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So far, it’s been manic-depressive.
Seldom have so many fans spent so much time pouring over a set of standings so early into a schedule and had to deal with so many major mood swings.
Pick a team in the once-in-a-lifetime, coronavirus pandemic shortened 56-game schedule featuring an exclusive Canadian division this year.
Friday, the Calgary Flames headed into the first game of a home-and-home series against the Edmonton Oilers with their ears ringing.
“It’s time for us to start giving a sh__ about it,” Calgary Flames coach Geoff Ward said of the inconsistency plaguing his hockey club following an embarrassing 5-1 loss at home Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Calgary fans were in a tizzy despite the fact the Flames had actually won four of their last six.
“ASSEMBLY STILL REQUIRED” blared the front page headline of the Toronto Sun, throwing to a column by Steve Simmons focusing primarily on William Nylander and the impotent Maple Leafs second line after blowing a 5-1 lead and losing 6-5 in overtime to the Ottawa Senators.
The Leafs got a loser point out of the game and won the following two of the three-game series with the Senators to sit alone in first place with a 7-1-2 record in their last 10, and Toronto fans are now celebrating Auston Matthews loading up against the Sens.
But the effect of gassing that 5-1 lead against the last place team in the league three days earlier had the appearance from around the nation that the reaction of the fans of the franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 was that Rome was burning.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, home of the Canadian team that went to Game 7 of the second round of last year’s Hub City bubble Stanley Cup playoffs with only seven wins to show from their first 18 games, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini saw the need to deliver a vote of confidence for general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green.
In Winnipeg, the Jets traded away popular star Patrik Laine. While it wasn’t related to winning and losing, Jets fans were worried about what it might mean for the team that has managed to maintain a playoff position so far.
In Edmonton, GM Ken Holland may have just been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame and made some positive moves that improved the team involving Tyson Barrie and Jesse Puljujarvi, but has been roasted for the mess he ended up with involving his goaltenders. Mikko Koskinen hasn’t quite been given the Nylander treatment but probably would have if the $4.5 million-per-year Finn hadn’t been forced to play every game to start the season because nobody else was available.
Fans have been given a roller-coaster ride so far and one can only imagine what is going to happen in the two-thirds of the season that remains.
Certainly, there’s going to be no less focus on the standings going forward in Canada’s passionate hockey markets, where four teams are going to end up in best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series against each other and one advancing to the final four. But it won’t just be the standings. Going forward, there going to be equal concentration on the schedule that is about to find a new focus.
There are adjustments to be faced by several of the Canadian clubs and that’s assuming there won’t be outbreaks leading to more postponements that are causing nightmares in the three divisions in the U.S.
The Oilers, as they complete the month with a pair in Vancouver against the Canucks next week, will have played 10 two-game college hockey format style series.
To this point, Edmonton lost both games of a series to Montreal, took both ends of a pair of twin bills against Ottawa and split two double dips against both Winnipeg and Toronto and split one with Vancouver.
But as spring training begins in baseball, they’ll be making a transition to more of a baseball schedule featuring three-game series.
It’ll start with three straight at home against the first-place Leafs, followed by three consecutive home games against the Senators on the same seven-game home stand. Later in the month, the Oilers will play three straight against the Canadiens in Montreal.
The three-game series are capable of absolutely shipwrecking a season. If a team can sweep a three game series, it can have a major effect on playoff positioning. As in baseball, winning two of the three is the goal.
It was Oilers goaltender Mike Smith who probably made the statement that best applies to either the two-game or three-game series.
“You can’t lose two games to the same team in the same week with the standings the way that they are,” he said.
There’s a roller-coaster at Galaxyland in West Edmonton Mall that has the name this Canadian division season could borrow: The Mindbender.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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