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February 4, 2010
Numbers On Ice
Busting Road Myths

by Tom Awad

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As Vancouver prepares to hospitably welcome the world's Olympic athletes, the Vancouver Canucks are readying themselves for a long journey away from home -- six weeks and an NHL-record 14 consecutive road games to be exact.

The Canucks are a poor road team to begin with (11-12-1), but because the Olympics require the use of General Motors place both before and after the event itself, the Canucks will be exiled during a crucial stretch with massive playoff implications in hyper-competitive Western Conference. So will this road trip damage their playoff hopes?

Probably not. The situation may seem dire at first, but there are several myths we will debunk that will make the Canucks' glass (or Cup?) half full.

Myth No. 1: Teams play worse as a road trip lengthens.

There is no tendency for teams to play worse as a road trip lengthens. Yes, it is true that road teams are less successful than home teams, but that is only exacerbated when a team plays back-to-back games.

On average, road teams have been outscored by 0.3 goals per game this season. But road teams playing for the second night in a row are outscored by 0.55 goals. Luckily for the Canucks, only three of their 16 games are back-to-back.

In addition, over the last four seasons, teams playing in their fourth, fifth or sixth consecutive road game have fared no worse than those playing in their first three games. And oddly enough, teams seem to fare better in the fourth game of a road trip than the third.

Adjusting To The Road?

On road trips, teams tend to play better in their fourth game than their third.

Road-trip Game   Goal Diff.   Point Pct. 
Third Game      -0.32         0.502 
Fourth Game     -0.17         0.543

Myth No. 2: It's a six-week road-trip.

A six week road-trip sounds daunting, but that's misleading. It is actually two separate two-week road trips -- the first on the East Coast and the second further West, with the 15-day Olympic break in between. There is a huge difference between being on the road for two weeks and for six. In fact, the second road trip only lasts from March 2 to 10, a total of nine days. While these are lengthy absences, they are by no means unheard of.

And during this "six-week" road-trip, the strength of the Canucks' opposition is not great.

The NHL's schedulers seem to have gone out of their way to make the Canucks' Eastern road trip quite pleasant: the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens have already been visited; the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild are coming up. Collectively, these eight opponent have been outscored by 148 goals this season. That fact could make this trip to the East coast as pleasant as a family vacation to Cape Cod. While no NHL team is a pushover these days, it's encouraging to play just one sure playoff team in their eight games (Ottawa) while avoiding the top four teams in either conference.

The second, more western, trip will be rougher. Vancouver visits Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Colorado and Phoenix, but the Western Conference is so powerful that this is par for the course. Nashville, Colorado and Phoenix probably looked like easy opponents before the season started, but no longer.

And remember what we told you about fatigue? The first leg is nicely spaced out, with eight games in 16 days, while the second is at a frenetic pace of six games in nine days. So, if anything, they may struggle late in their road-trip.

Myth No. 3: The Canucks are an average Western Conference team.

While they may seem to be just a typical Western playoff team, barely holding on to the Northwest division crown and third seed in the West with 70 points in the standings, they are actually much better. Their goal differential of plus-45 is fourth in the NHL, behind only the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks. They have the league's top scorer in Henrik Sedin, one of its elite goaltenders in Roberto Luongo and solid depth. The Sedins and Alex Burrows may form the most dangerous line north of San Jose.

To a large extent, the Canucks have been victims of the NHL's point system, which makes overtime games worth more than others: They've only had six games go into extra time, the fewest in the NHL, which means they have had the fewest chances to profit from the "consolation" point awarded to overtime and shootout losers. Under a fairer point system -- like one that awarded three points for a regulation win -- the Canucks would be comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the Avalanche and 18 points out of ninth place, compared to their current two and eight point leads.

So Canucks fans, there is a good chance your team will return home in mid-March in roughly the same position they are in now. That means they'll be somewhere between third and sixth in the Western Conference, in a playoff spot, and probably holding on to the Northwest division lead by a hair. Puck Prospectus's projections predict that the Canucks are likely to finish with about 103 points, and have a 95 percent chance of making the playoffs.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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2010 Winter Olympics P... (02/04)
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Numbers On Ice (01/21)
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From Daigle To Datsyuk (02/05)

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