Every NHL team will play 82 games over the course of the 2011-12 season. The NHL tries to make it as fair as possible, so that no team has an advantage. Since Winnipeg remains in the Southeast, the Panthers won’t have it easier than last season. On the other hand, It won’t be much worse. The real story, revolves around several pivotal back-to-back games, that may have a result in the Eastern Conference standings when the regular season wraps up.
The first of the back-to-backs, and the impact they can have, have already been seen. This past Monday against the Lightning in Tampa, and then the following trip to Washington on Tuesday. The seven goal explosion at the St. Pete Times Forum, led by the Panther Power Play, garnered a little national attention; with the Panthers appearing on a certain popular sports program the following morning. The Panthers, playing their first back-to-back series of the season, did not fare well against an undefeated Capitals team that was well rested.
Rest wasn’t the only issue in the game in Washington, but it factored in. Throughout the rest of the season, there are 9 more instances for a total of 18 games, all of which will be opportunities to earn points. More importantly, there are opportunities to keep Southeast division foes from getting any points at all.
On Friday, November 25th, the Panthers welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning back into the BankAtlantic Center, the next day, both teams meet again at the St. Pete Times Forum. Sound familiar? These rivalry home-and-home games have important implications. The Panthers have an opportunity to earn two points, while leaving the Lightning pointless. This was a problem with the win this past Saturday the 15th. The Panthers won the game, but had the lead with only a few minutes in the third period. Had they won in regulation, the Panthers would have gained a full two points in the standings over Tampa. By allowing the Lightning to earn a point by reaching overtime, the result is only a difference of one point. Unfortunately, any team can miss the playoffs by just one point; the Panthers have been victim to this before.
On Thursday, December 8th, the Panthers travel to Boston’s TD Garden to face the Bruins at 7pm. The following day, the Panthers arrive on the ice in Buffalo to play the Sabres. While the travel distance is not great, there will only be 20 hours between Florida’s departure from Boston and the puck drop in Buffalo. This does not include a pre-game skate or warm ups. Those 20 hours must also include sleep for the players. If that isn’t enough difficulty, both of these teams are Eastern Conference foes and the opportunity to take two points and leave them with none, is too great to miss out on.
On Thursday, December 22nd, the Florida Panthers will visit Ottawa for a game against the Senators. They must face the Bruins the next day at the TD Garden. While again, the distance is not great, there will not be much time to recover. The Ottawa game could go into overtime, which as stated above could be a good thing, or a bad thing. The point is, however, whether or not the Panthers will be fresh enough to challenge last season’s Eastern Conference Champions. These back-to-back games also have a large question mark over them regarding who will get the start in goal. Does Kevin Dineen give Jose Theodore the job for both games? Or does Dineen split the roles with the backup netminder?
On Thursday (see a pattern here). January 5th, the Panthers will find themselves in New York City. The Rangers will be fresh off their 2012 Winter Classic match up with the Philadelphia Flyers on New Years Day. The Panthers play in New Jersey the following day. This may not represent a long travel distance, but it does leave just around 20 hours from the end of the Rangers game to puck drop on Friday against the Devils.
On Friday, January 20th, the Panthers will be in another large American city to face the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Blackhawks are a Western Conference team, there will still be 2 full points up for grabs. The real challenge will be the following day in Winnipeg, facing the Southeast division Jets.
The Jets will fly down to South Florida to take on the Panthers on Friday, February 3rd. Then the Panthers will fly on a very short flight to Tampa to face the Lightning on Saturday. This is could be very important at this point in the season, depending on how the Southeast Division has shaped up.
Every one of these back-to-back match ups involves an away game, none of the back-to-back series feature two games at the BankAtlantic Center. Two away games will take place in New Jersey and then on Long Island, respectively, the weekend of the 11th and 12th of February 2012. They will be challenging games, but a new factor will make it difficult on the Panthers. The games are scheduled at 1pm in New Jersey, and 3pm on Long Island against the Islanders. It isn’t a major factor, but it is a variation on what the team is accustomed to.
On Saturday, February 25th, the Panthers will take on the Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina. The following day, the Panthers are back in South Florida to face the Montreal Canadiens. The flight from Raleigh won’t be abnormally long, but compared to the short flight to Tampa, this is much longer. With the same amount of time between leaving the ice on Saturday and puck drop on Sunday.
The final back-to-back game the Panthers will have during the 2011-12 season, will start in Minnesota against the Wild, on Thursday, March 29th. On Friday, the Panthers will wake up in Columbus, Ohio and play the Blue Jackets. These Western Conference teams represent a chance to pick up 4 points that will be needed at this point in the season to secure a playoff spot.
As far as long travel between games, the schedule usually provides sufficient time, often in the form of an extra day for travel. One of these days will be on December 4th. On December 3rd, the Panthers will be in San Jose, California to play the Sharks. The Panthers will welcome the Washington Capitals to the BankAtlantic Center on December 5th. The travel distance is roughly 3,000 miles.
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Topics: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Kevin Dineen, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Playoffs, Power Play, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Td Garden, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets