Last week, The Colonel analyzed 2009/10 Regular Season schedules and their significance for Anaheim, Atlanta, Buffalo, Edmonton, and Minnesota. Of particular importance in this analysis as with last week are: what the opening 10 games look like and how they relate to this year’s momentum; how many days it takes to play 10-game segments of the schedule minus the Olympic break, from the first through last night of the segment and including Games 81 and 82 at the end to determine any fatigue factor; how many miles they must travel for their schedule, also because of potential player wear and tear; and what does the last 10-game segment of the schedule look like as they push to the Playoffs. Today’s post will cover The Colonel’s last five teams: New Jersey, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Washington.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils play their first 10-game segment over 26 days. This means they are taking about one more night in this stretch than both the East and West average. It also serves as the ‘most leisurely’ portion of their schedule for the entire season. They open at home on 3 October versus PHI and play the NYR at home on 5 October as well before beginning a three-games-in-five-nights, eastern seaboard swing to Florida and Washington. These first five games are played in 10 days and history shows they tend to win about three of these contests. The second half of the schedule takes the remaining 16 days and opens with this segment’s only back-to-back (B-2-B) pairing at home versus ATL and CAR. There’s a four-game break until Game 8, and a three-gamer after Game 9, leaving the Devils with an average of one game every 2.6 nights and a difficult rhythm to get into. Depending on how they play in this stretch their last five games in the segment should round them out to about average, or a bit over .500 hockey.
Their remaining 10-game segments are played in 22, 21, 22, 19, 18, 19, and 23 days from start to finish of each segment. This is a relatively stable rhythm that makes for an average of one game every two (2) days. That ‘nice’ average masks some issues, however. This season, the Devils will play the most number of B-2-B pairs they have experienced in any season since the Lockout and are tied with CHI for the most pairs in the NHL this season. There is the one pair in Games 1-10, but in the final 72 games, 36 contests are played B-2-B. (The numbers of those pairs in the same segments listed above are 3, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3 and 3, which includes season-closing home games versus the NYI and BUF.) Since the Lockout, the Devils are 35 – 32 in the second game of B-2-B pairs (where SO and OT loses are counted as a loss), or batting about .522. If that trend continues, they will only win about nine of the second games in those pairs outright. You also are looking at the fatigue factor for Martin Brodeur here. So those of you who say he should not play 70+ of a season’s 82 games are likely to see the backup more. (This would have been a great time to retain Scott Clemmensen, eh?) And it is merciful the Olympic break comes in February as the Game 41 – 70 stretch allows for the least number of days between games (1.86 playing days). If ever anything besides injuries could derail the NJD, it would be that Game 41 – 70 stretch and the sheer number of B-2-B pairs.
Over the season, New Jersey will log an increased 2051 miles of road wear and tear. (See Dirk Hoag’s “How much does your favorite team travel? Check the NHL Super Schedule,” on Ballhype, 16 July 2009.) Couple this with the number of B-2-B pairs and the tighter average days between games in the Game 41 – 70 stretch and it should be understandable if the Devils win a few less games this year than last.
Finally, their ending 10 games are all played against Eastern Conference teams save one game at home against CHI, potentially a Playoff teaser. All games in this last stretch are singles with home games against NYR, BOS, NYI, and BUF complimenting the CHI game, and the remainder at MTL, PHI, ATL and FLA. Those 10 games will not be the easiest for the Devils when you consider half are against Playoff teams from last year and six-of-10 are played B-2-B. But having them over 23 days when the previous 30 were played over an average of 18.67, and having the last two at home will help out a bit going into the post-season.
The Senators play their first 10-game segment over the same 26 total days as the NJD. This includes no B-2-B pairs and one each three- and four-day break between tilts. They open on the road 3 October at the NYR and then have two nights off before playing Game 2 at TOR. Games 3 – 5 finish over the six nights following the Maple Leafs’ contest with two at home before traveling to play the Stanley Cup Champions. History says OTT is perfect in their first five games every other year since the Lockout, a trend fans, management and players would like to see continue this season. Their final five contests in the opening 10 are played over 16 days and include those two, multi-day breaks mentioned above. Games 6 – 7 are done over three nights on the road and then there are four days are off before playing two home games versus NSH and BOS. This stretch ends on the road at FLA. The key here for the Sens is that they average 6.6 wins in their first 10 games. While that is a great start, this statistic is skewed a bit when you consider they began the 2005/6 season with eight wins and 2007/8 with nine, but averaged less than five in the other two campaigns. The media will vilify the team if they do not come out of the chute closer to the six-seven win mark by Game 10, especially if the team has to bring Dany Heatley to camp with some discontent. If you are a fan or the Ottawa media, remember as you take in this first furlong the team only won 5-of-their-first-10 in the year they went to the Finals and there will be less coronaries in Ontario this season.
