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Connor McDavid celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Calgary Flames during a game at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Jan. 11, 2020.

DEREK LEUNG/Getty Images

When the NHL returns from its bye weeks and all-star break, there will be slightly more than 30 games left for each team.

The Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are the only Canadians clubs currently in a playoff spot, while the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets sit just below the cut line. The Montreal Canadiens have some serious work to do if they’re going to make a postseason return. And in Ottawa, it’s once again wait until next year for the rebuilding Senators.

With that in mind, The Canadian Press takes a look Canada’s seven franchises as the focus turns to the home stretch of the 2019-20 campaign.

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Vancouver Canucks

27-18-4, first in Pacific Division

Having missed the playoffs five of the past six seasons – and four straight – the Canucks are in a good position. The club sits atop the congested Pacific Division standings, one point up on both Edmonton and Calgary. Vancouver has received terrific goaltending from Jacob Markstrom, while the additions of J.T. Miller, Tyler Myers and the improved play of Jay Beagle and Tanner Pearson have been huge pluses. Vancouver also has a Calder Trophy candidate for the second straight season in Quinn Hughes. And Elias Pettersson continues to show why he took home rookie-of-the-year honours last June. “We still have things we can improve,” Pettersson said. “When we are working, when we are skating, we play our best.”

Edmonton Oilers

26-18-5, second in Pacific Division

The Oilers occupy a playoff spot thanks in large part to the NHL’s two leading scorers – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The dynamic duo has combined for 151 points in 49 games, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a distant third on Edmonton’s roster with 33. McDavid hasn’t shown any ill-effects from the serious knee injury he suffered last April. James Neal has 19 goals after scoring just seven with the Flames in 2018-19. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith have been solid in splitting goaltending duties, while new head coach Dave Tippett has got buy-in on the defensive side. The Oilers, however, know it’s going to be a mad dash to the finish line as the franchise looks to make the postseason for just the second time in 14 years. “Every game is going to have a ton of meaning,” Tippett said. “That’s what’s fun about it.”

Calgary Flames

26-19-5, third in Pacific Division

The Flames could have imploded in the wake of the allegations made against head coach Bill Peters that he’d directed racial slurs against a player when both were in the minors a decade ago, and that he had physically abused two others when he was behind the Carolina Hurricanes’ bench. But the team instead blocked out the noise and has thrived under interim bench boss Geoff Ward. Flames goalie David Rittich will take part in his first all-star game this weekend as an injury replacement. Calgary winger/antagonist Matthew Tkachuk will also make his first appearance at the festivities, and will no doubt be a focus because of his bubbling rivalry with the Oilers. “There’s a lot that went on,” Flames centre Sean Monahan said. “It’s been a crazy year.”

Winnipeg Jets

25-22-4, three points out of a wild-card spot

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The Jets received a gut punch early with the unexpected loss of defenceman Dustin Byfuglien – the situation has yet to be resolved – after also shedding Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chariot on the blueline over the summer. Winnipeg has managed to hang around thanks to the Vézina Trophy-calibre goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck and a patchwork defence corps. But cracks have started to show with a team that has now lost four straight in regulation, and six of its past seven. “We’ve done a pretty good job of really not worrying about which player is out there,” blueliner Josh Morrissey said. “We’ve been playing as hard as we can defensively and not feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Toronto Maple Leafs

25-17-7, four points out of a playoff spot

The Leafs once again started the season considerate a Stanley Cup contender, but a fall swoon was enough to see head coach Mike Babcock shown the door in favour of Sheldon Keefe. Toronto got out to a 15-4-1 start under its rookie bench boss, but is 1-3-2 over its past six to sit outside the playoff picture. Keefe called his team “immature” following a disastrous 8-4 loss in Florida and an ugly 6-2 setback on home ice to Chicago ahead of its bye week. Auston Matthews, who’s sitting out the on-ice portion of the all-star festivities in St. Louis with a wrist injury, is on pace to smash the franchise record for goals in a season, but the Leafs will need a lot more from netminder Frederik Andersen. Toronto has struggled without injured defencemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, although the latter could be back soon. There’s no doubting the Leafs’ ability to score. It’s whether or not they can keep the puck out of their own net. “Everyone’s invested 100 per cent,” captain John Tavares said after a recent setback. “But when we go out and play and have games like this or have lapses like this, it’s obviously not good enough. It gets in the way of us building what we want to build.”

Montreal Canadiens

22-21-7, 10 points out of a playoff spot

After coming agonizingly close to making the playoffs last season, Montreal sits well back. Two losing streaks of eight games are to blame for an injury-hobbled Canadiens team that has failed to gain traction with Carey Price struggling in the crease. The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk has provided a bit of a spark recently for Montreal, which won four of five heading into the break. “We just have to be more consistent,” winger Tomas Tatar said. “That’s our issue.”

Ottawa Senators

17-23-8, 19 points out of a playoff spot

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It seems like a lifetime ago that the Senators were a goal away from making the 2017 Stanley Cup final. Ottawa’s steep decline has been well-documented, but there’s continued reason for optimism. The club signed star defenceman Thomas Chabot to a big contract extension, while winger Brady Tkachuk, who will replace Matthews at the all-star game, is proving the Senators made the right call at the 2018 draft. The rebuild took a hit when Ottawa was minus its first-round pick last year, but the Senators could have two high selections in 2020 – their own and the one acquired from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson deal. “We have to continue to play hard,” said rookie head coach D.J. Smith. “We need to continue to get better.”

With files from Shane Jones in Edmonton, Jim Morris in Vancouver, Judy Owen in Winnipeg, Kelsey Patterson in Montreal and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa.

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