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In this file photo pedestrians walk past the Air Canada Centre as a screen projects an image of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
In this file photo pedestrians walk past the Air Canada Centre as a screen projects an image of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

NHL

Canadian clubs to endure quirky NHL schedule Add to ...

The shortened NHL season begins on Saturday night with five of the seven Canadian-based clubs seeing action.

A typical NHL schedule has each team play 82 games in 184 days, or one game every 2.24 days. The compressed schedule will now see each team play 48 games in 99 games or one game every 2.06 days. It may not seem like much of an increase, but that, coupled with teams trying to find home available in their arena has created a few quirks in the schedule.

Vancouver Canucks

Like all teams, the Canucks have several ping-pong moments in their schedule. The team’s first road trip, at the end of January to California, sees the team in the Los Angeles area to play Anaheim on Friday, Jan. 25, travelling up to San Jose to take on the Sharks on Sunday night, and then back to L.A. to face the Kings on Monday night. The Canucks then head back to Vancouver to play the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Early March is more intense, as the Canucks play the Kings at home on Mar. 2 on Hockey Night in Canada , go to Calgary to play the Flames the next day, come back to Vancouver for a Tuesday game against the Sharks and then are off for a three-game road trip, first on the Thursday in Columbus, on Sunday Mar. 10 in Minnesota and then back to Columbus on the Tuesday.

However, even with the erratic travel, the road trips are, for the most part, relatively short. The longest is a six-game trip in mid-April, Calgary-Colorado-Nashville-St. Louis-Dallas.

“Injuries are going to be the biggest factor in this 48-game schedule,” said Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.

Still the Canucks boss concluded his team doesn’t mind the shortened-schedule stating “we think it looks pretty good.”

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers’ schedule is complicated by the presence of the Brier curling championships at Rexall Place, which will oblige them to be out of the building towards the end of February. In the original NHL schedule, the Oilers were supposed to be on the road for eight consecutive games during that interval. Now it’s nine games, to be played in 16 nights.

They start with a Feb. 25 date with the Chicago Blackhawks and don’t return home until a Mar. 12 against the Avalanche in Colorado. The Oilers also finish with a gruelling six-games-in-eight nights sprint to end the year.

“We have to take advantage of our start where we have 10 of 17 at home and go into that nine-game road trip in a strong position – maintaining pace with the pack,” coach Ralph Krueger told edmontonoilers.com. “Our goal is to keep the picture small and not get too far ahead of ourselves by looking at what’s to come late in the season. If we get out to a good start, it would be very important and then we’d make the schedule work for us.”

Calgary Flames

Calgary’s schedule is less erratic then their Alberta neighbours. The Flames open with five of their first six at home and finish with four games on the road, including their season finale against the Chicago Blackhawks on Apr. 26. Because the Flames begin a day later and finish a day earlier, their 48 games will be crammed into 97 nights.

“It’s going to be different. It’s one of them things where I don’t think there’s going to be much planning outside the rink for the next three month,” Flames’ Curtis Glencross told reporters on Thursday.

“With that many games, that close, everyone is going to have some bumps and bruises and a few tweaks and stuff like that. It’s just one of those things where we have to take care of our bodies the best we can.”

Winnipeg Jets

How’s this for hitting the ice in a hurry? In their second and third games of this truncated NHL season, the Winnipeg Jets get the Bruins in Boston and the Capitals in Washington back-to-back before heading home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 25. Can you say, ‘Bring it on?’ As the furthest outpost in the league’s Southeast Division, travel is always an issue for Winnipeg. The Jets will play Washington and the Florida Panthers five times; the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes four times. Winnipeg will also get the Capitals back-to-back at the MTS Centre, Mar. 21-22; a double serving of Alex Ovechkin, which is rarely a bad thing to watch.

As for road trips, the Jets’ longest runs five games, Feb. 19 to 26, beginning in Buffalo and ending in New York against the Rangers. A six-game home stand closes out the season. That game will feature a visit by the Montreal Canadiens on Apr. 25.

The Jets open the regular season Saturday hosting the Ottawa Senators. They play the Toronto Maple Leafs twice in Winnipeg, Feb. 7 and March 12.

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators have some tough travel ahead of them.

First, they’ll have to get out of their driveways, tough if the players have taken contracts out with those mushrooming private snowplowers who might not get around to your street til later in the day. Then there’s the Queensway and the long haul out Bronson – which can be rough in the dead of winter when the snow is blowing.

Once they reach the airport, however, the 2013 season is a lark.

They stay in the east apart from opening the season Jan. 19 in Winnipeg, which remains in hockey’s east. They have two nice trips to Florida, playing two games at the end of January – the very time you most appreciate Florida – and one more trip in early April.

They have six back-to-back games, but since they’re often mere bus rides between, say New Jersey and New York Islanders, what’s to worry about?

If the Senators come up short for the Stanley Cup, they’ll have to blame something apart from gruelling schedule and arduous travel.

Toronto Maple Leafs

How’s this for a quirk in the Leafs shortened schedule? No Friday games. No Sunday games. And nearly 30 per cent of the season played on Saturdays.

Hello Hockey Night in Canada .

As far as condensed seasons go, Toronto’s doesn’t look particularly onerous, with the longest road trip only three games (which they do twice) and nine back-to-back situations. Their most difficult month will be February, where there are 15 games crammed into just 28 days.

The Leafs will play every team in the East at least twice and their division rivals four (Boston and Buffalo) or five times (Montreal and Ottawa). They may miss facing the Western Conference, however, given they were 9-6-3 against it a year ago and just 26-31-7 against the East.

Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens’ players keep saying they’re eager to get back to work, well sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

Montreal opens the season at home against Toronto on Saturday, which kicks off a sequence of six games in 11 days. Then follows four games in five nights to open February – three straight at home, plus a short hop to Buffalo. They’ll have to suffer through a similar stretch in mid-month, but again three of the four will be at home.

That said, it could be a lot worse. Road-trip wise, the schedule-makers did okay by the Canadiens, who finished last in the conference in 2011-12. The longest road foray of the season is a week-long trip to play five games – Boston, Long Island, Carolina and the Florida teams. That’s a lot of hockey, but at least the flights will be short.

The Habs have seven sets of back-to-back games, but only one of them will require to play both games on the road – in Pittsburgh and Boston Mar. 26-27. They’ve had to live through worse in recent years.

That said, Montreal will probably find March its longest month, as they will only play five of 14 games at home. The other benefit of the truncated schedule is their farthest destination is Winnipeg, in the second-to-last game of the season.

You won’t find any Canadiens complaining about the schedule.

“I’d rather take that pounding and abuse rather than sitting there and doing nothing,” said Habs blueliner Josh Georges. “I’ve been off for eight or nine months before and been able to come back without having to take too long to get my timing back, so I can try and use that experience . . . for the first little while it’s going to be interesting, there’s going to be mistakes, it’s going to be exciting for the fans to watch, there’s going to be chances going both ways for the first little while.”

Referees

It isn’t just the players that are facing increased travel in the 48-game schedule.

Pat Byrne is vice-president of Vancouver-based Fatigue Science, which works with everyone from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to the Canucks to help organizations manage fatigue and sleep schedules. He said the compact NHL schedule could be particularly difficult for the referees.

“They have a way, way worse travel schedule than any of the teams,” said Byrne. “They fly commercial, and crisscross all over north America.”

With files from James Mirtle, Eric Duhatschek , Roy MacGregor, Sean Gordon, Allan Maki and David Ebner

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