Points becoming precious as NHL reaches halfway mark of regular season
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.”
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.