Their following 10-game segments are played in 24, 18, 19, 19, 22, 20, and 24 days. This is one game every 2.028 days which is even better than for the NJD above. The Senators also only play 11 B-2-Bs throughout the season. This exists in stark contrast to the Devils above and, coupled with the slightly improved average time between games, makes for a much more compatible schedule than any Northeast Division foe.
Over the season, Ottawa will travel 5695 more miles on the road than last season. This figure is second only to MTL’s 5901 figure. (Hoag, Ballhype, 16 July 2009.) This should increase team fatigue, and may have an impact on the standings going into the holiday season when this team traditionally shows a dip in output. Coach Clouston will need to find innovative ways to fight this team’s road fatigue this season.
Their last 10 games are all played in the East with six of 10 on the road. They have a home-and-home pair against FLA and BUF, additional singles on the road against MTL, WSH, the NYI and TBL, and two more home games against PHI and CAR. Last year the Senators ended the season playing sub-.500 Hockey and were already out of the Playoffs. Based on their talent and that of the teams they must gird for battle against, they cannot afford to have another ending like in 2009 or it will most surely be ‘To The Links’ with them.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues first 10-game segment encompasses 26 days and two continents as they play a B-2-B pair against Detroit in Stockholm, SWE the opening weekend of the season. Six-of-10 are played on the road including that Stockholm pair. With the teams’ last pre-season game at Dallas on 26 SEP, it appears they will fly overseas no later than the 28th in order to become acclimated to the time change. They will have about one week on the ground in SWE, return home and then, amid a bit of remaining jetlag, play their first home game three nights later. The home crowd will have to help hype them up on 8 and 10 October for Game 3 and 4. After a four-day playing break, they should be in top form when they hit the road for six days and play at PHX, ANA and PIT. There’s two days off, then a home B-2-B versus MIN and DAL, a three-day break, and the first 10-game segment ends on the road versus CAR. For this stretch, they average one game every 2.6 days, but as you can see above, they are played in fits and starts with a difficult rhythm to flow into. This is their most ‘leisurely’ 10-game segment in terms of playing days, but the travel schedule throws that off. St. Louis traditionally starts the season just about at .500 and doing so again will be key to setting the tone this season.
Their remaining 10-game segments are played in 24, 19, 17, 20, 18, 21, and 22 days, an average of one game every 1.96 days. There are 16 more B-2-B pairs in the Game 11 – 82 segments for a total of 18, the second highest total for any team this season. Particularly painful may be the Games 31 – 40 (17 playing days + 3 B-2-B’s) and 51 – 60 (18 playing days + 3 B-2-B’s) segments where less days of rest and more B-2-B punishment may see more call-ups to the roster.
Over the season, St. Louis will log 3723 miles more on the road than last season (Hoag, Ballhype, 16 July 2009) with a large chunk of that being travel to Europe. This is, however, the 5th largest total of mileage change when compared to last season, and although a lot of it is done ‘in one road trip,’ it nevertheless might take a toll on the season’s outcome.
The Blues final 10 games are all played in the West with 4-of-10 on the road. Stretched out over 18 playing days, this grouping is bookended by a B-2-B including: a pair of games at NSH, at home and away pair versus CHI, a game at DET, and other home contests versus LAK, EDM, DAL, CBJ and ANA. That makes half of these games against teams who made the Playoffs last year. But we have to take into account two other games are at NSH who barely missed out, and one each will be against a likely resurging DAL and highly improved LAK teams. The season, therefore, is not going to end in a cakewalk, so the Blues need to store up early wins like a squirrel gathers nuts for winter.
Tampa Bay Lightning
This off-season, Tampa Bay seems to have addressed a lot of issues on the team that should tell the fans they are more serious about winning. ‘New’ GM Brian Lawton – and I say that because it seems like he is now in charge – has made several key moves to bring this club the defense that they needed last year in losing the most games in OT/SO since the Lockout. So with a more capable defense, does the team have a favorable schedule? Their first 10 games would lull you into thinking so as they stretch over 27 days and hold no B-2-B’s. Those are a deceptive 27 days, however, as two each four-day and two-day breaks potentially throw off the team’s playing rhythm over that timeframe. Only four of the games are on the road with half of them leading off the season at ATL and CAR. The first five games in this segment end with every-other-day home games against NJD (the season opener on 8 October), CAR and FLA for an average of one game every two days to start. It is the back end of this segment where a three-day road trip to OTT and PIT is followed by three home games in 12 days that throws off the team’s playing rhythm. I don’t know about you, but I can become very distracted in the Sunshine State with nine days of (non-game playing) time on my hands. Last year the team frustrated everyone with 1.5 wins in their first five games, but ended right about normal batting .550. For my money, the Lightning need to step out in those first five games to establish themselves as the last three-in-12-days’ contests might be difficult wins to secure.
Their remaining 10-game segments take 22, 18, 20, 20, 23, 19, and 23 days, an average of one game every 2.01 days. There are only 12 total B-2-B’s the entire season, a drop of four from last season. Games 21 – 30, the segment where twice since the Lockout Tampa Bay’s fate for the season has been decided, will be tough when played over only 18 days and with three B-2-B’s. Look for possible call-ups then to help starters over the minor injury hump. But also look then to the team’s character and how many W’s they secure here when the going gets tough.
Over the season, Tampa Bay will log 3970 miles less on the road than last season (Hoag, Ballhype, 16 July 2009), the fifth largest mileage drop of any team this coming year. This can only help the team over the long haul.
Their season-ending 10 are all played against Eastern Conference foes save one game against CBJ. Intra-divisionally, they play two on the road versus CAR and end the season home and away versus FLA (which might have some Playoff implications). At the front of this segment, they also get a four-game, seven day road trip at BOS, BUF, (CBJ) and PIT before picking up nine days at home against the NYR, (CAR), OTT (and FLA), a virtual wash that doesn’t allow excuses like “…Our last road trip sunk our battleship…” You get the off-season impression that upper management is taking care of responsibilities, (the arguably) middle management (at the GM level) is optimistically adding needed tools to the fray, and, with the exception of the departure of Vinny Prospal, the team is itching for another chance to lace up the skates. A relatively favorable schedule awaits the chance to go out and do great things way down south.
Last season the Capitals kicked off their best start since the Lockout with 5.5 wins in their first 10 games. It was a harbinger – predicted by most, to include us here at OGA – of the season to come. Still hungry after progressing only one more step toward hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, Washington comes back wanting more. They will need a bigger knife and fork over the course of this first 10 games. Sure it looks relatively easy on the playing rhythm eyes with 24 days to play Games 1 – 10 and no B-2-B’s. But the roadside caution light should be blinking with their season-opening, 1 October road tilt at Eastern Conference Champion BOS. That’s because their home opener on 3 October is played against a much tougher TOR club, followed by five in a row against Playoff teams that include the Western Conference Champion and Stanley Cup runner-up. Their at PHI, versus the NYR and at DET stretch 6 – 10 October will be rough, followed by home games against NJD and SJS. A tough NSH team comes to town two nights after the Sharks and a four-day game break ensues before games at ATL and the NYI close this segment. So, Caps fans, your season begins as a character builder for your team.
Their remaining 10-game segments take 19, 21, 22, 20, 19, 20, and 25 days, an average of one game every 2.03 days. Toughest will be the Game 11 – 20 stretch – yes the same one that follows five games against tough 2009 Playoff teams – when the Caps play that 10 over 19 days with three B-2-B’s. Life is all in how you look at it, but if I were coach for a day, I would sell this segment as the roughest hump they have to get over. And that’s even though down the road in Games 51 – 60 they play over 19 days with two B-2-B’s because they get the Olympic break right afterwards.
Over the season, Washington’s travel increases 5240 miles over last season’s road mileage (Hoag, Ballhype, 16 July 2009). Ouch. THIS will cause a team fatigue problem because, as the third highest increase in the league, none of this is generated from the 1000’s of miles logged to and from one overseas game weekend. These miles are similar to MTL’s and CHI’s 5000+ totals. No matter how you manage it, this can only be overcome by heart come the end of the season and on into the Playoffs.
As if there was an evil scheme to the NHL Scheduler’s madness, Washington gets only 19 days to play their last 10 games and must play six of them on the road. They: are home against PIT; play at CAR, CGY, OTT and ATL on an eight-day road trip; come home to face CBJ; and go B-2-B on the road at BOS and PIT before ending the season at home against ATL and BOS. No, that’s no error. Two each versus the Stanley Cup and Eastern Conference Champions with three of those contest in the last four games played. While the team will put on a confident face, Caps fans should be blogging their knuckles bloody about this schedule. How do you eat an elephant? They answer used to be ‘…One bite at a time….’ I think this one will require that bigger knife and fork the season began with, however.
The Colonel will continue his analysis next week with a dissection of how the 2009 Playoffs were different from the previous three Lockout seasons’ championships.
Be sure to stay tuned this week for more blogging from Big Tex and the Frozen Pill.
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