With an abbreviated NHL season and an even more abbreviated length of time to squeeze those games in, a lot of teams are forced to play back to back games more often than in an 82-game season, which can be quite tiresome, no matter the conditioning of the individual player.
Much is being said now about home ice not mattering as much because the season is now truly a sprint instead of a marathon (flipping the usual beginning-of-season narrative). Individual team skill aside, I decided to take a look at the breakdown of how teams are performing when playing back-to-back games through the first 8 days of the season. This is by no means an indicator of how the season will play out, mind you, but hopefully will make you wonder how much travel and fatigue actually affect how teams perform.
(Note: Data gathered from NHL.com // While I did all of this by hand, and double/triple checked my facts, I do submit the possibility of an error made within the article and apologize in advance if there's any frustration. Morning coffee tends to give me delusions of grandeur from time to time)
When teams play back to back games, the overall record is as follows:
1st game of a back-to-back: 14(W)-10(L)-2(shootout loss*)
[* I did not look at OT losses for this analysis, but only a pure win/lose aspect, shootout losses are the exception]
2nd game of a back-to-back: 11-15-1
On the surface, this is not an unexpected result. Having a short turnaround time, with many teams traveling in between games can be a tough burden on the players. It should also be noted that the record of teams playing one game vs. a team in a back-to-back stretch: 20-16-2. Although not an overwhelming result, teams playing just one game play better, and may be expected to play with more energy knowing that there's no game the night before or the next evening.
Let's dig a little deeper and see the breakdown of back to back games at home vs. on the road.
1st game home: 5-5-1
1st game road: 9-5-1
2nd game home: 5-4-1
2nd game road: 6-11-0
The eye opener here is that home ice does not appear to matter as much during back-to-back stretches of play. Teams are a combined 10-9-2 at home during the first game. However, there is a stark contrast when playing on the road, where there is almost a 2:1 win/loss ratio during the first road game but a 1:2 ratio during the 2nd game. One explanation, albeit broad, would be the consideration of teams having time to prepare on the road for the first game and not facing the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd. The boys just get down to business and stick to the game plan. On the flip-side, playing a second road game, or traveling for the 2nd game of a back-to-back, seems to leaving teams weary from travel and fatigue.
One last consideration would be to look at goal output.
Avg. goals in the 1st game: 3.07/2.96 (for/against)
Avg. goals in the 2nd game: 2.59/2.96
Surprisingly, the average goals against is practically identical in the 1st and 2nd games, but there is a half goal drop in goals scored.
Even though there are teams that don't seem to follow the trend, with success stories like Chicago and St. Louis, and less successful stories like Philadelphia (3 goals for, 10 against in 2nd game of back-to-back matches), overall it appears that back-to-back games are really taking a toll on players early on in the season. Clubs are really facing an uphill battle in the 2nd game. Although hardly anyone will talk about it after the playoffs, you have to wonder how much this affects teams. You may say that everyone is in the same boat and thus affected equally, but with intra-conference play and uneven schedules against divisional opponents, these games are weighted with astronomical importance.
This year, it has already become apparent that the regular season is the true "gauntlet", the term typically associated with the greatness that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Desperation is a word that comes to mind when I think of what is happening here. The fact is, we don't know what a shortened season will end up looking like come May. What will be interesting to see is how many GMs find their teams sinking fast and make impulse decisions to add a player or two to sneak into the postseason; but at what long-term cost?
At the end of the day, it is my personal opinion to just let this season play out. The current plethora of back-to-back matches is brutal on teams, especially with travel. However, although the games and money are real, so are the consequences of altering a team to fit this year's format when the schedule will be back to "business as usual" next year.
I do not claim to be an expert on the topic and this is my first attempt at writing for BSH. The NHL and Flyers are my passion and I hope, if nothing else, that I've given some quality food for thought if you've graciously taken the time to read this. Thank you for your time and feel free to comment.