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Player Fatigue And The ’11-’12 Schedule – Back East


There are only a few weeks to go until the ’11-’12 NHL season starts. Pre-season is in full swing. And there are less than a handful of holdouts as everyone wants to get on the ice.

So it is time to have a look at next season’s schedules. How difficult are they and where might you have an indication of when your team may struggle? More precisely for this blog, where will they be hit with the Fatigue Difficulty Factor (FDF) in the Eastern Conference this season and how will likely winning or losing trends come into play? (When we mention ‘trends,’ we are referring to our Winning Hockey Trends blog at http://ongoalanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/winning-hockey-trends/ .)

What The Heck’s An FDF?

The FDF, particularly as the season moves on into the later stages, is a calculation expressing the potential for fatigue to take its toll on the team ‘W’ column, thus increasing the dreaded ‘L’ entry instead. Here’s the simple math:

- Number of Black and Blue (B&B) schedule – home-and-away pairs of – games:

B&B games are the only calculation to carry a +1 FDF factor. This is because second consecutive games with the same opponent end in a one-goal win approximately 50% of the time and with the opposite team winning Game 2 in about 40% of contests. The level of competition in these pairs of games thus creates a positive FDF factor.

- Average number of days between games:

Any five-game stretches below the team’s average days-between-games equals a potential ‘L’ in that period or a –1 FDF factor. (The two five-gamers combine for a 10-game FDF rating.) This is because less days between games equals less player recuperation time. In the Eastern Conference this season, the average is 2.25 days between games.

- Number of back-to-back (B2B) games:

B2B games against different teams equals a -1 FDF factor. This is an additional negative FDF factor because it magnifies a lack of players’ recuperation time. And unlike the B&B pair, there is no history upon which players can feed to increase the compete level for the second game. Think here you were in a back alley brawl last night, went to bed with some ice on your bumps and bruises and woke up to get mugged again the next evening. The Eastern team average is 14.533 B2B’s per team with a range from 10 for TBL to 21 for BUF.

- Any stretch where the team returns from two or more games at least two time zones away:

The two time zones away rule nets a –1 FDF factor as well. This is because studies show traveling people have natural, physical issues readjusting to their normal time zone, most especially when traveling from west to east.

These factors combine for an average Eastern Conference schedule FDF rating of –15.4 (or 15.4 games lost) with 5.8 negative, 10-game periods per team in the Eastern Conference. Now we know teams will lose more games than this average indicates.

Since the Lockout they have averaged dropping 36.11 games per team, per season. (The range has been a low of only 21.5 for the ‘09-‘10 Capitals to a high of 54 for the ‘06-‘07 Flyers.) And it is important to note
for teams who finished the season in the East’s Top 8 lose an average of about four games in 10. But the calculations below stand as at least a partial explanation of why and when teams may lose and, conversely, also indicate where teams can excel along next season’s schedule.

How does your favorite team fair?

Stacking Up The FDF

Below we show you each team’s FDF ranking in 10-game increments through Game 70 and for the final 12 games at the end. We also give you the positive B&B schedule FDF before we summarize the team’s
performance in terms of fatigue. So in order from easiest to most difficult, here are the 15 Eastern Conference teams’ FDF analyses:

1. Tampa Bay has an FDF rating of –8.  By 10 game groupings, here are the Lightning’s ratings:

10: +1    20: –3   30: –1    40: –2    50: +4   60: –4    70: –4    82: –2

On the positive side, Tampa Bay has three B&B pairs to add a positive FDF: FLA and BUF (Game 1 – 10); and FLA again (Game 29 – 30).

What can Tampa Bay fans expect from the above FDF’s? In basic terms, the Lightning should start better than average through Game 10 and end Game 20 near the middle of the Eastern Conference pack in terms of performance against fatigue. With some perseverance, they can kick their winning ways into gear from Game 21 through 50 just about like they did last season. They will have to hold their own for Games 51 – 70 and protect early wins to close out the regular season with a playoffs bid. Note too, that the
Lightning project a negative wins trend this season. This they must overcome facing that –8 FDF rating in February before their final 12 games provide some relief.

