Strong Probability that Canada Will End the NHL Playoff Drought

Good news, Canadian hockey fans: the national playoff drought will probably end this year.
 
With about half of the NHL season in the books, several of the country’s teams are in contention for a playoff spot while the rest are in striking distance with plenty of time to catch up.
 
Things are pretty, pretty good right now, but — without curbing too much enthusiasm — a lot can still change over the next few months.
 
In the meantime, here’s a look at how Canada’s seven teams have fared so far and what fans can expect in the second half of the season.
 

Montreal Canadiens

 
​Record after 41 games: 25-10-6 (1st in the Atlantic Division)

 
Leave it to the Habs to trade one of the faces of their franchise and still be first in the division.
 
Shea Weber has made an immediate impact on both ends of the ice, tallying 10 goals and 16 assists and an impressive plus-16 rating while averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game. A healthy Carey Price doesn’t hurt either (20-6-4 with two shutouts), and the Max Pacioretty-led offence is fourth in the league in goals scored.
 
The Canadiens will need to play more disciplined down the stretch as the team is in the top 10 in penalty minutes and the bottom third in killing off those penalties. Montreal is also dealing with a slew of injuries, including major losses in Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Andrei Markov, but players like Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry have stepped up to keep the offence firing.
 

Ottawa Senators

 
​Record after 39 games: 21-14-4 (3rd in the Atlantic Division)

 
The notoriously streaky Sens have held on to a top-three spot in the Atlantic thanks to some statistical symmetry — despite scoring the sixth-fewest goals in the league, Ottawa is in a playoff position in part due to allowing the sixth-fewest goals.
 
Ryan Dzingel Ottawa Senators

Senators winger Ryan Dzingel has been solid on the team’s top line. (Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)
 
This is especially impressive considering No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson has been away from the team since early December to support his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment.
 
Erik Karlsson continues to be the engine that powers the Sens as he makes a case for a third Norris Trophy, but the biggest surprise has to be second-year winger Ryan Dzingel. The 24-year-old from Wheaton, Ill., complements Kyle Turris well on the top line and has already doubled his point total from last season.
 

Toronto Maple Leafs

 
​Record after 39 games: 18-13-8 (two points out of a divisional playoff spot)

 
Yes, the Leafs can’t hold a lead and they haven’t beaten Montreal since Stephen Harper was prime minister, but at least this team is fun to watch thanks to first-year phenoms like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
 
Nazem Kadri has embraced his new role of a checking forward and local kids Connor Brown and Zach Hyman both have potential, but the team still needs a fourth defenceman and more consistent play from goalie Frederik Andersen.
 
Whether the playoffs are in the cards for this year remains up in the air, but things are looking much brighter in Toronto than they were at this time last year.
 

Winnipeg Jets

 
Record after 43 games: 20-20-3 (one point out of a wild card spot)

 
Before sustaining a concussion on Saturday, Patrik Laine was well on his way to becoming the Teemu Selanne for a new generation of Jets fans.
 
The second coming of the Finnish Flash scored a team-high 21 goals in his first 42 games and co-leads the team in overall points with Mark Scheifele and second-year standout Nikolaj Ehlers.
 
Winnipeg already had major issues to deal with before Laine’s injury, including substandard play on special teams, and the team as a whole will need to step up in the rookie’s absence.
 

Edmonton Oilers

 
​Record after 43 games: 21-15-7 (3rd in the Pacific division)

 
In his first 82 NHL games, Connor McDavid reaffirmed his standing as not just one of the league’s future stars, but a force to be reckoned with right now.
 
Oilers Leon Draisaitl
New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello (36) and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, right, is in the middle of a strong sophomore campaign for the Oilers. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)
 
Linemate Leon Draisaitl is on pace for a career year and the recently acquired Milan Lucic is looking like the 60-point scorer that helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
 
Cam Talbot has shouldered most of the workload in net, and the team will need to find a steady backup in the absence of the waived Jonas Gustavsson. However, the onetime “City of Champions” could be in store for another run of playoff success after years of struggling.
 

Calgary Flames

 
​Record after 43 games: 22-19-2 (1st in the wild card race)

 
If this year didn’t have Matthews and Laine to drool over, Matthew Tkachuk would be a front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
 
Keith’s kid is doing it all for Calgary this year, contributing 25 points and a plus-8 while flanking Mikael Backlund, the team’s co-leading scorer.
 
Johnny Gaudreau is on a hot streak following his return from injury and the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are steadily making gains, but this young team will need to continue maturing in order to crack the Pacific’s top three.
 

