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Key points for succeeding in a sprint to the finish

January 9, 2013, by
One slip up in a short season, and kiss the playoffs goodbye.

One slip up in a short season, and kiss the playoffs goodbye.

This season is going to be an interesting one to watch. The season will definitely be at most 50 games, will begin around January 19, and will likely end in late April. That means each team will be playing 48 games in a little more than three months. With the two weeks in January, teams will be looking to play about 14 games each month, and six or eight in January. On average, that’s a game every other day.

All 30 NHL teams are in the same situation, and all 30 teams will need to find a way to keep their teams fresh. There are several key areas that each team will need to address to not only survive the sprint, but survive the playoffs following.

A dependable fourth line:

There will be little chance for rest for the top players on each team, as there will be very few back-to-back off days. This emphasizes the importance of a dependable fourth line. A team that can roll their fourth line regularly with confidence will have a distinct advantage over a team that relies heavily upon their top-nine (or worse, top-six). At even strength, most teams deploy their lines in a 1-2-3-1-2-3-4 fashion, giving the fourth line about two shifts per period. A deep team that can run 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 gives the fourth line twice as many shifts. More importantly, it means more rest for the top players. Fresh legs on special teams are crucial.

A dependable bottom defensive pairing

This was very evident for the Rangers during their playoff run last season, as they rolled Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh close to 30 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Stu Bickel averaged five minutes per game. Defensive depth is even more critical than a dependable fourth line, especially at even strength. The Rangers are going to need their top pairing for matchups and for penalty killing. An effective bottom pairing that the club can play against the opposition’s bottom six forwards will keep the top guys well rested for the tough matchups.

A backup goalie that can be relied upon

Suit covered this area yesterday, but it’s essential to have a backup ready at all times. There will be a lot of back-to-backs and three-in-fours, so Martin Biron is going to be critical this year.

Effective matchups from the coaching staff

This isn’t about on-ice matchups, this is about personnel matchups. In an instant, a decision to dress a goon instead of a speedy fourth line wing can have disastrous results. As of right now, the Rangers have a very dependable center and two fighter type players. Arron Asham and Mike Rupp do more than fight, but they aren’t exactly the strongest of skaters. Adding a dependable depth forward who can skate and keep up with the Steve Bernier’s and Stephen Gionta’s of the world will go a long way to getting as many points as possible in the sprint to the finish.

No prolonged losing streaks

The last item is probably one of the most important items. Kevin did the math on how many points it will take to make the postseason and potentially win the division. Each game represents a four point swing in the playoff picture. Even a three game losing streak can shift the playoff picture by as much as 12 points. Kevin’s math came out to averaging 1.12 points per game to solidify a playoff spot. One losing streak in a 48 game schedule, and that 1.12 PPG is tough to attain.

Categories : Analysis


  1. rickyrants13 says:

    What does this mean?? Does this mean we dont use the players that make up our 4th line right now? Since most believe that the players we have should only be playing around 5 min or less. Or should we bring up players like Miller or Thomas and push players like Boyle and Pyatt further back??

    • Dave says:

      It means getting dependable minutes from the fourth line. Once they prove dependable, their ice time increases.

  2. george says:

    The halpern signing will help the 4th line. Solid dependable 4th line center. With Rupp also on that line, i can see the 4th line get around 10mins a game.

    • Dave says:

      That’s what I believe too. I’d like to see another solid skater on that fourth line so teams don’t exploit Rupp/Asham though.

      • Walt says:

        That is the reason they should really look at Miller a little closer!!!!

        • Dave says:

          They probably feel that he needs a full year in the AHL. No need to rush the kid. He’s only 19.

  3. BG says:

    This season gives me an uneasy feeling about this team. They still are going to be a team that has to grind it out, block shots and depend on their systems to be effective more so than teams like Pittsburgh. I look at the start of last season, and I don’t attribute their rocky start to just the European trip. They needed some time to find themselves, the luxury of which they don’t have this year.

    They have 3 legit first liners, but the other three forwards presumed to be “top six” aren’t exactly top six material at this point, that being Hagelin, Kreider and Stepan. There is no third line, just a collection of about 7 fourth liners. Brian Boyle just isn’t consistent enough to be a third liner, and I cant see Halpern and Pyatt being at that level either. IMO, up front its going to depend on the durability of Richards, Nash & Gaborik. On the back end, if Bickel/Eminger cant be on the ice enough minutes to prevent Girardi, McD and Staal from wearing down, maybe Redden should play if they have to bear his cap hit this year. I think they should wait to buy him out.

    There could also be several teams that could surprise in this aberrant season, like Carolina, if Ward plays well.

    • Dave says:

      So if I”m reading this correctly, you don’t consider Cally to be a third line player? You consider him to be a fourth line player?

      Boyle proved he can be a good shutdown center who will win face offs. Pyatt is a wildcard for now.

      I do agree with you on the bottom defense pairing. That needs work.

  4. BG says:

    I forgot the Captain; however, he has to play more like a second liner and not a grinding 4th liner who sacrifices his body shift after shift, but this is not him.

  5. rickyrants13 says:

    If the Rangers are to do what we want them to do the lines should look like this

    Hags Richards Gaborik

    Krieder Stepan Nash Look for those two young tallented kids to blow the roof off with the other teams looking at Nash.

    Pyatt Boyle Callahan

    Haley Halpern Asham

    • Dave says:

      Haley over Rupp?

      • rickyrants13 says:

        Yes I would use Haley over Rup because Rup never stays healthy And he makes too much money to keep. And Haley has speed to burn this line would be a pain in the neck to play against