This season is going to be an interesting one to watch. The season will definitely be at most 50 games, will begin around January 19, and will likely end in late April. That means each team will be playing 48 games in a little more than three months. With the two weeks in January, teams will be looking to play about 14 games each month, and six or eight in January. On average, that’s a game every other day.
All 30 NHL teams are in the same situation, and all 30 teams will need to find a way to keep their teams fresh. There are several key areas that each team will need to address to not only survive the sprint, but survive the playoffs following.
A dependable fourth line:
There will be little chance for rest for the top players on each team, as there will be very few back-to-back off days. This emphasizes the importance of a dependable fourth line. A team that can roll their fourth line regularly with confidence will have a distinct advantage over a team that relies heavily upon their top-nine (or worse, top-six). At even strength, most teams deploy their lines in a 1-2-3-1-2-3-4 fashion, giving the fourth line about two shifts per period. A deep team that can run 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 gives the fourth line twice as many shifts. More importantly, it means more rest for the top players. Fresh legs on special teams are crucial.
A dependable bottom defensive pairing
This was very evident for the Rangers during their playoff run last season, as they rolled Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh close to 30 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Stu Bickel averaged five minutes per game. Defensive depth is even more critical than a dependable fourth line, especially at even strength. The Rangers are going to need their top pairing for matchups and for penalty killing. An effective bottom pairing that the club can play against the opposition’s bottom six forwards will keep the top guys well rested for the tough matchups.
A backup goalie that can be relied upon
Suit covered this area yesterday, but it’s essential to have a backup ready at all times. There will be a lot of back-to-backs and three-in-fours, so Martin Biron is going to be critical this year.
Effective matchups from the coaching staff
This isn’t about on-ice matchups, this is about personnel matchups. In an instant, a decision to dress a goon instead of a speedy fourth line wing can have disastrous results. As of right now, the Rangers have a very dependable center and two fighter type players. Arron Asham and Mike Rupp do more than fight, but they aren’t exactly the strongest of skaters. Adding a dependable depth forward who can skate and keep up with the Steve Bernier’s and Stephen Gionta’s of the world will go a long way to getting as many points as possible in the sprint to the finish.
No prolonged losing streaks
The last item is probably one of the most important items. Kevin did the math on how many points it will take to make the postseason and potentially win the division. Each game represents a four point swing in the playoff picture. Even a three game losing streak can shift the playoff picture by as much as 12 points. Kevin’s math came out to averaging 1.12 points per game to solidify a playoff spot. One losing streak in a 48 game schedule, and that 1.12 PPG is tough to attain.