Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Back-To-Back

The second half of back-to-back (SHOTBTB? Not catchy, but I need something) games in the NHL must be murder. The players have little time to recover physically for the next game, the coaching staff doesn't have much time to prepare (or even at the very least focus) a game plan for the next opponent. If you're a WC team chances are you have a fair amount of travelling to do before the next game as well. Finally to cap it all off, the schedule makers at the NHL kick you in the proverbial groin and force you on the road for the vast majority of those games.

I recall Vic bringing this up a long time ago (possibly pre-lockout) - the overwhelming majority of second games in back-to-back sets are played on the road in the NHL.

I think Vic had the plausible conspiracy theory that the NHL was trying to stack the records to appease home fans. For some weird reason I remembered this last week and decided to have a look at some select team schedules for the 2008-2009 NHL season. Sure enough, it's heavily skewed to the road game and it's hard to argue with Vic's old theory given the NHL's insatiable hunger for parity or the illusion thereof.

I picked an entirely non-random sample of teams - the NW Division, the rest of the Canadian teams and then the WC contenders of note (Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim). Take a look below, first at the NW Division:












A whopping 84% of second games are on the road for NW teams this coming year. Pretty hard to believe that's just a coincidence.

What is surprising is the disparity in the schedules for these teams. By comparison to the rest of the division, Vancouver and especially Colorado have a cushy schedule. This is convenient since those teams are much-maligned going into the season. Colorado in particular plays nearly half as many back-to-back games as the other teams in the division and doesn't have to play any of Detroit, San Jose or Anaheim in those games. This means Colorado gets to be rested and prepared for more games than every other team in the division and they get to focus on all matchups with those three tough opponents. I think Colorado and Vancouver will be good teams regardless of schedule. Your mileage may vary as to how much this discrepancy will matter, but I don't think there's any denying that the Avs have a leg-up on the division in this regard. If the NW division is as close as it appears a small difference like this one could matter.

A small sample suggests it might not mean that much. The Oilers played just 9 B-to-B sets last year, but 8 of the SHOTBTB were on the road. In the 9 SHOTBTB their record was actually 5-4-0, but just one of the five wins were in regulation and they were outshot a combined 284 to 232 and outscored in regulation 31 to 19.

For comparison, Calgary played 11 B-to-B sets last year with 9 SHOTBTB on the road. They did have an astonishing 8-3 record with 3 SO or OT wins but outshot by just 10 shots in those games and were an even 31-31 in GF/GA in the second games.

Given the results for both teams were roughly in line with their overall 2007-2008 performance (CGY was a GF/GA and SF/SA sawoff for the year while the Oilers generally got bombed in regulation), it's hard to conclude this was a big factor last year. It would take some work, but I suspect this has a bigger impact leaguewide.

That won't stop me from yammering on.






The top three contenders I mentioned before are on the hook for a combined 96 games involved in B-to-B sets with 40 of 48 second games being on the road.

Lastly, the Canadian teams:





Not much to say here, although MTL is close to having a balanced Road/Home split for B-to-B games.

The grand total for these ten teams for the coming year (minus the Home-and-Home sets and Ottawa's European Vacation) is that 105 of 130 SHOTBTB are road games. That seems fishy to me. If anyone can think of another reason for the Home/Road split in these types of games, I'd love to hear it.