With 41-per-cent fewer games, the effect of streaks, especially losing ones, on a team’s playoff chances will be much greater. A five-game losing string would be enough to kill a run to the postseason. While a five-game winning streak would be nice, it will not have as great an effect on a team’s chances as a losing run. The one point for losing in overtime still makes it hard to make up ground quickly.
Keeping all games within each conference gives the Eastern Conference teams a big advantage over their Western counterparts. The web site Ontheforecheck.com calculated how much each team will travel and found the Minnesota Wild tops at 31,345 miles (49,890 kilometres). This is almost three times as far as the New Jersey Devils’ 11,659 miles (17,703 kilometres), the lowest in the league. The Devils and everyone else in the Atlantic Division will be able to sleep in their own beds most nights, which is the envy of the Western teams.
With 48 games plus travel shoe-horned into 99 days, there will be little time for practice days. For teams with new coaches or new systems, this is going to be a problem. “There’s a lot of concern,” noted Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who is still trying to implement the system he introduced with 18 games left last season.
The teams in the best physical condition and those with the fewest injuries will fare the best. There will be more back-to-back games and they will occur with greater frequency, so being fit and healthy will never be more important. The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, for example, each have 12 sets of back-to-back games, which represents half of the 48-game schedule.
Given the lack of days off and frequency of games, a team that has the best players on the bottom end of its roster will have an advantage. During the NBA’s lockout-shortened season of 2011-12, teams routinely rested a star or two in the fourth game over five nights. Look for the NHL teams with the best fourth-liners and spare players to have an edge.