Last time we looked into the challenging road trips that the eight teams in the Metropolitan would face this season. And it’s safe to say that the New York Islanders have been well and truly screwed over, that nine-game road trip might just destroy whatever chances the team may have had at the playoffs.
Until air-travel became the norm, teams would travel between cities by train. Often in specialised sleeper cars. Roy Conacher‘s departure from the Detroit Red Wings left the number 9 available and it was offered to a young Gordie Howe. Howe accepted the number not because of any historical or personal significance, but because it would grant him a more comfortable bed on the train. Mr Hockey made that number famous, and when a young Wayne Gretzky chose 99 in honour of Howe, few could have known that the want of a decent night’s sleep would ultimately lead to a number being retired across the whole NHL. Again, I’ve listed the teams alphabetically, although if Toronto do finish last, I’m totally cool with that. Sorry Joel*.
If you haven’t already listened to the guys preview the Atlantic division; do it now!
There are some teams you just don’t want to visit because their house is a fortress, and you know you’ll come home empty-handed. The Bruins are at the other end of that spectrum, at home they have a worse win percentage than the Carolina Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets. On the road though, the have the best win percentage (.628) in the division. The most difficult road trips will be in October and February, the latter being the Californian trio of the Kings, Ducks and Sharks, and the Dallas Stars. In October, the Rangers, Red Wings, Panthers and Lightning might upset the Bruins’ applecart. Well probably not the Red Wings.
The Sabres, like the Bruins above, play better on the road (.513) than they do at home (.450). The first tricky four-gamer starts with the second game of the regular season. The Sabres travel to Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Philadelphia. Because it’s Buffalo I’d normally say stay at home and play xbox, but the Oilers and Canucks are worse at home than the Sabres, so there’s maybe a chance for a couple of points. March’s California trio (plus Detroit) should best be avoided. All in, the Sabres don’t have much in the way of punishing road trips. Usually I’d follow that with a comment about the team’s playoff hopes, but I’m sure we can agree that the Sabres don’t have any.
Detroit Red Wings
If the Red Want to make it 26 consecutive playoffs, then the schedule will need to be kind. Spoiler: it isn’t. Unlike Boston and Buffalo, the Red Wings are better at home than on the road. The only particularly nasty part of the schedule is a seven game road trip. Starting on December 29th in Ottawa, it’s then onto Toronto, Anaheim, LA, San Jose, Chicago, and finally Dallas. All before coming back to the Joe to host the Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston. After that it’s relative plain sailing. Will that mid-season trip kill off Detroit’s chances on another playoffs? Probably not. That’ll be injuries and lack of depth.
If you’re a Panthers fan, you’re probably happy with the team’s schedule. There’s a six game road trip at the end of November which has some challenging match-ups. The Carolina Hurricanes will likely roll over and give up the points, as will Detroit and Ottawa. Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia will put up a bit of a scrap though. A trip to Arizona via, um, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver will bring home the Air Miles and a vital 8 points. February’s visit to the California Triplets might prove difficult, especially when sandwiched between Nashville and St. Louis. But you’re Florida and you’re still going to win the division.
Trying to predict how a schedule will affect the Canadiens’ season is like trying to predict how many meaningful suspensions the Dept of Player Safety will issue between now and June. Wait, that’s easy. None. For two weeks last season the Habs were running away with the division, then Carey Price got hurt and the team imploded. If the Habs fail to make the playoffs this season, it won’t because of the schedule. There’s a tricky midseason seven gamer, including Florida, Pittsburgh and Dallas, but it’s bookended by Columbus and Toronto. Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose, LA and St. Louis will offer a bit of winter sun at the end of November (well three of those places will). The Canadians have a team capable of taking all 10 points in that trip, but are also the biggest unknown in the league.
I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think the Ottawa Senators are going to make the playoffs, and that’s nothing to do with the schedule. That said, if Ottawa are going to surprise us, then they need to take advantage of a fairly stable October and November to try and build some points. A short Canadian road trip takes in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton where, potentially, some more points can be picked up. In December the Sens head to Pittsburgh before taking on San Jose, LA and Anaheim. Road games are sporadic after that, January 31st takes the team to division rivals Florida, Tampa and Buffalo. March brings a five-gamer. Taking in Montreal, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Detroit. If the Sens’ season wasn’t already over, this late imbalance of road games might just be the nail in the coffin.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season’s Lightning disappointed. More was expected of Jon Cooper’s men, but injuries betrayed a lack of depth and it showed in the playoffs. During the regular season the team looked strong, and a .536 road win percentage was a slight improvement on the season before. A four game home stand quickly gives way to five game road trip, taking in Toronto, Montreal, New Jersey and both New York teams. There are some big games to be won here if the Bolts want to make a statement early on. The rest of 2016 doesn’t get much easier either. Mid January takes the team to the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes, Blackhawks, and state rivals the Panthers in a testing six gamer. Things calm down and the only remaining obstacle to the playoffs is a three game division trip to tackle Boston, Toronto and Montreal.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a noble goal this season: don’t finish last. There’s nothing outrageous in the Leafs’ schedule to stand in the way of that. The Leafs stay north of the border for a quick Canadian triple, taking on the Oilers, Flames and Canucks in November. This may be a chance to build some points. The Christmas quadruple starting with a trip to Carl’s Avalanche before visiting the Coyotes, Panthers and Lightning will not bring glad tidings, and the Leafs will be lucky to return home with even a loser point or two. The end of January brings a tricky six game road trip to Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis, Boston and New York’s Islanders. After returning presumably 12 points lighter, it’s a more comfortable few weeks until the team flies out to battle the California Triplets. Finishing the season with a four game homestand will give the Leafs time to figure out where it all went wrong again, before hitting the golf course.