The National Hockey League (NHL) released the schedule for the 2013-14 regular season earlier today, and I reviewed the information very thoroughly on www.nhl.com with particular interest in the schedule for the New Jersey Devils.
In order to allow my fellow colleagues here at Pucks & Pitchforks to contribute their own posts with their opinions and analysis, I chose to take a “macro” view of parts of the schedule.
Then, in my review of the schedule I noticed a specific trend that I decided to analyze further and focus this article on: back-to-back games.
However, before I begin, I have a quick observation, I dislike the new division names in the newly realigned NHL. I think the Western Conference division names of “Central” and “Pacific” are too bland.
I have a bigger issue with the Eastern Conference because the “Atlantic” division is no longer any of the teams in the former division of that same name, instead it is the old Northeast division plus Detroit and the two Florida teams.
The newly minted “Metropolitan” division is where the Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and Columbus Blue Jackets will play next season.
I really dislike the “Metropolitan” division name and I really wish the league would have brought back the Patrick Division, Norris Division and so forth. Hockey has a rich history and I think it should be celebrated.
While no NHL team will think they have an easy schedule, my first impressions of the Devils upcoming regular season gauntlet is that it is not as difficult as I expected the schedule to be for this important upcoming season.
- New Jersey opens the season on October 3rd in Pittsburgh against the division rival Penguins.
- The team opens up their 7th season playing in Newark with a October 4th matchup with the Islanders at Prudential Center
- The Devils then embark on a long early road trip of 5 games throughout Canada (Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Ottawa)
- October 19th is the first game of the mega-rivalry with the Rangers – a home game at Prudential Center
- New Jersey will visit Boston to play the defending Eastern Conference Champion Bruins on October 26th
- The second match with the Rangers is on November 12th
- November 15th is a home game vs. the Los Angeles Kings in a rematch of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final
Now this is where the back to back games come into play, after the Kings game, the Devils will host the Penguins the next night, November 16th. That is a brutal back-to-back for any team.
Back-to-Back games, rough patches, Olympic break
The amount of back-to-back games being played this season is glaring, and at first glance, it is a bit surprising. Then I remembered the two factors driving this change in the schedule: realignment, and the Olympics.
The new realignment in the NHL also calls for each team to play every other team in the league. The Devils will travel to every Western team, and all of the teams out in the Western Conference will visit New Jersey.
This now creates a situation where, in order to cut down on travel costs, whenever a Western Conference team is on the east coast, they have to squeeze in as many games as possible.
Now, you compound that situation further with the second factor, it is a Winter Olympics year in 2014. The NHL has a long standing tradition which allows all of their players to participate in the Olympics hockey competition. It is a great honor for the many foreign players in the NHL to have an opportunity to play for their home country on a big international stage.
The NHL decided that it did not make sense to keep the NHL playing games during the Olympics because with all of the star players gone, it was not feasible and did not make sense for a variety of reasons. So the NHL takes an “Olympic break” for a little over two weeks during Olympic years.
This year, in order to not be playing games until May, the league knows it will be shut for over two weeks in February so it crammed a lot of back-to-back games in there to compensate and end the regular season by mid-April.
Now, back to the Devils, they have a rough patch in November with a West Coast trip (Anaheim Ducks, L.A., and San Jose Sharks ) all three teams are playoff caliber teams, and the first two games are on back-to-back nights.
The other back-to-back dates on the schedule (the Devils play a lot of what they call “split back-to-backs” too, where they are home for one game and on the road the next night or vice versa):
- November 29th @ Carolina
- November 30th Buffalo Sabres
- December 6th vs. Detroit Red Wings
- December 7th @ Rangers
- December 13th @ Pittsburgh
- December 14th Tampa Bay Lightning
- December 20th Anaheim
- December 21st @ Washington
- January 3rd vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- January 4th @ Buffalo
- January 11th vs. Florida Panthers
- January 12th @ Toronto Maple Leafs
- January 30th @ Dallas Stars
- January 31st @ Nashville Predators
- February 7th vs. Edmonton Oilers
- February 8th @ Washington (last game before Olympic break. Next game 2/27 vs. Columbus)
- March 1st @ Islanders
- March 2nd vs. San Jose
- March 7th @ Detroit
- March 8th vs. Carolina
- March 14th @ Florida
- March 15th @ Tampa Bay
- April 10th @ Ottawa Senators
- April 11th vs. Islanders
That is 24 back-to-back games for the Devils, and when you look at most of the teams, it is all rather difficult, several games against playoff caliber opposition. That is going to have the makings of a long season.
From a “macro” view of the schedule, I like that the Devils get their longer, and heavier road trips out of the way fairly early in the season. The players are better rested from the offseason to deal with that type of travel and grinding schedule.
It is the same as in the other major sports, you want as many games in your home arena as possible in the back end of the season for the playoff push. The Devils have, after the Olympic break, have 13 of their final 23 games at home including a rare 5 game home stand from March 18 through March 27.
Overall, the Devils are in a rebuilding type, transitional year, so it is not going to be an easy road for this team. However, in all my years of following the team, I have seen schedules that are worse, and this one could have been a lot worse. So, for myself and the rest of the Devils Army, that is our ray of sunshine as we look toward the season opener on October 3rd .