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Canadian NHL staff grades: Oilers catch fireplace, Maple Leafs fall off in March

Spring has finally sprung and, as much of the northern hemisphere emerges from its months-long hibernation, playoff hockey is right around the corner.Before we get there, however, most teams will be riding out the final half-dozen games left on their docket in preparation for the playoffs or an early offseason, while others are still battling

Canadian NHL staff grades: Oilers catch fireplace, Maple Leafs fall off in March

Spring has lastly sprung and, as a lot of the northern hemisphere emerges from its months-long hibernation, playoff hockey is correct across the nook.

Earlier than we get there, nonetheless, most groups will likely be driving out the ultimate half-dozen video games left on their docket in preparation for the playoffs or an early offseason, whereas others are nonetheless battling for his or her postseason lives. Let’s have a look throughout the seven Canadian markets and see how their months of March graded out and the place Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto stand heading down the stretch.

1) Edmonton Oilers (A+)

It’s onerous to earn something aside from an A+ grade whenever you’ve simply accomplished the perfect month in your franchise’s historical past. Edmonton caught fireplace in March, going 12-2-1 and pacing your entire NHL in factors proportion. The staff was dominant on the possession entrance, controlling 56% of the anticipated targets, whereas Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl led the NHL with 29 and 28 factors, respectively.

On prime of the dominance from their stars, the complementary items pulled their weight after which some as nicely. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the month of his life, choosing up 24 factors in 14 video games to rocket his season whole to a career-high 96 factors.

The explosive Oilers are peaking at exactly the right time. (Getty)

The explosive Oilers are peaking at precisely the proper time. (Getty)

Mixed with Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard discovering instantaneous chemistry as a suffocating pair with offensive presents, and Stuart Skinner earning Rookie of the Month honours, it’s onerous to say something went flawed for the Oilers, who’re at present Canada’s greatest staff with the playoffs looming.

The post-mortem report:

For as rocky a highway as it has been at occasions throughout the Connor McDavid period, this previous 12 months might have been the smoothest one but thanks largely to the dominance of their captain.

The Oilers shot out of the gate with tenacity, with Stuart Skinner shortly establishing himself as a bonafide NHL goaltender amidst Jack Campbell’s struggles to acclimate. That goaltending continued to be the story of the Oilers season all through the early weeks till Connor McDavid single-handedly took management of Edmonton’s marketing campaign and refused to let go.

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By December, McDavid was doing Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux issues, as Edmonton’s explosive offence took centre stage and have become must-watch hockey. Because the goaltending slowly caught as much as league common degree, the Oilers rocketed up the standings, then augmented their core with a savvy deadline to push them firmly into Stanley Cup contender standing.

2) Vancouver Canucks (A-)

In an astonishing flip of occasions, the Vancouver Canucks are heading down the stretch as among the best groups north of the border, enjoying to a pristine 120-point tempo with a 10-3-2 document in March.

It’s fairly onerous to imagine given the state of the staff beneath Bruce Boudreau, as they constantly discovered themselves on the flawed finish of lopsided rating sheets with a dysfunctional entrance workplace and a forged of disgruntled stars.

With new coach Rick Tocchet starting to settle in, nonetheless, the Canucks seemed nearly as good as they’ve all season, even ending with an above-water anticipated targets for proportion (50.4%) for the primary time in 2022-23.

The one motive Vancouver doesn’t earn themselves a straight-A grade is that their miracle month has firmly elevated them from the NHL’s basement. By incomes factors in eight of their final ten video games, visions of Connor Bedard lacing up his skates with an orca throughout his chest have all however vanished as their odds to pick out the hometown hero are actually firmly within the one p.c vary. Ouch.

The post-mortem report:

The place to start? Even earlier than the season obtained rolling, the Canucks had been drowning in turmoil, with off-ice circumstances clouding over a staff with loads of on-ice query marks as nicely. Issues began poorly on the Pacific coast and solely obtained worse, as jersey tosses turned to dropping streaks which became a months-long will-they-won’t-they with their head coach.

The Canucks’ current stretch obfuscates one of the vital irritating seasons in current reminiscence for Vancouver. Coming off a 92-point marketing campaign in 2021-22, expectations lay someplace between playoff bubble and Pacific Division risk, significantly given how wide-open issues seemed again in October.

Because the early season losses piled up, nonetheless, finally giving solution to Bruce Boudreau’s firing and the circus that surrounded it, it turned evident that this group simply didn’t have the legs. Exacerbated by a revolving door in internet as a result of accidents and efficiency, this 12 months’s Canucks had been simply not meant to be, late-season surge be damned.

