Par­ity reigns

Points be­com­ing pre­cious as NHL reaches half­way mark of reg­u­lar sea­son

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DONNA SPENCER

Mid­way through the NHL sea­son, most teams within strik­ing dis­tance of play­off spot.

The play­off bub­ble is a crowded place as the NHL rounds the half­way mark of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

In ad­di­tion to telling Cal­gary to get busy on a new arena for the Flames ear­lier this week, league com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman pointed out to the city’s busi­ness com­mu­nity the par­ity among teams mid­way through 2015-16 could make for some in­ter­est­ing post-sea­son races.

“This past Satur­day we reached the sta­tis­ti­cal half­way point of our reg­u­lar sea­son. Twenty-three out of our 30 teams were ei­ther in play­off po­si­tion or within five points of a play­off spot,” Bettman boasted.

It’s true that it’s shap­ing up to be a photo fin­ish, with the Pa­cific the tight­est of the four divi­sions. Just nine points sep­a­rated se­cond from sev­enth be­fore Tues­day’s games.

The Cal­gary Flames yo-yoed from last in the Pa­cific on Dec. 7 to third last week be­fore fall­ing to sixth Tues­day af­ter two straight losses.

“It’s crazy the ebbs and flow and the move­ment in the stand­ings,” agreed Flames for­ward Josh Jooris.

The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals (327-3) and Los An­ge­les Kings (2712-3) were the only teams with siz­able cush­ions atop the Metropoli­tan and Pa­cific divi­sions, re­spec­tively.

The Dal­las Stars (29-11-4) lead­ing the Cen­tral wasn’t a sur­prise, but the Florida Pan­thers (26-125) sit­ting in first in the At­lantic was.

Of the Cana­dian teams, the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens and Van­cou­ver Canucks had ten­u­ous holds on the third and fi­nal play­off berths in their re­spec­tive divi­sions, while the Ottawa Sen­a­tors, Win­nipeg Jets and Flames were five points or less out of a wild-card berth in their con­fer­ences.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, one of just two teams yet to play 41 games this sea­son, and Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers were fur­ther out of post-sea­son con­tention, but the gaps were not in­sur­mount­able.

The Habs started hot with nine straight wins, but dropped into the pack los­ing 13 of their last 18.

“First take a step back and think how many teams are in the po­si­tion we’re in,” Mon­treal cap­tain Max Pa­cioretty said. “We’re not in a hor­ri­ble po­si­tion.

“We had a great cush­ion be­fore and we had a big gap be­tween the teams, but let’s take a step back and re­al­ize this sea­son has a lot of games left and if we play the right way, we’ll like the re­sults.”

The Leafs were also still op­ti­mistic as they had games in hand on al­most ev­ery club in the At­lantic.

“For us, I don’t think it’s a big­pic­ture thing,” Leafs for­ward Brad Boyes said. “I think it’s small stuff right now. Even look­ing at the stand­ings, if we’re eight back with three in hand, you’ve got to take them one game at a time as cliche as that is.

“We don’t have six points com­ing up to­mor­row. We’ve got to get those two.”

CP PHOTO

Florida Pan­thers goalie Roberto Luongo makes a save on the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers Sun­day. The Pan­thers be­ing a divi­sion leader is one of the first-half sur­prises.

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