When your hockey season has been shortened by about a third, there’s no time to dilly-dally.
On Tuesday, both Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk stressed the importance of a quick start for the Flyers when the 56-game slate starts on Jan. 13.
Getting behind early in the standings could be a formula for failure, so Philadelphia wants to get out of the gate quickly.
Last season, the Flyers needed a nine-game winning streak in late February/early March to secure a comfortable place in the standings. Before that, nothing was for sure.
As coach Alain Vigneault mentioned on Monday, everything will be compressed. Training camp, opening on Jan. 3, will last only 10 days with no preseason games.
And then comes the challenge of squeezing those 56 games into barely a four-month window.
So a fast getaway is imperative.
“That’s huge,’’ Hayes said during a Tuesday media conference call. “I mean like every year you see teams that go on these 10-to-15-game stretches getting points and if that’s the case this year, you’re going to have a serious shot to make the playoffs.
“It’s very important to start the season off the right way, it’s very important for guys to show up for camp in shape ready to go. I know in the past, the first 10 games are not a walk in the park. Everyone is like, ‘oh, he isn’t playing that well but he’ll figure it out come week five or something.’ But that’s not the case right now, everyone needs to be on top of their game.’’
Especially now in the newly formed East Division, a reconfigured version of the Metro Division which now has No. 1 Boston lurking in the alley.
“We’re going to have a lot of meetings, a lot of film in that 10-day camp,’’ Hayes said.
Van Riemsdyk sees it the same way.
“The less games there are, the less margin for error,’’ JVR said. “You have to get off to a good start. When you’re playing teams only in your division, you’re jockeying for position in the playoffs. . .each game then becomes that much more important because there can be bigger swings in the standings.’’
Essentially, every night is a four-point game. No more Tuesday night games against Vancouver in the middle of November.
The balanced schedule of the past decade or so has lessened division rivalries. But now, playing teams such as the Rangers, Islanders and Devils suggests an even higher level of rivalry competition.
“It reminds me of when I first came into the league (2009-10),’’ van Riemsdyk said. “I think it was more of a schedule like that (now).’’
After the 2011-12 lockout, the NHL went to a balanced schedule where all the teams face each other at least twice (home and home).
“It’s definitely going to make for a different sort of challenge,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “It’s hard enough to beat a team twice in a row. When you’re playing a team that many times, you have to be sharp. A little more competitiveness can be brought out.’’
JVR is the Flyers’ player rep in the NHL Players’ Association. He said it was important to get the financial issues (the league wanted the players to take another pay cut on top of last July’s CBA-based increase in escrow withholdings) out of the way, given the tight timeframe to get the season started.
“At the end of the day, I think we all want hockey to be back,’’ he said. “As players, we definitely want to be out there playing. It’s what we love to do, it’s our passion. Our team wants to build on what we did last year and we wanted to get started.’’
Speaking of building on last season, the Flyers did manage to win a playoff series for the first time since 2012. It’s Hayes’ hope the Flyers can pick up where they left off. Younger players such as Carter Hart, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov should benefit from some of that postseason success.
“The younger guys, it obviously helps them,’’ said Hayes. “It was a weird season. I felt like we had a lot of momentum (after the nine-game streak) and then the season stopped. In the bubble, we played two good defensive teams (Montreal, Islanders) and fell one game short.
“Any time you play games that are very important and where every player needs to be invested in them, it can only help you in the long run.’’