Dawes, Jarome Iginla could lead Calgary to first place in the Northwest Division.
The Canucks are in the same boat as Calgary, but with a little more dependence on their goaltender. However, since Daniel Sedin has come back, he has helped his twin brother Henrik lead the NHL in points. Alexander Burrows is another Canuck forward propelling the Vancouver offence to new heights, scoring back-to-back hat tricks last week. Their combined offensive production will alleviate some of the pressure from Roberto Luongo’s shoulders. If this continues, it should lead to an interesting finale in the Northwest Divison.
If Jaroslav Halak can continue to make over 40 saves a night, then expect the Canadiens to make the playoffs. The return of Andrei Markov is sure to help Montreal on the score sheet, but they are missing pivotal defensive-minded defensemen to help out their psychologically battered goaltenders.
Team point leader Tomas Plekanec has been a nice surprise for the Canadiens and Michael Cammalleri has also filled a void in Montreal since joining the squad. However, this offence does not make up for their lack of defence, and will ultimately harm their chances of making a playoff push.
If Toronto can tame their nightly shooting gallery into some form of precision, then Toronto could make the playoffs. This team is capable of surprising the best teams on any night, yet they are still a young, inconsistent hockey team.
Jonas Gustavasson has been a reliable goaltender for the Leafs, while Vesa Toskala continues to fade into the background. The Leafs will need Gustavasson to step up his game while players such as Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski and Jason Blake find out where their shots are going.
Inconsistency has affected this Canadian team as well. Goaltending has always been a major issue for the Senators, and this year is no different.
The team has found themselves jumping from Pascal Leclaire to Brian Elliot, who had two shutouts in the month of December against Buffalo and Philadelphia. However, with Jason Spezza out indefinitely with a torn right MCL, the Senators offence is too dependent on Mike Fisher and the underachieving Alexei Kovalev. Their offence does not provide the support for their shaky goaltending situation.
The Senators will need to turn it around quickly to make a stab at the playoffs.
Poor, poor Edmonton. Injuries have plagued the team all season and have proven to be their toughest battle. At this point in the season the Oilers are last place in the Western Conference and are out of eighth place by over 15 points. The career year of Dustin Penner is the only highlight for Oilers fans this season.
The NHL season is playing out exactly like the last in the Eastern Conference, but the Western Conference has been mixing it up. The absence of the Detroit Red Wings and the rise of the Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings have been the biggest surprises (and should continue to surprise) in this NHL season. With less than 40 games left in the season, it should be interesting to see which teams will surprise and perform in the new year.