2. New Jersey has a –10 FDF rating for this upcoming season:

10: +2   20: –3    30: –3    40: 0   50: +2    60: –2    70: –4   82: –2

On the positive side of things, the Devils sport four B&B pairs: WSH (Game 11 – 20); NYI (Game 21 – 30);  and two, back-to-back, B&B pairs versus NYI again and PHI (Game 61 – 70).

New Jersey’s positive rating for Games 1 – 10 should see them kickoff the season much better than they did last year. This is a good thing for last season’s Eastern annually imploding team and should equate to a return to respectability. (PIT, PHI, BUF, OTT, CAR and NJD in succession lost an average of eight games in one season from their previous season’s performance.) They also look to break even for Games 31 – 40 and hit another positive stretch in Games 41 – 50 for a January/February boost in the standings.
All other 10 game furlongs carry a negative rating although none are worse than a –4. Add to the mix the Devils are trending toward positive wins this season and fans may just be able to wipe last season from their memory.

3. Florida has a –11 FDF:

10: 0    20: +1    30: –2   40: +1    50: +3    60: –3   70: –6    82: –5

The Panthers get an extra adrenaline rush from two B&B pairs, both against in-state rival TBL (Game 11 – 20 and 31 – 40).

Through Game 50, Florida has only one negative FDF period. That sounds like a good time to store up the W’s for the season. They have to exploit those wins, however, as their last 30 games are much more difficult. In particular, the last 22 are the worst and have the FDF ability to surpass average losses for teams who still make the playoffs. This is where veterans acquired by the team in an active free agency period need to come to the forefront and win games that otherwise contain little recuperation time and require more mental toughness. It looks like facing this finish they are due for their upward winning trend just in time.

4. Toronto follows with a –12:

10: 0    20: –3    30: –1    40: –2   50: +4    60: –4   70: –4    82: –2

The Leafs share with NYI a League-high five B&B pairs of games this coming season: BOS (Game 21 – 30); BUF (Game 31 – 40); NYI (Game 41 – 50); PIT (Game 51 – 60); and BUF again (Game 71 – 82).

Each of the last four seasons, the Maple Leafs found themselves out of the playoff hunt by On Goal Analysis’ (OGA’s) standards at the Game 45 mark. That may very well not be the case this year. In practical terms, they have a favorable schedule to Game 50 which Toronto fans should be looking for them to exploit. And while Games 51 through 70 hold a combined FDF rating of  –8 (or eight potential fatigue losses in 20 games), if the Leafs need a strong finish, they only have a –2 rating closing out their last 12 games which only six other Eastern teams can tie or beat. This schedule coupled with the Toronto’s trending positive wins again this season should provide justification for optimism in Toronto this year.

5. Philadelphia holds a –13 FDF:

10: –2    20: –1    30: –3   40: 0    50: +1    60: –4    70: –2   82: –2

The Flyers have two B&B pairs of games: OTT (Game 31 – 40) and NJD (Game 61 – 70).

PHI is in the low negative ratings for all but Games 21 – 30 and 51 – 60. Their –2 FDFs are lower than or equal to 10 Eastern teams in the Game 61 – 70 stretch and for an additional 11 more teams to close out the final 12 games of the season. As long as they do not experience a nasty losing streak like the last two years when they dropped eight of their final 12, they should be in good shape heading into the playoffs bolstered by a positive winning trend they carry this season.

6. Both Pittsburgh and Washington sport –14 ratings. For the Penguins, their breakdown looks like this:

10: –8    20: +3    30: –2   40: +2    50: –1    60: –2   70: 0    82: –6

Positively assisting the Penguins this season are three B&B pairs: NYI (Game 11 – 20); TOR (Game 51 – 60); and again versus the NYI (Game 71 – 82).

Positives aside, you cannot help but notice Games 1 – 10 are brutal. With Crosby most likely out, the Pens may have to kick off the first 10 games in a panic (or as we say under fire in the Army, with a purpose) to win. Get through October and they have the potential to rebound quite nicely, thank you.
And then for good measure, the Game 71 – 82 stretch holds an FDF of –6, the highest close-out deficit in the East along with BOS and WPG. The bookends do not look inviting here, and the Pens also fight a battle with a likely negative wins trend. Team motivation and perseverance needs to be present to succeed here.

Washington’s –14 falls out like this:

10: +1    20: 0   30: –1    40: –1    50: –2   60: –4    70: –4    82: –3

The Capitals have only one B&B pair against NJD (Game 11 – 20).

