x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Return from lockout means time is of the essence in the NHL

Shortened season due to lockout means every game counts all the more, writes Gregg Patton.

Michal Neuvirth, right, and his Washington Capitals teammates are among those teams who are off to a slow start this shortened season.
Michal Neuvirth, right, and his Washington Capitals teammates are among those teams who are off to a slow start this shortened season.

The first week of a professional sports season is an odd place to sense urgency, but this is not an ordinary year for the National Hockey League.

The lockout-shortened schedule of 48 games will be crammed into 13 weeks. Teams like the Washington Capitals - a pre-season favourite but winless in their first four games - already feel time slipping away.

Even after their first two losses.

"It sounds funny, two games into the season," Troy Brouwer, the Caps right wing, told the Washington Times. "But we have to start winning games, getting points and getting into the play-offs."

The Los Angeles Kings, the defending champions, earned just one point in the standings in their first three games and, likewise, discovered a sense of urgency.

"We're not happy with ourselves," Drew Doughty, the Kings defenceman told the Los Angeles Times. "It's such a short season. Every game is so important."

Because there are no crossover games between Eastern and Western Conference teams, every missed opportunity to win two points (for a victory) also means two points given up to a conference rival and a step backward in the race for a post-season spot.

The condensed schedule suggests that losses can pile up quickly, especially if a problem is not fixed right away, or a key injury occurs.

"There are a lot of mistakes we need to correct … and we've got to correct them fast," the New York Rangers forward Rick Nash told the New York Daily News after his new team dropped three of their first four games.

The rushed start to the season - six practice days, no pre-season games - likely contributed to some rustiness, with little time to shake it off. Ten of the league's 30 teams played five times in the first eight days.

While some of the league's more talented teams suffered through slow starts, lesser teams who played well the first week felt unusually buoyed by their early success.

"We know what happened last year, but that's over," the Montreal Canadiens defenceman Raphael Diaz said after his team won twice in first three games, after missing the play-offs last spring. "We'll just keep this going game to game."

The Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen told the Dallas Morning News that "everybody believes in themselves a little bit more" after the Stars collected five points in the first four games. The next 12 weeks figure to straighten out some of the early aberrations. But the hurry-up-and-go, January start definitely had NHL players at attention.

The Detroit Red Wings lost their first two games and the forward Henrik Zetterberg said tersely: "If we keep doing that, it won't be much fun here."

The Red Wings bounced back with two victories.



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