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Home not necessarily sweet for weary travelers

by John Kreiser /

As the hockey season has unfolded, the odds are not in favor of the Colorado Avalanche winning their
first home game after coming off a long road trip.
The Colorado Avalanche host Chicago on Friday night in their first game back after a five-game road trip. No doubt, the Avs are glad to be home, though that happiness may not be reflected on the scoreboard.

The Avs are the 22nd team this season to come home after a road trip of five or more games (Dallas will be the 23rd, on Saturday night), and thus far, the first game back after the trip hasn’t been too successful — just ask the New York Islanders, who lost 3-1 at home Tuesday in their return after a five-game trip. Of the first 21, only nine have won in their first game back; nine others have lost in regulation and three in overtime or shootouts. That’s a .429 winning percentage in a league where home teams are playing .537 hockey in all other games.

The length of the trip hasn’t appeared to matter. The 11 teams that came home after five-game trips are 5-5-1; they’re 2-2-2 after six-game trips, 1-1-0 after seven and 1-1-0 after trips of more than seven games.

Not even Detroit’s status as the NHL’s best team made a difference. The Wings came home from a five-game trip to play St. Louis on New Year’s Eve and were shut out for the first time this season.

This season’s results aren’t too far off from 2006-07, when teams returning after trips of five or more games went 17-12-5.

The outlier to this theory came in 2005-06, when teams coming home after a long trip were 25-7-6, a .658 winning percentage. Home teams posted a .572 winning percentage in all other games.

On schedule -- Not everyone has to worry about coming back from really long trips. Four teams, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Vancouver don’t have a trip longer than four games this season. The Rangers are living a charmed life when it comes to long trips: They are the only team that hasn’t had a five-game trip in 2006-07 or 2007-08, and have had just one in the last four seasons, fewer than any other team.

In contrast, both Boston and Carolina have three trips of five games or more this season, as did Chicago and Edmonton in 2006-07. Since play resumed after the lockout, the 2005-06 Calgary Flames may have had the most unpleasant schedule -- they had to cope with four trips of five or more games, including a late-season seven-gamer (they won their first game back after that one).

A night to forget -- The Detroit Red Wings can be consoled by the fact that even good teams have bad nights — and the Wings have fewer than just about anyone else. Detroit’s 5-1 home loss to Atlanta was the Wings’ worst loss at Joe Louis Arena since a 6-1 victory by Chicago on Nov. 3, 2000; it was the first time in 262 home games that Detroit lost by more than three goals.

It was also just the second time this season the Wings lost by three or more goals, the lowest total in the NHL. The other was a 6-3 loss at Anaheim on Oct. 15, a game in which the final goal was scored into an empty net. Detroit’s two losses by three or more goals are the fewest in the NHL; the Wings’ 15 wins in those games is tops in the League.

The Wings’ 3-2 shootout win against Vancouver on Thursday did extend one streak: The Wings have now gone 92 straight home games without consecutive losses in regulation.

The streak continues -- One of the NHL’s longest streaks is safe for another season. The Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers split their four games (each team won twice on the road), but the Rangers scored in all four games, extending their non-shutout streak to 159 regular-season games (plus six in the 1971 Playoffs). Toronto hasn’t blanked the Rangers since Feb. 15, 1967, when they beat New York 6-0 at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs haven’t had a shutout in the current Madison Square Garden; their last one in New York was Jan. 10, 1965, when they won 6-0. Since then, the Rangers have had the only nine shutouts in the series.

Ready, aim, fire -- Luckily for the Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin isn’t getting paid by the shot — because there’s no one in the NHL who loves to shoot as much as he does. Not only does Ovechkin lead the NHL in shots on goal with 243, 24 more than Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, he also leads the League in missed shots with 105, 32 more than Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.

Double trouble -- Why are the Leafs struggling? One reason is their inability to hold onto leads. Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss in San Jose marked the sixth time the Leafs have led by two or more goals and not won the game. Even worse, they’ve lost four of the six in regulation, meaning that they’ve seen 10 potential points go sailing away. Four of the six blown leads have come in games in which the Leafs led by two goals entering the final period, the most in the NHL.

Firing blanks -- Washington and Edmonton had no trouble scoring in regulation play on Thursday night — they were tied 4-4 after 60 minutes — but the shootout that followed a scoreless overtime was another story. The Caps’ 1-0, 12-round win was the second-longest one-goal shootout since the NHL began using the penalty-shot competition in 2005-06. The longest one was also a 5-4 game: The New York Rangers needed 13 rounds to beat Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 2006.

The Caps’ win was also the longest in the NHL this season. Washington was involved in the longest previous shootout — an 11-round loss to Florida on Nov. 28.

Thursday was also the 10th time that there were four shootouts on the same night. The record is five, set on Feb. 6, 2007.



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