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The dog days

by Dave Tomlinson / Vancouver Canucks
Usually when the NHL schedule comes out in June, most players look to see when the first game of the season is and who it’s against, how long their Christmas and All-Star breaks will be, and then what day the regular season ends.

For those that have changed teams in the offseason, the next thing they’ll look for is when they’ll play their old team, or perhaps when they play in their hometown. Not many players analyze the schedule to look for the tough stretches.

More ABOUT TOMLINSON

Dave Tomlinson, radio Colour Commentator for the Vancouver Canucks, and analyst of all things hockey.

Follow Tomlinson on Twitter at @DTeam1040

If Canuck players did do that, they would realize that they are smack-dab in the middle of an important stretch of hockey that could solidify their playoff hopes, or make them tougher to achieve. Most hockey people identify the games post-Christmas to the All-Star break as the “dog days” of the year, where games meld into one another, and a glance at the games played column still shows half a season to go. It’s at precisely this time where the top teams make their move and the teams with no hope of making the playoffs realize they are in the midst of a lost year. The teams in the middle, where the Canucks find themselves at the moment, have to really sharpen their focus and make the most of games against teams first within their division and also their conference.

The Canucks have an all-important five game homestand on the horizon and then a five-game road trip before catching their breath again during the All-Star break late January. With only three of those ten games against teams within their conference, the chance to take points directly from opponents you are battling for a playoff spot with becomes harder. Add in that the Canucks will be very near full health with Zack Kassian returning and the time to make a move in the standings is right now.

There is an argument to be made that with the next handful of games featuring many top teams from the East, the Canucks are entering their toughest mental challenge of the year. That is, to stay sharp and focused throughout the following games even though they seemingly have many games ahead of them post All-Star break to gain ground in the standings. History has shown that the closer the league gets to the end of the regular season, the more games go to extra time and more points are handed out, making it tougher to move up when behind other teams.

Strangely, as of this writing, the Canucks have the exact same amount of points (43) this far in the season as they did last year with the same amount of games played (35). The biggest question is whether they can avoid the same fate they suffered last year in failing to pick up points during this part of the schedule, the “dog days”, and can instead bank points so that that the home stretch in March and April is less about taxing your top players every night and more about sticking to the game plan of spreading out ice time so that the team is as fresh as they can be for post-season play.

The Canucks can do themselves a big favour by approaching the next group of games as season defining, and take on the challenge of learning from last year’s downfall, for if they do, they can avoid playing catch-up in the standings at a time where three point games will soon become the norm.

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