3) Calgary Flames (B-)

Just like the Undertaker in his most famous gif, stories of the Calgary Flames’ demise — regardless of what was said last month — have been tremendously exaggerated. An all-important 8-5-2 month, punctuated on Friday evening with an enormous come-from-behind win over the Vancouver Canucks, stored Calgary within the hunt, simply two factors again of Winnipeg with six video games remaining.

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The Flames are nonetheless behind the eight ball, however the semi-reemergence of Jacob Markstrom, who scrounged collectively a pedestrian .898 sv% almost forty factors increased than his February mark, allowed them to hold round simply lengthy sufficient to coincide with different groups slipping down the stretch.

The percentages stay lengthy for Calgary regardless of their current successful methods, evidenced by their slim 31.5% shot at making the playoffs, per Moneypuck, but it surely’s a step in the proper course for a staff that was barreling into the abyss only a few quick weeks in the past.

The post-mortem report:

It seems like endlessly in the past, however the Calgary Flames got here out of the gate as Presidents Trophy contenders and didn’t disappoint. Their 5-2-0 document earned them early season praise, however issues turned bitter shortly thereafter.

Jonathan Huberdeau’s extremely anticipated arrival failed to fulfill expectations for a lot of the season, choosing up simply 12 factors by way of his first two months in Cowtown. Mixed with the staff falling aside in November on the goaltending entrance, the prognosis shortly turned dire for Darryl Sutter’s membership.

Constantly outshooting their opponents however failing to discover a well timed objective or save, Calgary sank within the standings into the mushy center, piling up one-goal losses alongside the best way.

Even when the ultimate month of their season does miraculously conclude with them going through the Western Convention’s number-one seed, the Flames fell far wanting their lofty preseason expectations, making it troublesome to evaluate their marketing campaign as something wanting a failure. That’s, after all, pending some playoff astonishment.

4) Winnipeg Jets (C)

Winnipeg might have compiled a .500 document in March, however primarily based on the narratives surrounding the team and their plummet from Central chief to wild-card hopeful, it actually doesn’t really feel that approach.

The Jets have been underwhelming of late — their 7-7-1 document in March solely additional underscoring the state of affairs in Manitoba’s capital. As is usually the case, goaltending has been a giant offender for the downslide, as Connor Hellebuyck‘s .899 save proportion final month was his lowest since February 2022.

Others, similar to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, have additionally struggled, notching simply 9 and eight factors respectively over the Jets’ 15-game stretch. Wheeler, significantly, has been struggling mightily as he wraps up his age-36 season, scoring only one objective in March.

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The post-mortem report:

The Winnipeg Jets had been many issues this previous season, however one factor they actually weren’t was constant. Month to month, it’s onerous to argue that every other Canadian staff had the swings the Jets had.

From the highs of their dominant November run led by a Josh Morrissey breakout to an injury-plagued December that noticed the membership cede the division to Dallas, to an distinctive January that helped them recapture their early-season magic, each month has been a brand new problem for the Jets.

It’s that actual inconsistency that makes the Jets season up to now so onerous to adequately assess. Whether or not this staff is the well-oiled early-season machine or the discombobulated March model is unimaginable to inform, and can undoubtedly be the million-dollar query come playoffs. That’s, after all, if they’ll proper the ship in time and keep away from dropping out of the image fully in favour of a surging Flames facet.

5) Toronto Maple Leafs (D+)

Because it seems, it’s onerous to regulate on the fly when buying and selling away large swaths of your core and introducing virtually half a dozen new faces. The Maple Leafs had their weakest month since their abysmal begin to the season, going 7-5-2 whereas choosing up dangerous losses on a number of events.

Worse but, the staff does not seem like gelling in anyway, with their 48.6% anticipated targets share marking the primary occasion the membership has dipped beneath the 50% mark over a full month this season.

That isn’t to say there haven’t been positives. Auston Matthews seems to be extraordinarily again, however the supporting forged that was purported to stabilize the staff and switch them right into a playoff-style juggernaut has performed the precise reverse, seeping the membership of its defensive construction, leading to a barrage of high-danger probabilities in opposition to.

It’s a regarding development with the playoffs mere weeks away and would require a repair on a decent turnaround given the membership’s upcoming date with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The post-mortem report:

The Maple Leafs season has featured principally excellent play, sandwiched between two horrific months in October and March. Opening the 12 months chilly, the Maple Leafs seemed downright horrific relative to their expectations in October, with the celebs failing to transform and the staff dropping to far inferior opponents.

