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The NHL could enter phase 2 of their return to play plan as soon as next week. If all goes well, we could see hockey in a little more than a month.
Assuming that’s the case, we’re looking at 3+ months between hockey games for the Calgary Flames. While far from ideal, there are some potential benefits to the long pause.
Let’s take a look at a few of them:
1. Fresh starts
Much like a normal off-season, all this time away should offer players a clean slate to come back to. Sometimes that’s exactly what is needed to get guys back on track.
What happened in the first ~70 games of the year doesn’t matter. How players were performing prior to the break is old news. What’s important is what transpires from this point forward.
Sean Monahan had the least productive regular season since his rookie year and went ghost for long periods of time. Mark Jankowski’s game fell off such a cliff that he couldn’t score on me with any regularity (figure of speech, of course), let alone an NHL goaltender. Doesn’t matter.
They’ve had plenty of time to reset their minds, forget about struggles, and work on things. Now, (ideally) they’ll be thrown right into meaningful hockey fully rejuvenated and ready to go.
2. Injuries had time to heal
Mark Giordano just returned from a hamstring injury prior to the pause. While he was playing well, some were speculating he still wasn’t 100%. He should be now.
Travis Hamonic was banged up a lot throughout the season. How much of his poor performance should be attributed to health is up for debate but it surely played a part. ~Three months of time with no game action should be plenty of time for him to get back to full health and prepare for the playoffs.
I don’t know how much of an option Juuso Valimaki will be – the Flames have depth and might not want his first games of the season to be playoff games – but the highly touted rearguard could be ready to play as well.
You need a lot of bodies if you’re going on a deep playoff run so, if not anything else, having Valimaki waiting in the wings in the event of injury would be a nice luxury.
3. Playoff abnormalities could help lower seeds
Let’s say Calgary beats Winnipeg in the BO5 playoff series to make the final 16. They’d then take on the St. Louis Blues. That’s a daunting task, however, there are some things working in Calgary’s favor to level the playing field a little bit.
For one, there is no home ice advantage. St. Louis, who went 23-7-5 on home ice this season, has no edge as the No. 1 seed. Calgary doesn’t have to travel as many as four times, and they don’t have to worry about St. Louis having a packed building, better knowledge of board bounces, and so forth.
There’s also potential for Round 2 to be a BO5, which could benefit Calgary. Fewer games leads to more variance. Simply put, there is less opportunity for the talent gap to show through over a smaller sample.
If the two teams played 100 times, we could pretty comfortably assume St. Louis would win significantly more games. It’s a much different story over five games. All it would take for Calgary to pull off an upset is one or two excellent goaltending performances from David Rittich and a lucky bounce in a decisive game. Just like that the NHL’s No. 2 seed is sent packing.
Obviously St. Louis would still enter the series as the favorite. Rightfully so. But there is little margin for error in such a short series. Run into a quality goaltender, or poor puck luck for a few days, and you’re gone.
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