While Washington’s overall average is the same as Pittsburgh, the effect is not as concentrated as the Penguins’ opening and closing periods. The Caps should benefit with a less fatiguing first 20 games, likely
landing OGA’s ‘Chasing Stanley’ call – or in the 2012 playoffs – by Game 20 as they have over the last three consecutive seasons.  And they can continue to reap the benefits of a less fatiguing schedule through Game 50. But unless they are on fire as they were two seasons ago, they will play about average from Game 51 – 70 and close out the season with at least three fatigue losses. They also bear a negative wins trend again this season and cannot afford the seven game drop-off they experienced from ’09-’10 to ’10-’11 or they will inexplicably miss the playoffs this season.

8. Montreal and the New York Islanders are next with a –15 rating and are the last falling under the Eastern Conference FDF average this season. The Canadiens FDF looks like this:

10: –2     20: –2   30: –4    40: 0    50: +2    60: –2    70: –4   82: –2

Montreal only has two B&B pairs of games: BOS (Game 11 – 20); and OTT (Game 71 – 82).

Since the Lockout, the Canadiens have met criteria for OGA’s call of Chasing Stanley by Game 20 every season except ‘09-‘10. That will be a bit more difficult this year with four games likely lost to fatigue by Game 20, another four by Game 30 and untold other, normal loses that occur because a team sometimes just gets outplayed by the competition. Games 40 through 60 are more favorable and chronologically fall in a more traditional period of team success. And while their Game 61 – 70 stretch is tough, they finish with a more advantageous –2 FDF in their final 12 games. Couple all of this with the fact the Habs trend positively in wins this season and you have a Montreal team that stands a good chance of returning to the playoffs.

Here is the FDF breakdown for the NYI:

10: +2     20: –2   30: –1    40: –4    50: +1    60: –8    70: –2   82: –1

The Islanders share that League-high five B&B schedule pairs: PIT (Game 1 – 10); NJD (Game 21 – 30); TOR (Game 41 – 50); NJD again (Game 61 – 70); and once more with PIT (Game 71 – 82).

The Islanders have met Tee Time criteria – out of the playoffs – by Game 35 over each of the last three seasons. Their relatively beneficial schedule through Game 30 gives them a chance to change that trend. Game 31 – 40, and especially Game 51 – 60, are among the most fatiguing in the NHL, however, so the team needs a sturdy starting set of wins. If they can hold on through then, and are not affected by their projected negative wins trend, their final 22 games could potentially be cause for their training camp optimism you currently hear in the media.

10. Ottawa, in the middle of a rebuilding year, sits just over the average Eastern Conference schedule
FDF at a –16:

10: –2     20: –4    30: –2   40: –2    50: –3    60: –2   70: 0    82: –1

The Senators sport two B&B schedule pairings: PHI (Game 41 – 50); and MTL (Game 71 – 82).

Could it be the scheduling God’s took pity on this rebuilding team? As you can see above, this type of FDF is more favorable for an even playing rhythm. The last two measurable periods also swing in the
Senators’ favor. So early, character play to hold their own, coupled with a combined –1 FDF over the last 22 games when the Eastern average is a –4.53, may bode well for the young team despite an expected negative wins trend this season.

11. Boston and the New York Rangers are next, both with a –18.

The Bruins FDF looks like this:

10: +1     20: +2    30: –3   40: +1    50: –2   60: –5    70: –6    82: –6

As with OTT, the Bruins have two B&B schedule pairs: MTL (Game 1 – 10); and TOR (Game 21 – 30).

As if there was a plan to fight the post-Stanley Cup hangover imbedded in this schedule, Boston begins the season with positive FDF ratings in three of its first four 10-game periods and a generally favorable
first 50 games. This should allow some momentum to build in conjunction with their projected positive winning trend. They need this energy, however, to overcome the battle they face in their final 30 games, the most difficult in terms of FDF for any Eastern team. The NHL giveth, and also taketh away…

The Rangers’ FDF is the following:

10: 0     20: +1    30: –3   40: –1    50: –1    60: –4   70: –5    82: –5

The Rangers are one of a handful of NHL teams with no B&B schedule pairs of games this season.

