After the players ratified the new CBA early Saturday morning and after the two sides drafted the Memorandum of Understanding, the NHL finally released the schedule for the 2013 season. The schedule can be found here. After going through the schedule with a fine toothed comb, here are some things that caught my attention.
* The Panthers play Carolina and Washington four times a piece while they play Winnipeg and Tampa Bay five times a piece. With every point being so important in the shortened season, which divisional rivals the Panthers play in that extra game could play a part in deciding the Panthers playoff fate. I think the Panthers got a best case scenario by drawing the Jets and the Lightning five times while the Hurricanes and the Capitals only four. All the teams in the Southeast division finished last season within twelve points of each other. That is a pretty small margin and it reflects that all the teams in the Panthers division are relatively equal. Because of the general equality in the Southeast, it may not even matter who plays who however many times, but with the improvements the Carolina Hurricanes made this off-season and the Washington Capitals always being a tough out, it probably behooves the Panthers to only play them four times.
* In the NBA, players always talk about “schedule losses”. These are games where teams play a four game in a five night span and are completely gassed making the games almost impossible to win. In the NHL the closest thing to a “schedule loss” would be teams playing on back-to-back nights. Last season the Panthers played thirteen back-to-backs winning four of those games while losing nine. While there are many factors that could be in play here, it cannot be denied that playing two games in two days is physically taxing to players thus making the second game harder to win. This year the Panthers play six back-to-backs, four of which involve two road games in two different cities. Because of the league trying to squeeze a lot of games into a short amount of time, every team will have to deal with playing a lot of games in a short amount of time. How the Panthers deal will be key to their success or failure this year.
* There will be a lot of talk about squeezing games into a short time frame. (see above point which I am about to discredit) It may not be as big a factor as many will make it out to be. Last year the Panther’s 82 game regular season stretched over 182 games, thats .450 games/day. This year the Panthers will play 48 games in 99 days which is .484 games/day. The difference is an extra .034 games/day or in other words, every 29.4 days, the Panthers will have played an extra game. This shows that this seasons schedule is very similar in pacing to regular 82 game schedules. What should cause the most problems for players will not be too many games in a short amount of time but rather the short, 7-day training camps. With no pre-season games and only a week to prepare for the season, some players may not be in game shape by the time the games start. Trying to play at full speed before players are ready could result in injuries, especially in older players.
*Travel is always an issue with NHL teams and especially for Southeast division teams due to having to make numerous trips to Winnipeg, a decidedly un-geographically southeast team playing in the Southeast division. The Panthers have to play the Jets five times this year but only twice in Winnipeg. They play the Lightning five times as well twice at home and three times in Tampa Bay. The trip from South Florida to Tampa is just a tiny bit easier than the trip to Winnipeg so having that extra road game fall in Tampa and not Winnipeg is a positive for the Panthers.
January 19th Florida Panthers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
This will be the start of the 2013 season for both teams so it has obvious importance for both teams. It will be Panthers fans’ first chance to see how this years team will play. Win or lose (hopefully win) it should be a memorable night for Panther fans as the game will be at the BB&T Center where the team will be commemorating the success of last season by raising their first ever Southeast Division Champs banner. It should be a fun night and a joyous occasion. Having hockey back after such a grueling lockout is exciting for players and fans alike. January 19th cannot come soon enough!
February 9th Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals
From February 3-9 the Panthers play a grueling road stretch. They go from Buffalo to Winnipeg to Philly to finally ending the trip in Washington. This stretch should be telling as we should know a lot more about this Panthers team after their game against the Caps in Washington on 9th. It says a lot about a team if they can fight through long road trips and come out with wins. This stretch ending in Washington will be a big litmus test for the team. The season will be reaching the quarter point so teams should be rounding into shape. Going .500 or better on this Feb 3-9 trip would be huge for the Panthers and capping it off (sorry) with a win in Washington would bode well for the rest of the season.
March 30th Florida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils
This is a classic revenge game. March 30th will be the first time the Devils return to South Florida since their double OT win in game 7 of last year’s playoffs. While the players will probably say this game is just another game, chances are they would love to beat the Devils in front of the Florida fans. One thing is for sure, the fans will not have forgotten last years loss and this should be a rowdy affair in South Florida.