Last night, the New Jersey Devils played a game after having five days off in a row. These mini-byes, or whatever you want to call them, have entered the league schedule over the last few seasons as players bargained for these times off to heal and get away from the long grind of the season for just a little bit. The Devils, of course, came away with a loss, thanks in no small part to some shabby goaltending on the part of Mackenzie Blackwood. Boy they came out of the gate red hot, and looked great, but this team really cannot hold leads at home this season.
Like with football teams on bye weeks or even like with the Washington Nationals having a long layover between the NLCS and the World Series, I hear debate about whether that time off will actually be good for a team, to get players healthy and get some rest, or if it will be bad because it will interrupt a team’s flow and groove, especially if they were winning before the break. It worked pretty well for the Nationals obviously. Andy Reid, current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, is a dynamo after bye weeks, winning 10 out of 14 regular season attempts while coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, and going 4-0 after bye weeks in the playoffs. But of course, there are definitely stats to show it doesn’t always work well, either. Between Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo and Pat Schurmur, the New York Giants have gone 6-9 after bye weeks. Now, I get that football and baseball are not hockey, but the argument about rest affecting performance extends to all three of these sports for sure.
The Devils, to indeed bring it back to the ice, had won their first two games of the season before this 5 day break, and I definitely heard some grumbling about how the break came at a bad time, right when they were finally putting it all together. And for those who made that argument, they probably feel they were right, and I don’t blame them. Blackwood was playing really well before the break, then laid an egg out there last night. Was the layoff one of the causes of that? Hard not to think it played some part.
To see how this team specifically has done with layoffs and playing right after them, I went back into the schedule over the last two seasons to see what their record is on games played after a break of at least 4 days. The last two seasons presents an interesting case, because the Devils as a team were in two very different positions in those years. One of those seasons saw a playoff berth, and the other saw the team get the first overall pick. So there is a lot of variance by which to gather the data from, it is not all one sided.
There were seven such instances over the last two seasons, not including the one that just happened. Here are the dates, how long the break was, the game coming out of that break, and its conclusion.
So overall, their record coming off of extended breaks is pretty good. Coming into last night’s game, the Devils sported a 4-2-1 record in these games. And that is including the game 1 loss in the playoffs to Tampa Bay, which came after a four day break. If you only strictly look at regular season breaks, they were 4-1-1 before last night, a very good record in those situations.
Now, is that record enough to silence those who would say that playing after a long break is bad and disrupts rhythm? Of course not. If I was fully in that camp, I would not change my mind over a small sample size like this either, and last night’s collapse only makes that argument stronger. However, it is still interesting to look at, and undoubtedly over the last couple of seasons, the Devils have benefitted from added days off in the regular season. They lost in the most important game in that list, the playoff game, but that situation, playing beneath a raucous crowd in Tampa, is definitely different than the others.
The next extended break New Jersey has is not for some time. They will have a full 8 days off from January 19th-26th, sandwiched in between two road games, at Columbus then coming back to play in Ottawa. Playing Ottawa most nights in recent seasons gives any team a good chance at a win, but the Devils should hopefully really look good in that game after their long break. Hopefully, that time around the goaltending will be improved. This team needs it.