Second night of back-to-back games a critical part of success in shortened season

The Ducks' 4-0 record in the second half of back-to-back games is a big reason for their Pacific Division lead. (bridgetds/Flickr)

The Ducks’ 4-0 record in the second half of back-to-back games is a big reason for their Pacific Division lead. (bridgetds/Flickr)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

With a schedule of 48 games in 99 days, teams are playing just about every other day this season which means a high concentration of back-to-back games. Teams have fewer than 20 hours to recover from the last game and prepare for the next; throwing in travel between games and a lack of sleep, getting ready for the next night can be a difficult, albeit not impossible, chore.

Teams are a collective 46-34-5 (.571 points percentage) in the first of back-to-back games this season, a record that falls to 38-40-7 (.488 points percentage) in the second game. And with a record of 161-111-48 (.578 points percentage) in all other games combined, it’s clear those tough points earned on the second night will be a factor that will make or break some teams this year.

Here is a look at the current Eastern Conference standings. Their overall record and total points follow each team with their record in the second of back-to-backs in parenthesis.

Eastern Conference

  1. Montreal Canadiens 11-4-2, 24 (2-1-1,)
  2. New Jersey Devils 10-3-4, 24 (2-1)
  3. Carolina Hurricanes 8-6-1, 17 (2-1)
  4. Boston Bruins 10-2-2, 22 (1-0)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins 11-6-0, 22 (2-1)
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs 11-7-0, 22 (1-2)
  7. Ottawa Senators 10-6-2, 22 (2-2)
  8. New York Rangers 8-6-2, 18 (0-2)
  9. Tampa Bay Lightning 8-7-1, 17 (1-1)
  10. Philadelphia Flyers 8-10-1, 17 (2-4)
  11. Winnipeg Jets 7-8-1, 15 (1-1)
  12. New York Islanders 7-9-1, 15 (0-2)
  13. Florida Panthers 5-7-4, 14 (0-1)
  14. Buffalo Sabres 6-11-1, 13 (1-3)
  15. Washington Capitals 5-10-1, 11 (1-0-1)

Philadelphia has played a league-high six sets of back-to-back games. Fatigue would explain their 2-4 record in the second game, however it wouldn’t account for their identical record in the first, though their league-high 19 games played in total could be a factor (coupled with some very questionable defense of course). There are only six teams in the conference that have an above-.500 record in the latter game with five occupying the top five spots and the sixth being, go figure, Washington. Meanwhile Boston is in fourth despite playing the fewest games in the league. With only one set of back-to-backs so far they have had plenty of time to recharge, but the second half of the season won’t be so kind as they have six sets remaining.

Western Conference

  1. Chicago Blackhawks 13-0-3, 29 (3-0)
  2. Anaheim Ducks 12-2-1, 25 (4-0)
  3. Vancouver Canucks 9-3-4, 22 (0-0-2)
  4. Nashville Predators 8-4-5, 21 (2-1)
  5. St. Louis Blues 9-6-2, 20 (1-2-1)
  6. San Jose Sharks 8-4-3, 19 (1-1-1)
  7. Phoenix Coyotes 8-6-2, 18 (1-2)
  8. Minnesota Wild 8-6-2, 18 (2-1)
  9. Dallas Stars 8-8-1, 17 (0-4)
  10. Detroit Red Wings 7-7-3, 17 (1-2)
  11. Los Angeles Kings 7-6-2, 16 (2-0)
  12. Colorado Avalanche 7-7-1, 15 (1-0)
  13. Edmonton Oilers 6-7-3, 15 (1-0-1)
  14. Calgary Flames 5-7-3, 13 (0-2)
  15. Columbus Blue Jackets 5-10-2, 12 (1-3)

Just about all the evidence needed to understand how important it is to stay fresh for the second of a back-to-back can be seen with Anaheim and Dallas. Eight points separate the two clubs thanks to their respective 4-0 and 0-4 records in the latter half of consecutive games. Anaheim would have an 8-2-1 record and Dallas would be 8-4-1, giving both teams 17 points. Instead, Anaheim has built the second-largest division lead in the NHL, six points over San Jose (Chicago has eight more points than Nashville).

In total, 17 teams have played at least three sets of back-to-back games already and only four have found a way to improve their record from the first game to the second. Unsurprisingly all four of those teams, Anaheim (2-2 to 4-0), Chicago (2-0-1 to 3-0), Nashville (0-1-2 to 2-1) and San Jose (1-2 to 1-1-1) are currently in a playoff spot.

How many sets of back-to-back games each team plays could be a deciding factor in the final standings. According to Dirk Hoag of OnTheForecheck.comthe Rangers play the fewest sets with only six while Boston, Florida, the Islanders, Pittsburgh and Vancouver play only six each, giving them more chances to rest between games and prepare for the next contest.

On the other end of the spectrum, Detroit has to play 12 sets of consecutive games, Columbus is scheduled for 11 and Anaheim, New Jersey, Philadelphia and St. Louis all have 10. Fortunately for the Flyers, they have already played six of their so they’ll have more time in the second half of the season to settle things down and make a playoff push. But none of those other teams have played half of their back-to-backs yet so the toughest, most condensed part of their respective schedules is still in the distance. And to show just how condensed the schedule is, Detroit’s 12 sets of consecutive games is only four fewer than Chicago, Columbus, New Jersey and the Islanders were going to have in the original 82-game schedule.

It’s going to be tough, but finding a way to win after playing the previous night is going to prove to be one of the most important aspects of this season. A dependable backup goalie and great training staff are key, especially with little time for all the bumps and bruises to heal. Every game is critical and more points are lost in the second half of back-to-back games than any other scenario. The teams that find a way to win those contests are going to be the ones in the best shape to make the playoffs this year.

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