48 games in 99 days. In a word - wow!
How should NHL teams handle the shortened season?
Cliff Ronning, Kirk McLean and Pat Quinn weighed in on the subject recently:
"Every game meant a lot," Ronning said Sunday. "You get on a losing streak and you are in trouble. Especially early in the season. It's important to have a good start."
""The challenge for the goaltenders is getting into the swing of things," McLean said. "I think the players keep themselves in pretty good shape, the body contact is the toughest part of positional play. But for goalies, you get into scrimmages with the guys for two or three months and you can pick up bad habits. It's a lot tougher to get game-ready if you haven't been playing elsewhere."
Pat Quinn believes conditioning is the real key.
"There is no game as demanding on conditioning as the sport of hockey. That becomes so important. And that's what will be pretty obvious as we get going here again, because lesser ability teams with decent conditioning could get a jump and in that short schedule all of a sudden you are losing games you'd expect to win, you are losing to teams you'd expect to beat and then comes that mental aside of the game, that pressure that some people don't respond well to."
But Ronning offers some interesting insight on the topic, too.
Ronning remained in Vancouver during the 1994-95 lockout and trained with some other players. But he said he focused on the wrong things.
"I was doing a lot of weightlifting and thinking that by gaining eight more pounds it was going to help me," Ronning said. "But in the end the way I play I would have been better off to have good stamina and endurance. I know it definitely took me a while to get back into the swing of things."
Meanwhile out in Carolina, Hurricanes assistant coach John MacLean recalls playing back in 1995 with the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils. Luke Decock reports:
As the NHL prepares to play another shortened season, after losing three months of games to its third lockout in 18 years, MacLean may be the Carolina Hurricanes’ secret weapon. The former Devils coach was Kirk Muller’s first hire behind the bench when Muller took over the Hurricanes last fall, and he knows better than just about anyone what it takes to conquer these unusual circumstances.
To that end, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire rotated several players among his third and fourth lines, trying to keep as many players fresh and as much energy on the ice as possible. It helped that the Devils, at that time, had many future stars in that group, including Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston and Sergei Brylin.
It seems to me the keys to the season will depth and pacing. A great start would be nice but not necessary. You can not have a hot and cold streaky team. Teams have to remain even keeled and consistent throughout the campaign, and with a little luck from the injury gods they should be in thick of the playoff hunt. Teams have to keep in mind that this season more than any other really is just about qualifying for the playoffs. They need not worries about accusations of regression or anything else, because this season features a lot of different dynamics.