Vancouver Canucks

 
​Record after 43 games: 20-19-4 (one point out of a wild card spot)

 
Turns out Nike was right: Bo knows hockey, just not the Bo they were talking about.
 
Bo Horvat’s team-leading 29 points helped earn him his first all-star nod while helping the Canucks even out after the team’s four-game win streak to open the season was washed a way by a nine-game slide.
 
The Canucks are still in the bottom third in the league in goals and goals allowed, but a balanced attack led by the Sedin twins could see the team grind its way back into the post-season conversation.

Is Parkour A Sport? It Is in the UK.

Britain has become the first country officially to recognise Parkour as a sport after approval by the four Home Country Sports Councils was confirmed on Tuesday.
 
“This is brilliant recognition for a discipline that started off as child’s play with my friends almost 30 years ago,” said Sebastien Foucan, the president of Parkour UK, in a statement.
 
Parkour, which involves running, climbing and jumping acrobatically around buildings and over terrain, was founded in France in the 1980s as Art du Deplacement — later taking its name from the French word ‘parcours’ (course or route).
 

 
The recognition by Sport England, sportscotland, Sport Wales and Sport Northern Ireland means Parkour UK becomes the official national governing body and can apply for lottery and state funding to support development.
 
British government Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch said she was pleased with the move.
 
“I want people to get out there and find the sport and physical activity that appeals to them and Parkour is certainly a fun, creative and innovative option,” she said.
 
Foucan performed Parkour as the villain Mollaka in the 2006 James Bond movie ‘Casino Royale’.
 
While the potential dangers and anti-social elements, such as trespass and damage to property, have been highlighted in some media coverage, the recognised version is more carefully controlled.
 

 
“Parkour/Freerunning is now in the vast majority of primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities all over the UK,” said Parkour UK chief executive Eugene Minogue.
 
“We have built a qualified workforce of over 600 people, we have led the development of a British, and now a European standard for Parkour equipment. As a result, there are now more than 50 Parkour Parks across the UK.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

Rory McIlroy Forced to Choose Sides: Olympics ‘Weren’t Worth the Hassle’

Rory McIlroy says he resented how the Olympics forced him to decide whether he would represent Ireland or Britain and that it reached a point that it “wasn’t worth the hassle” to compete in Rio de Janeiro.
 
In an interview with the Sunday Independent in Ireland, McIlroy explained why he was so critical of golf’s return to the Olympics during a press conference at last summer’s British Open.
 
McIlroy, the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland, cited concerns over the Zika virus as his reason not to go to Rio.
 

 
He told the Irish newspaper that when the International Olympic Committee announced in 2009 that golf would be part of the program for the first time since 2004, “all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am.”
 
“Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to (upset) the most?” McIlroy said. “I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in. That’s my feelings toward it. And whether that’s right or wrong, that’s how I feel.”
 
McIlroy said he sent a text message to Justin Rose to congratulate him on winning the gold medal in Rio for Britain. He said Rose thanked him and asked if McIlroy felt as though he had missed out.
 
“I said, ‘Justin, if I had been on the podium [listening] to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.”‘ McIlroy told the newspaper. “I don’t know the words to either anthem. I don’t feel a connection to either flag. I don’t want it to be about flags. I’ve tried to stay away from that.”
 

Stars skipped Olympics

 
McIlroy was among several top stars who opted to skip the Olympics, most citing the Zika virus. He had been scheduled to play for Ireland until announcing in June he would not be going. Jordan Spieth did not announce his decision to miss Rio until a few days before the British Open. McIlroy spoke after Spieth, and the Olympics was brought up again.
 
McIlroy dismissed the notion that he had let down his sport, saying, “I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game.” He also said that he probably wouldn’t watch Olympic golf on TV, only “the stuff that matters.”
 

 
“Well, I’d had nothing but questions about the Olympics — ‘the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics’ — and it was just one question too far,” McIlroy said. “I’d said what I needed to say. I’d got myself out of it, and it comes up again. And I could feel it. I could just feel myself go, ‘Poom!’ And I thought, ‘I’m going to let them have it.’
 
“OK, I went a bit far,” he added. “But I hate that term, ‘growing the game.’ Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? Football? ‘Let’s grow the game.’ I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone. So I don’t get that, but I probably went a bit overboard.”
 
McIlroy said Olympic golf didn’t mean that much to him.
 
“It really doesn’t. I don’t get excited about it. And people can disagree, and have a different opinion, and that’s totally fine,” he said. “Each to their own.”
 

 
McIlroy, who is to play the South African Open this week, said he has never been driven by nationalism or patriotism because of where he was raised.
 
“And I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into,” he said. “And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”