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A close look at the Canucks’ remaining schedule and how it will benefit them down the stretch run

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
30 days ago
It’s all come down to this.
The 2023/24 regular season started in October, and has been running through the last six months. A lot has happened in that time, including far more wins for the Vancouver Canucks than anyone would have reasonably expected heading into the campaign.
Now, we’re about a month away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Canucks have all but sealed up their berth. All that separates them from the postseason is the stretch run, which might not feel all that dramatic with Vancouver already at the top of their divisional and conference standings, but will be an important segment of the year all the same.
Fortunately, it’s also a section of the schedule that holds some particular benefits for the Canucks that the rest of 2023/24’s schedule simply has not.
By now, you’ve no doubt heard some talk that the Canucks’ final month schedule is “easier” than what they’d faced already. Today, we decided to put some numbers to that notion.
As of this Wednesday morning writing, the Canucks are set to face the Colorado Avalanche in their 67th game of the season. Including that one, it’s 16 games left from here on out over the course of the next 37 days.
And that’s not even counting the three days off the Canucks just enjoyed following their 5-0 thumping of Winnipeg.
For those not willing to do the math at home, that’s an average of one game every 2.31 days. Or, if we start our count with the three off-days, it’s one game every 2.5 days. Which, to the average citizen, is still an awful lot of hockey. But for the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a reprieve.
Prior to this break in the schedule, the Canucks had played 66 games across 150 calendar days for an average of one game every 2.27 days.
Now, that might not sound like a big discrepancy, but keep in mind that we haven’t factored into consideration the large gaps in the schedule at Christmas and then for the All-Star Game, which might be days off, but aren’t off-days in the traditional hockey sense.
Take those four- and nine-day breaks out of the equation, and it was 66 games across 137 active calendar days for an average of one game every 2.08 days.
To place that into the proper context, that means that for the remainder of their schedule, the Canucks are playing slightly less frequently than they did for the rest of the year, even including their scheduled breaks into the math. In a practical sense, they’ve gained almost an average of a half day-off in between their games from here on out.
And that matters.
Some folks might find it a bit cheesy that we’ve simply cut holidays and All-Star breaks out of our math, but there’s a reason for that. As we hinted at earlier, in hockey, days off and off-days are not exactly the same thing. The key word here, as it once was for Allen Iverson, is practice.
Teams don’t practice over the holidays, and they don’t practice much or at all over the All-Star break.
But for the next month, the Canucks are going to practice.
They’re just coming off a three-day break at home. After the Colorado game, they’ve got two days off at home, then it’s Washington on Saturday, then two days off at home, then it’s Buffalo…
The rest of the month of March features nine more games, all at home. In between those games, the Canucks have three days off once, two days off four times, and one day off just thrice.
There are no back-to-backs.
That trend continues into April. The Canucks have one back-to-back to open up that month, then three more two-day gaps, two of them at home, and three more one-day gaps to close out the year.
It’s a lot of potential practice time, if head coach Rick Tocchet and Co. want it. And we’ve got a feeling that they do.
Compare that to earlier in the year. The Canucks had back-to-backs in every month prior to February, and three in December alone.
Of course, frequency of play is not the only factor at play with a schedule. The strength of competition matters, too.
The website Tankathon has the Canucks’ remaining strength of schedule (a number cobbled together by the average point-percentage of their remaining opponents) at .551, which is good for the 18th-hardest in the league, or right around the middle.
Prior to now, the Canucks had had about the 20th-hardest schedule in the league, so even by that measure, things are at most getting slightly harder from here on out.
But keep in mind also that a large portion of the “difficulty” in the Canucks remaining schedule lies in the large number of intra-divisional games left. It’s 8/16 remaining games against the Pacific, including two more matchups each with the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings and one more against the Edmonton Oilers.
It’s also 13/16 games against Western Conference opponents, including a game each against top contenders Colorado, Dallas, and Winnipeg.
Those should all be difficult games. They sound like they should really add up to being more than the 18th-toughest remaining schedule in the NHL.
But regardless, it’s still a schedule that should hold benefits for the Canucks.
There’s the aspect of “gearing up” for the playoffs, and the obvious role that a bunch of games against likely playoff opponents can play in that.
There’s the notion of “four-point games” in which the Canucks can wield an abundance of control over the Pacific Division standings, not that that’s a major priority with a ten-point lead over the field.
There’s the distinct lack of travel that will be entailed. All of those Eastern Conference matchups are home games. The furthest away the Canucks have to go now is a quick back-to-back trip to Vegas and Arizona.
How often can this franchise be said to hold a light travel schedule for any segment of any season?
A lack of travel increases practice time, decreases injury recovery time, and no doubt hold many direct benefits to mood and mental health.
And, hey, aside from being good prep for the playoffs, more games inside the division are just fine with the Canucks, who hold a 12-6-0 record against Pacific opponents this season, and a 23-11-3 record against Western opponents in general.
It all adds up to the final month of the season being a favourable one for the Canucks. Which is not to say that they won’t have to work for it, or that any of them will be looking at the stretch-run as anything resembling a vacation.
It’s just a little more room for optimism in a season that have already proven incredibly optimism-rich.

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