NHL Teams Prospering and Declining with Shortened Season
With hockey back in business, teams assembled and scrambled to reunite and squeeze as much physical and mental preparation out of a week of training camp as possible before the puck officially dropped.
The shortened 48-game season is now 10 days old. Some teams are prospering and picking up right where they left off last season. But still, others have gotten off to a lethargic start, desperately trying to regain their form before it’s too late.
A few teams will strongly benefit from a condensed regular season schedule, while others will be left in the dust.
This has been seen through the first week-and-a-half of the season.
We already know injuries, fatigue and other untimely occurrences—such as suspensions—will play a big factor with a shortened season.
But so will depth.
And the teams with depth are the ones that will prosper. The teams with depth will have the biggest edge over their opposition.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues are 5-1-0, their best start since winning seven of their first eight in 1997-98.
They’ve won three straight and five of their first six.
The Blues have been able to do this for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they possess depth that many other teams lack.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock has the luxury of resting key players every night or every other night, depending on the schedule. Hitchcock was able to sit veteran grinder Scott Nichol and insert veteran Jamie Langenbrunner into the lineup against the Minnesota Wild last Sunday, a contest that saw Vladimir Sobotka score in overtime to give the Blues the 5-4 victory.
Hitchcock kept veteran winger Matt D’Agostini—who scored 21 goals in 2010-11—out of the lineup for the first two games of the season against Detroit and Nashville (both wins) in an effort to keep him fresh and ready when needed.
Depth drives this club night in and night out. It is what allows Hitchcock to lean on a pair of reliable goaltenders, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Last season, the duo won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against.
Depth will be the ultimate benefit for the Blues. Being able to mix and match lines the way Hitchcock does will pay big dividends as the season progresses.
Nick Leddy’s shot deflected off Detroit’s Damien Brunner and goaltender Jimmy Howard, and gave Chicago a 2-1 overtime victory. The score also gave Chicago a perfect 6-0 start to the regular season—its best start in franchise history.
The Blackhawks have an assortment of young talent intertwined with quality veterans.
Patrick Kane couldn’t have imagined a better start to a season. The 24-year-old right-winger has nine points through six games. While veteran winger Marian Hossa tallied four goals and five points in his first two games of the season. Hossa leads the team with five goals.
Chicago has also been able to capitalize on special teams. With a top-ranked power play unit, Chicago boasts the second-best penalty-killing unit in the NHL, killing off 22 of 23 chances.
Los Angeles Kings
As the warm month of June arrived last summer, the Kings were still playing hockey. Four wins remained within their grasp, along with Lord Stanley’s Cup, which they ultimately raised.
The Kings began title defense with a 2-2-1 run, sitting in third place in the Pacific Division and seven points behind division-leading San Jose, who is 6-0-0.
Despite the slow start, the Kings will catch their breath. Hopefully.
Only 16 teams reach the postseason, meaning 14 have the comfort of a lengthier offseason to recover from the wear and tear of the playoffs. If you do the math, Los Angeles and New Jersey would’ve had the shortest offseason given a normal, 82-game schedule.
With a compressed season, the Kings had an extended recovery time from their championship run. The prolonged healing period should’ve given the Kings an edge when the lockout ended and the puck finally dropped.
So far, not so good for the defending champs, who sit in ninth place in the Western Conference looking up at the rest of the pack.
Detroit Red Wings
The aging Detroit Red Wings are showing signs of decline. They dropped three of their first five games before routing Dallas, 4-1, Tuesday. They’ve allowed 17 goals while scoring just 15. Special teams have been dreadful for the Red Wings, especially the power play, which is converting 9.4 percent of its chances, 28th in the league.
At this point last season, the Red Wings' power play was converting 17.9 percent of its chances. The penalty kill has been mediocre at best. The Red Wings rank 22nd in the league, converting just 73.3 percent of the time while down a man.
After netting just four goals in its first three contests of the season, Detroit has tallied 10 goals in its last three games. It appears the offense is finally starting to show signs of life.
Whether Detroit is able maintain offensive consistency and find a cure to its abysmal power play could decide how far this team could go.
A 2-5-0 start wasn’t expected for Philadelphia. Certainly not after surpassing the 100-point plateau last season, and a deep run into the postseason.
But the Flyers have shot themselves in the skate thus far in 2013.
The offense has struggled to find the back of the net with just 14 goals to show for. The power play is struggling to build chemistry with only a handful of goals on 37 chances.
Goaltending has been shaky as well. Ilya Bryzgalov has surrendered 13 goals in six games.
Both the offense and the goaltending must drastically improve in the near future or the season will slip away from the Flyers.