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End of the Road

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
The end is in sight and the odyssey is almost over. When the Canucks travel from San Jose to Edmonton on Friday, it’ll mark the sixth time in the past 14 days they’ve boarded an airplane and Friday night will be the seventh night in the past two weeks that they’ve spent outside their time zone.

By contrast, when the New Jersey Devils come to visit on Tuesday night – get this – it’ll be the first time the Devs have been forced to leave the Eastern time zone in more than a year. The last time New Jersey had to deal with any sort of significant travel was the long flight home following a 3-2 shootout loss in Los Angeles on November 27, 2006.

The Devils played their final 59 regular season games last year, 11 playoff games and their first 33 games of this season ALL in the eastern time zone. That’s 103 consecutive contests (relatively) close to home while the Canucks regularly deal with the rigours of life in an isolated outpost on the West Coast of Canada.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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In the 13 months since the Devils last flew cross-continent, the Canucks have played 10 games in the Eastern time zone (on three separate road trips), 13 games in the Central time zone and Saturday’s game against the Oilers will mark the Canucks’ 14th game in the Mountain Time Zone since the start of last December.

Included in that was the seven game playoff series with Dallas last spring that not only involved the maximum seven games (three of which went to overtime), but also four separate flights on days between games and a fifth flight to Anaheim to open the second round of the playoffs on two days rest.

  Look, the Canucks aren’t looking for pity. Based on geography, they’ve always had a tough go of it when it comes to travel in the National Hockey League. But eight games in eight different cities in the span of 14 nights is something teams in the east just don’t have to deal with.

To be fair, it’s important to point out that the Devils started the year on a nine-game road trip while they waited for their new building to be completed in Newark. However after a couple of visits to Florida and games in Tampa Bay and Atlanta, the back half of the ‘road trip’ included games in nearby Manhattan against the Rangers, Uniondale against the Islanders and quick visits to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. And clearly, with a 3-5-1 record, the Devils didn’t find the travel much to their liking.

The Canucks have been here, there and everywhere in the past two weeks and despite the travel, the injuries and the overall wear and tear on the hockey club, they’ve managed to keep their heads above water and maintain their hold on top spot in the Northwest Division.  They should get Ryan Kesler back in the line-up against the Oilers and there remains a distant hope that Roberto Luongo could get back in uniform, too. And certainly that would help the Canucks cause.

Regardless who’s available to them, the team simply has to find a way to generate more than it has over the past four periods. In the third period in Anaheim, the Canucks were outshot 16-1 by the Ducks and Thursday in San Jose the Canucks mustered just 17 shots on goal all night.

If the Canucks can lay it on the line on Saturday and find the will to win, they will finish up the toughest portion of their schedule with a record of 4-3-1. That would be pretty impressive stuff for a team that has barely tasted home cooking in two weeks.

After Saturday, the Canucks are home for – gasp -- a pair of games starting with New Jersey on Tuesday. That is, if the Devils can find their way to Vancouver.
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