That flipped on its head in November, nonetheless, because the staff put collectively an 11-1-2 run for the perfect single month of their franchise historical past, regardless of a laundry checklist of accidents on the again finish.

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Because the sturdy play continued by way of December and into the brand new 12 months, indicators of a membership with the legs to make a run had been evident, cueing a mid-February commerce flurry in hopes of bolstering the membership’s defensive acumen.

Toronto has struggled to gel with important new items within the fold since their busy stretch forward of the deadline, however with their playoff matchup locked in, the one actual query is whether or not or not their strikes are sufficient to get them previous the primary spherical for the primary time since 2004.

6) Montreal Canadiens (D-)

The tank is alive and nicely in Montreal, so there’s little to be shocked concerning the Canadiens ending with a dreadful 4-9-2 document in March whereas getting pummelled within the course of.

There aren’t any two methods about it, the Montreal Canadiens, with a laundry checklist of accidents and restricted expertise on the ice, have one job: lose video games for extra lottery balls. By choosing up only a third of their attainable factors final month, good for twenty eighth within the league in factors proportion, they’ve principally maximized their odds at securing a top-end expertise come June’s entry draft.

The one actual concern value contemplating is the tradition that every one this dropping might foster, however given the aforementioned attrition confronted by the Habs this season, to not point out the higher good that bringing a prime prospect would do for this group, it’s a small value to pay within the grand scheme of issues.

The post-mortem report:

It’s onerous to recollect, however the Canadiens got here out of the gates comparatively scorching, going a 11-10-1 by way of the top of November.

That facade of a reliable hockey staff pale terribly shortly in December, nonetheless, after the defence and goaltending collapsed, with Montreal surrendering essentially the most targets in your entire league to conclude 2022. Offensive slides from Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield additionally proved to be a harbinger of dangerous issues to come back, as one-half of the dynamic duo would see their season end prematurely a month later. Alongside first-overall choose Juraj Slafkovsky’s underwhelming freshman marketing campaign ending with a similar thud, the tank accelerated shortly for the Canadiens.

Regardless of all of the losses, some shiny spots have given the Canadiens hope that may carry into subsequent season. Sam Montembeault has emerged as a reputable number-one choice in internet, whereas others like Mike Matheson and Kirby Dach — nicely, earlier than Dach also hit the shelf — have had great bounce-back seasons, and appear like a part of the answer going ahead.

7) Ottawa Senators (F)

Nicely Ottawa, it was enjoyable whereas it lasted. From roughly mid-January to the top of February, the Ottawa Senators seemed unstoppable, compiling one of many strongest data within the league over that timeframe. Pierre Dorion took a giant swing for Jakob Chychrun on the primary day of March and…all of it went sideways.

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The Senators stunk up the joint in March, going .500 and slipping firmly out of the playoff race by the month’s conclusion. Even worse, Chychrun’s much-anticipated arrival, for all its wholesome moments, has been a dud in its early phases, with Chychrun getting injured in late March after a principally underwhelming first impression within the nation’s capital.

On the brilliant facet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Senators followers. Tim Stutzle’s 21 factors in 15 video games final month solidifies his place as an rising famous person within the NHL, whereas the staff’s carousel of goaltenders has supplied one of many league’s greatest tales this 12 months with Dylan Ferguson’s first career start.

The post-mortem report:

The Senators season can safely be divided into two components. There are the pre-New Yr Senators, and the post-New Yr Senators.

The pre-New Yr Senators had been, in a phrase, underwhelming. The youth had arrived in Ottawa and had instantly discovered success with the likes of Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson displaying glimpses of the promise they’d reveal by way of the remainder of the Sens marketing campaign.

Alternatively, as a staff anticipated to take a step, Ottawa had decidedly not performed so, toiling close to the underside of the Atlantic Division standings for the higher a part of two months, solely briefly elevating themselves out of the basement when the Canadiens crumbled on the seams.

Put up-New Yr, nonetheless, was a totally totally different story. A roaring scorching January and February gave solution to an aggressive deadline and renewed optimism at a wild-card berth, particularly given the struggles of groups just like the Florida Panthers and even the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ottawa in the end wasn’t capable of capitalize on that chance, discovering themselves sinking into the mushy center after a mediocre March, however don’t let that idiot you. The Ottawa Senators have discovered a successful components and could possibly be a reputable playoff risk in one other 12 months’s time.

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