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Teams need to love where they are on Valentine's Day

by Paul Kukla
We need to concentrate on Feb. 14. No, not because it's Valentine's Day, but because it's the last day of NHL games before the Olympic break.
To make things simple, let's say most teams will play 20 or so games before the Olympic break and for those teams on the outside of the playoff picture, the time to make a move is now.
Sure, there will still be 20 or so games left when teams return to NHL action on March 1, but why wait until then to get into the playoff picture?
It is all about winning now, but the funny thing is of all the teams in the 9th to 16th position in their respective conference, only one team, the Detroit Red Wings, is playing above .500 hockey in its last 10 games (Note: in my world, an overtime loss is considered a L in the loss column, since valuable points are being surrendered).
Meanwhile, of the 16 teams in the top eight of each conference, 11 of those teams have been playing above .500 hockey in their last 10 games. So as you can see, now is the time for the teams fighting to get into the playoff picture to start winning.
Coaches tend to break the season-long schedule into 10-game increments and those teams that are sitting in the 9th to 12th positions, need to win three out of the remaining four 10-game clusters. Teams that are in the 12th to 16th position in each conference have to win all four of those clusters to even think of having a chance for a playoff position.
For us fans, it certainly is nail-biting time. Even though we are only in early January, remember with the two-week Olympic break ahead, we can really say it is late January when speaking in terms of the number of games that remain. So, desperation should be mandatory for all of us cheering on our teams as they battle for a playoff spot.
So it begins, night after night not only are we following our team, we need to start following those teams we hope to pass in the standings. Or if you are a fan of a team in a playoff position right now, you need to keep an eye on those teams that are beginning to narrow the gap and are closing in on passing your team in the playoff picture.
Normally, this type of standings watching would not happen until late January, but again with the Olympic break taking a two-week bite out of the schedule, we must start the standings watch now.
Another thing to keep in mind is the toll the Olympic games will take on certain teams. Many teams are sending multiple players to Vancouver and the chance of injury is always a concern plus will players be mentally/physically worn out by the time NHL games resume on March 1?
It will be interesting to see how the NHL coaches will handle the Olympic players when they return to their respective NHL teams. I would imagine, depending on where the stand in the playoff race, some players will be asked to give even more, but the question will be, has their tank run dry?
As we sit here and wonder how all of this will shake out in the next few months, there is one thing to concentrate on. Win now and keep winning for the next 40 games. If that happens for your team, there is a good chance you will be watching your team play in the second season.
On the other hand, if your team cannot get on a winning streak or cannot maintain their winning ways, well, you always have next season to look forward to. And that season is closer than you think, remember, it is late January now even though the calendar says different.

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