Jason Brough

skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden on December 15, 2015 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Oilers 4-2.
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Hey look, its nearly Christmas and the Oilers are still in the playoff race

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It’s going to be a new feeling for the Edmonton Oilers when they return from the Christmas break.

That feeling is called the playoff race.

“It’s nice for sure, it’s a good feeling to know that we’re in the race,” Oilers forward Taylor Hall told the Edmonton Sun. “These games after Christmas are really important. I haven’t had that for a long time and we still have some guys out with injuries too, and that’s a really promising sign.”

Among the injured is, of course, Connor McDavid, who said today that he’s feeling “very good” as he continues to recover from his broken clavicle. If all goes well, he could be back as soon as next month.

Depending what happens tonight, the Oilers (15-18-2) could come out of the break just one point back of third place in the Pacific Division.

Granted, that’s nothing to brag too hard about — it’s the Pacific Division, after all — but hey, it’s better than the Oilers’ situation last year when the standings looked like this coming out of the break:

Standings

Or the year before, when the standings looked like this:

Standings2

True, the Oilers were right in the thick of the race when the year 2013 began, but that was only because the lockout wiped out the first half of the season. After making it all the way to April without collapsing, they won just three of their last 12 and fired the coach again.

Just a reminder: the Oilers last made the playoffs in 2006, the year they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

That’s the longest postseason drought in the league. Carolina is next; the Hurricanes haven’t been since 2009.

Hockey odds: Canada favored to win gold at World Juniors

Canada's Joe Hicketts bites his gold medal as he celebrates his team's 5-4 win over Russia in the title game at the hockey World Junior Championship in Toronto on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
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The defending gold-medalists from Canada will go into the 2016 World Juniors in Helsinki as the clear betting favorites.

Online bookmaker Bovada has Canada at +110 to win the tournament, followed by the United States (+400), Sweden (+450), Russia (+500), and host Finland (+600). The other five participating countries are considerable underdogs.

Canada’s roster features 12 first-round draft picks, including top-10 selections Mitch Marner, Jake Virtanen, Dylan Strome, and Haydn Fleury.

Bovada’s odds to win World Juniors

Odds

Related: Werenski named Team USA captain for World Juniors

Things are looking up for the Tampa Bay Lightning

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With six wins in their last nine, the Tampa Bay Lightning are starting to resemble the team that nearly won the Stanley Cup last season.

A win tonight over the road-weary visitors from Vancouver and the Bolts (17-14-3) should go into the Christmas break feeling a lot better about themselves.

In fact, depending how the Senators do in Sunrise, Tampa Bay could even be back in a playoff spot.

“It’s a little too soon to say things have turned, but if I was going to pick a point in this season that our mindset is very much the mindset we had last season, it’s right now,” coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com. “And that’s with almost half our forward group being from the American Hockey League, from Syracuse.”

Indeed, the Lightning have a number of key forwards on injured reserve, including Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, and Cedric Paquette.

That’s another thing to look forward to in the second half.

“We may have a rejuvenated group of guys come in like it’s the opening day of training camp,” said Cooper.

Paquette may actually be back tonight.

Of course, there’s still the Steven Stamkos situation hanging over everything. The captain says he wants to stay and win the Cup with the team that drafted him, but there remains considerable skepticism that the two sides can find common ground on a contract extension.

Stamkos is just trying to stay focused on hockey. He had two goals Sunday as the Bolts beat Ottawa to kick off a six-game home stand.

“We are looking at this six-game home stretch as an opportunity for our group to climb back in the playoff picture,” he told NHL.com. “We realize what these games mean at this time of year. Every point is important.”

Doan will stay with Coyotes ‘as long as he wants to’: Maloney

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on November 12, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.
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Shane Doan is 39 years old and unsigned past this season. He only has six goals in 23 games, and his average ice time has fallen to 16:19 as he’s struggled to stay healthy.

That being said, if he wants to re-sign and keep playing for the Arizona Coyotes, he’s more than welcome.

“We had a conversation with his agent a few weeks ago,” GM Don Maloney told Sportsnet. “We both decided to evaluate at the end of year, see where his mindset is at. Shane Doan will stay with us as long as he wants to stay with us.”

Doan has made it pretty clear that he’s committed to the Coyotes, and he’s repeatedly rebuffed the idea that he could pursue a Stanley Cup with another team, a la Ray Bourque.

Still, if the Coyotes have fallen out of the playoff race by Feb. 29 — and with just two wins in their last nine, they’re not exactly trending in the right direction– don’t be surprised if the idea gets floated again.

He can always just shoot it down, again.

Related: Coyotes rebuild was ‘not my idea, not my ideal situation’

Rangers back to work after time to ‘reset, rethink, and refocus’

Alain Vigneault
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Two desperate teams will meet tonight at MSG, where the Rangers — losers of three straight, and with just three wins in their last 14 — will host an Anaheim squad that just can’t seem to get on track in 2015-16.

New York coach Alain Vigneault gave his beleaguered troops the day off yesterday, after Sunday’s 7-3 home loss to the Capitals. It was the Rangers’ third straight defeat. Combined, they’ve been outscored 17-7 over the last 180 minutes.

“I don’t think guys’ minds were away from the rink; it was more of a reset, rethink, and refocus,” defenseman Marc Staal told NHL.com. “It was good to get away and come back here with some energy tonight to try to get a win.”

The good news for the Rangers is that they’re still comfortably in a playoff spot. The same can’t be said for the Ducks, the last-place team in the worst division in the league, the Pacific.

Anaheim lost 5-2 Monday in Brooklyn. The Ducks — who came into the season with Stanley Cup hopes — haven’t strung together more than two straight wins since the beginning of November, the only time they’ve done it all season.

“To end this, we need consistency,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “We play a good game, then a bad game. We’re not forming good habits on a continual basis. We had a lot of errors, and when we have them, they end up in our net.”

“We have to be mentally stronger,” added captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Scoring a few more goals might help, too. Anaheim’s averaging just 1.84 per game, last in the NHL. Getzlaf only has one, and that was into an empty net.