A Wicked Schedule Weighs Down the Canucks’ First Half

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings, Bo Horvat took the last shot of the Vancouver Canucks’ just-completed four-game road trip at the 1:44 mark of the third period. From there, the Canucks hung on by their fingernails as the Kings fired 16 shots on Jacob Markstrom. The last one, by Anze Kopitar off of a tidy feed from Jeff Carter, earned L.A. a 2-1 win at the 2:02 mark of overtime.

Was Alex Edler suffering from mental fatigue when he made the game-deciding giveaway that ended up on Carter’s stick? Quite possibly.

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Edler played a relatively low-for-him 21:35 on Tuesday night, but he had some adjustments to make with Alex Biega filling in as his partner in place of the injured Chris Tanev.

According to Hockey Reference, Edler’s averaging 24:34 of ice time per game this season. That’s a career high for him and ranks the 29-year-old 16th overall in the NHL.

Edler’s working hard this year, and so are the rest of his teammates.

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After Tuesday’s game, the Canucks were one of just three teams in the NHL to have already played 26 games this season, and the only team to have played 16 games on the road. 

The Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers have played 15 road games—and occupy four of the bottom nine spots in the league standings. The Canucks are still perched at 19th overall. Maybe that’s not so bad considering the hand they’ve been dealt by the schedule maker?

Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck did a full analysis of NHL team travel when this season’s schedule was released last summer. The Canucks’ overall travel increases by 511 miles compared to last season, which moves them up from sixth place to fifth overall.

Western Conference teams always bear a heavier travel burden than their compatriots in the East, who rarely leave their time zone. The Florida Panthers were the only Eastern team to rank among the ten teams that travelled the most last season—they were ninth, and fizzled out down the stretch after briefly teasing a possible challenge for a playoff appearance. All told, only three of the NHL’s top 10 travel teams last season made the playoffs: the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and the Canucks.

After Tuesday’s loss in L.A., the Canucks have now completed 39 percent of their road duties in less than 32 percent of their total games over just 30 percent of the 186-day schedule for 2015-16. That’s a disproportionate amount of time and energy spent on the road, without much opportunity for recovery.

The schedule for the rest of December looks a little better. Now that the Canucks are home from California, they’ll play four nicely spaced-out games at Rogers Arena over the next eight days, then enjoy three days off before embarking on a six-game pre-Christmas Eastern Conference trip that finishes up in Florida and Tampa Bay.

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In January, the team will finally see a balanced six home games and six road games. Vancouver’s last visit to an Eastern Conference city will come against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 23. 

If the Canucks can stay within range of the Pacific Division playoff teams until the All-Star Break, they’ll have a chance to make up some ground down the stretch. After the break, the Canucks will play 19 of their remaining 32 games at Rogers Arena—and 17 of those 32 games will be four-pointers against division opponents.

The amount of time spent on the road seems to have had a much bigger impact on the Canucks’ results this season than how rested they’ve been coming into specific games. According to Gus Katsaros of McKeen’s Hockey, Vancouver has 13 back-to-back games on the schedule this year, which is in the middle of the NHL pack. Of the four back-to-backs so far, the team is 4-2-2—which is actually great when you consider that the team has only nine regulation wins in total.

On the back half of the back-to-backs, when Vancouver has been the tired team, they’re 2-1-1, but both those wins came back in October. 

To further confuse matters, the Canucks are just 1-3-0 at home when they host teams that have travelled into Vancouver for games after playing the night before.

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  • On October 16, the St. Louis Blues beat the Canucks 4-3 after winning in Edmonton the night before
  • On October 18, the Edmonton Oilers beat the Canucks 2-1 in overtime after beating Calgary the night before
  • On October 24, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Canucks 3-2 after losing in overtime to Calgary the night before
  • On November 21, the Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-3 after Chicago lost 2-1 in overtime to Calgary the night before

Two of the Canucks’ four opponents on their upcoming homestand will be arriving in Vancouver as tired teams. The Boston Bruins take on the Canucks on Saturday after playing in Calgary the night before, then the Buffalo Sabres play in Edmonton on Sunday before visiting Rogers Arena next Monday.

If the Canucks are looking for an example of how a home team should turn up the juice late in a game against a road-weary opponent, they need to look no further than the video of Tuesday’s third period against the Kings.

  • Mooseroni

    But I was told travel fatigue is an excuse…

    Does than mean the pilot who runs out of gas and crashes the plane is making excuses? Why didn’t he just will the plane to stay in the air and try harder to not crash?

  • Mooseroni

    The shot clock keeper at Staples is a bit of a homer. About 6 or 7 minutes into the first, the Canucks had been officially given credit for zero shots on goal. I saw at least two (and possibly) three shots that they had actually put on goal that Quick stopped.

  • Mooseroni

    notice how old willies looking guess he knows hes out of work in a few short weeks…..best deal of last year get rid of lack and get miller what a joke that is rates rite up there with all the other mistakes since 2010 and have you noticed how when it gets to the playoffs the sedin sisters give up so they can head home must be the big bucks they get why play like you mean it

  • Mooseroni

    Canucks are pathetic in the “fast” 3-3 for a reason…..

    Twins and Edler or Twins and Hamhuis. Edler was pressing to make something happen and something did. WD needs to make different combos of skill and speed or I literally could see a 15+ OT loss record. The coach and players have no idea what to do and leave points on the ice.

    Get it together

    • Mooseroni

      Let’s face it, Hamhuis should be in the dressing room by the time overtime starts. There is just no way he is anywhere near fast enough to keep up the opposition. We will be lucky to get a second round pick for him at the deadline.