Canucks, Oilers, Flames primed for mad dash in congested Pacific Division

Canucks, Oilers, Flames primed for mad dash in congested Pacific Division

Matthew Tkachuk doesn’t need to be reminded of the Pacific Division’s razor-thin margins.

And if he did, the Calgary Flames winger wouldn’t have to go far.

“There’s standings posted in our locker room, there’s (stat) sheets out,” Tkachuk said. ”It’s hard to miss it even if you’re not trying to look for it.

“I see it all the time.”

In truth, it’s staring everyone in the face.

With between 30 and 33 games left on the schedule coming out of the NHL all-star break, five teams in the Pacific Division are separated by a single point atop the ledger — the latest this many clubs have ever been this close this late in a season.

The Vancouver Canucks are in the driver’s seat, albeit precariously, with 58 points through 49 contests. The Edmonton Oilers are next with 57 points through 49 outings, while Tkachuk’s Flames have the same number through 50 games.

Hot on the heels of the three Canadian franchises are the Arizona Coyotes (57 points in 51 games) and the Vegas Golden Knights (57 points in 52 games), who currently occupy both wild-card spots in the Western Conference.

“It’s crazy,” Canucks centre Brandon Sutter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. It’s going to be tight all the way down the stretch. It’s definitely one of the deeper divisions in the league now. Obviously, there is some high-end players throughout.

“It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end.”

The Oilers missed the playoffs the last two springs, and have qualified for the post-season just twice in the last 14 years, but with the NHL’s two leading scorers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl shouldering a heavy load, the franchise appears primed for a return to the spring dance.

“We have put ourselves in a position to be a part of it,” Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett said. ”Now we have to jump in with both feet and see what we can do.”

The Oilers were just 5-8-1 in December to slide down the standings, but are 5-1-1 in January coming off their bye week and all-star break.

“You want to see more of what’s been going on the last couple of weeks,” McDavid said. ”December was a month that got away from us, and we seem to have found it again a little bit here in the new year. We need to keep that going.”

Another layer to the Pacific race is the renewed tensions in the Battle of Alberta stemming from a heated Jan. 11 encounter where Tkachuk levelled Zack Kassian with two huge hits. That prompted Kassian to jump Tkachuk and earn himself a two-game suspension.

The Oilers and Flames play twice this week — Wednesday in Edmonton when Kassian is eligible to return to the lineup and again three nights later in Calgary.

“Every game right now is kind of a must-win,” Flames centre Sean Monahan said. ”It’s so tight.”

Vancouver, meanwhile, has missed the playoffs four years running, and five of the last six, but there’s renewed belief in a roster led by the young trio of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes.

“Teams in our conference are big and strong,” Canucks winger Jake Virtanen said. “We can’t let off the gas.”

And then there’s the Winnipeg Jets, a club that’s lost six of its last seven in regulation, but also one that remains in the hunt in both the Central Division and wild-card races with 54 points from 51 games.

“I think the one thing that we have going for us in this conference is we’ve been kind of grinding and fighting all year to stay in the fight in these games,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said. ”We’re comfortable in that situation.

“We’re used to it and we’ve had success doing that.”

Calgary finished tied for second in the NHL’s overall standings last season with 107 points, only to find itself stuck in neutral when the playoffs started before getting upset by the Colorado Avalanche in five games.

Tkachuk said being in this Pacific Division fight should be good for the Flames — as long as they qualify for the post-season dance.

“Playoffs start now,” he said. ”You better hope you’re peaking now, because you want to get in. This is a very important time for our team in particular to take that next step and be playing playoff hockey going into the playoffs.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trail RCMP report three impaired driving investigations. Photo: Black Press file
New drunk driving rules allow police to impose tougher penalties immediately

New impaired driving regulations started on Tuesday

(Lacombe Express file photo)
Lacombe County holds the line on taxes

Staff hiring freeze planned for 2021 to make up for lost oil and gas revenue

Alberta premier Jason Kenney declared a public health state of emergency Tuesday and sweeping new measures as COVID-19 cases in the province continue to rise.  (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta premier says hospitals stressed by COVID-19, more surgeries may be cancelled

EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta’s largest hospitals are at 91… Continue reading

A cleaner wipes a glass panel at Toronto's Eaton Centre Shopping mall on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The national statistics office will say this morning how much the domestic economy bounced back in the third quarter of the year. The Canadian economy suffered its worst three-month stretch on record in the second quarter as the economy came to a near halt in April before starting to recover in May and June. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Statistics Canada says economy grew at a record pace in third quarter of 2020

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the economy grew at a record annualized… Continue reading

Bill C-4 passed in the House of Commons to authorize new benefits for workers left jobless or underemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Tory MPs keep talking on assisted dying bill as clock ticks down to Dec. 18 deadline

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs are refusing to be rushed into a vote… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

(Black Press File Photo)
Rimbey woman gathering Christmas gifts for seniors at Valleyview Manor

Margaret Tanasiuk says she doesn’t want anyone to feel forgotten on Christmas morning

Mike Miltimore, seen in Kamloops, B.C., in an undated handout photo, says the Gretsch electric guitar that a woman brought into his store is from 1955 and similar to one played by country music legend Chet Atkins before he developed his signature series of guitars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Mike Miltimore
Guitar made in 1950s worth more than B.C. family imagined

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — When Renee Latheur decided to take an old guitar… Continue reading

Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hamilton positive for COVID-19, will miss F1’s Sakhir GP

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has tested positive… Continue reading

In this Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, the advertising label of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, shines at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Leaders of the OPEC cartel are meeting virtually to decide how much oil their countries should produce as the coronavirus stifles demand for fuel. They’re expected to extend production cuts into the new year in an effort to boost prices. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
OPEC talks on production hit snag as pandemic clouds outlook

FRANKFURT — The OPEC oil producers’ cartel was to push ahead with… Continue reading

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Fredy Montero celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The Vancouver Whitecaps are hanging on to several of their young players and continuing contract talks with two veterans, including Montero. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Steve Dipaola
Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Toronto FC forward Pablo Piatti (7) cuts past Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) during first half MLS Canadian Championship soccer action in Toronto on Friday, August 21, 2020. Barring a new agreement, Toronto FC is parting ways with designated player Pablo Piatti. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Hamilton Forge FC players celebrate their win over CD Olimpia's during Scotiabank CONCACAF League 2019 action in Hamilton, Ont., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. After a season that has taken it from Hamilton to Charlottetown, El Salvador and Panama, Forge FC hopes the Dominican Republic is the last stop on the way to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

A police officer patrols near the Olympic Symbol being transported on a barge in the Odaiba section Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Tokyo. The five Olympic rings are back in Tokyo Bay. They were removed for maintenance four months ago shortly after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Most Read