New York’s schedule is favorable through Game 20, a mark by which they earned OGA’s call of Chasing Stanley three of five times since the Lockout. But their combined –14 from Game 51 through season’s end stands as the second most difficult FDF over that span after BOS’. So look for the character Rangers show in close games through Game 50 as a potential measure of their performance over the final 32. They need that temperament and the ability to exploit a projected positive wins trend to close out the regular season in playoff position.

13. Buffalo has a –21 with negative FDFs in every 10-game furlong.

10: –2     20: –4    30: –2  40: –1    50: –1    60: –4   70: –6    82: –1

Buffalo’s positive relief this season comes in the form of three B&B schedule pairs: TBL (Game 1 – 10); and TOR twice (Game 41 – 50 and Game 71 – 82 periods).

The Sabres’ FDF with zero positive rankings will try the team’s character and fans’ patience in the hunt for a playoff position. Their negative FDFs, however, are in large measure due to the fact they play more
than half of their games as back-to-back pairs this season. For example, their –4 or better FDFs in the Game 11 – 20, 51 – 60 and 61 – 70 periods are directly related to six of 10 games played in back-to-back fashion each period. (Can you say Ryan Miller will play a less games this season than in previous years?) Buffalo’s only consolation is sharing the lowest FDF rating in the Conference over their final 12 games with NYI and OTT. They still need to overcome an anticipated negative wins trend, however, as two additional losses may see them out on the Back Nine instead of on the ice by mid-April.

14. Carolina comes in with a difficult –22 rating:

10: –4     20: –3    30: –5    40: –1   50: –4    60: +2    70: –2   82: –5

The Hurricanes have no B&B pairs to offset their FDF.

Carolina holds the second most difficult FDF in the East and is more taxing than all but one Western team to boot. The Canes have averaged 15.833 wins in their first 30 games annually since the Lockout. Their FDF this season indicates a possibility of losing 12 games based solely on fatigue, so fans should not get too excited seeing more of the same. But if: they are closer to 12 losses than 15 by Game 30; build momentum in the Game 31 – 40 and Game 51 – 60 periods when their schedule is favorable; and overcome their tie with FLA and NYR for the second most difficult final 12 games of the season, they might just make it into the playoffs. Their expected positive wins trend only requires about two-to-three more victories than last season for that to be so. But make no mistake – this will have to be a character season for the ‘Canes to play past early April.

15. Finally, Winnipeg, already feeling the effects of off-season relocation, has the most difficult schedule of any team back East. As a matter of fact, theirs is the most difficult in the League this season with an FDF rating of –24:

10: –3     20: –3    30: –1   40: –2    50: –7    60: –4   70: +2    82: –6

The Jets have no B&B pairs to bolster their play.

While Winnipeg ‘only’ sports a –9 FDF through Game 40, they catch up to CAR’s negative rankings with a whopping –7 in the Game 41 – 50 period due to average days between games, two back-to-back pairs, and two road trips to and from the East coast. Games 61 – 70 are favorable and needed to pad the teams’ ‘W’ column. But WPG faces an East-most-difficult –6 FDF to close out the season. Pile on top of it all a projected second straight negative wins trend and this might be a long season for the Jets. While we hate to say ‘…Wait until next year…’ a schedule realigned in the Western Conference cannot help but
improve their 2012-13 FDF.

Summary

The potential ups and downs:

October Ups: BOS, NJD, NYI, TBL and WSH; October Downs: CAR and PIT

November Ups: BOS, FLA, NYR, PIT and TBL; November Downs: BUF and OTT

November/December Ups: None; November/December Downs: CAR and MTL

December Ups: BOS, FLA, PIT and TBL; December Downs: NYI

January Ups: FLA, MTL, NJD, NYI, PHI and TOR; January Downs:CAR and WPG

February Ups: CAR; February Downs: BOS, BUF, MTL, NYI, NYR, PHI, TOR, WSH and WPG

March Ups: WPG; March Downs: BOS, BUF, FLA, NJD, NYR, PHI, TOR and WSH

March/April Ups: None; March/April Downs: BOS, CAR, FLA, MTL, NYR, PIT, TBL and WSH

The biggest question in looking at Eastern teams’ schedules is who can exploit their positive FDF rankings and hold their own when the going gets tough? The answers are coming soon as the Eastern Conference teams jump over the boards for a chance to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Our next blog analyzes the Western Conference’s FDF’s…

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