As a Metropolitan team with very short travel times overall when compared to most other teams in the league, especially when compared to just about any team in the Western Conference, the New Jersey Devils have often been saddled with more than their fair share of back-to-back sets. On shorter travel times, these things can become more doable, and the NHL is not against handing them out. In and of itself, a back-to-back is not a net positive or net negative because it really all depends on comparing rest time before a game for each team. If both teams are playing the back end of a back-to-back, then they both have no days of rest coming into that game, so it is on equal footing.
However, that reality is often not the case. Usually, the team playing the 2nd game of a back-to-back is playing on a rest disadvantage, as their opponent more than likely had the previous night off. This obviously gives a distinct edge to the team with the rest advantage, as they can put out a better-rested team, and also can safely use their starting goaltender without having to worry about tiring him out too much. The team playing the back-to-back has to strategically figure out which game to use the backup in, unless they want to risk fatigue by using their starter in both.
Interestingly, it seems that at least one league is caring less and less about creating an equal schedule for all of its teams. The NFL, in recent years, has been making its schedule less and less fair in terms of rest for its 32 teams. This upcoming season will be the least fair in terms of rest than it has been in recent memory, if not ever. As noted in this article here, there will be 95 games played in the 2023 season where one team has a rest advantage over the other. This is up 10 games from only 2 years ago, and the trend keeps getting worse. For the local New York teams, if you support either one, the Jets will be gaining a net 12 days of rest advantage this season, the most in the NFL, while the Giants will be saddled with a net 9 days of rest disadvantage during the regular season, which is 5th worst in the league. For you Devils/Eagles fans, they will be at a net -6 days in rest. Check out the article, I found it very interesting.
I found it interesting enough that I wondered if some sort of analysis like this was being done with the NHL schedule, but I could not find anything when I searched the internet before writing this. If so, this article would be about that. And since I am not spending days of my time going through each game in the NHL season for all 32 teams and calculating rest times, I don’t get a full salary for doing this after all, I decided to simply look at something I could analyze in a shorter period of time: back-to-backs. The Devils had not been too good at them heading into last season, they went 7-18-5 in 2021-22, which equates to 52 points over the course of a full season. Obviously, that had to improve for 2022-23.
And, since they improved just about everywhere else last year, back-to-backs were thankfully no different. They played 12 of these sets last season, 24 total games out of 82 coming in these sets, just under 30% of the entire season. And overall, they were very, very good, with an overall record of 15-8-1, good for 31 points out of a possible 48. Over 82 games, that would turn out to be basically 106 points and would absolutely get them into the playoffs, so that is a major improvement over the year prior.
What is particularly noteworthy about that data is that the Devils were actually better in the second game of these back-to-back sets than the first, and by a decent margin. In the first game of these sets, the team went 6-5-1, just a touch over .500 really. In the second game, however, they were 9-3, an absolutely fantastic record considering most of those games had to come with a rest disadvantage. Whatever the plan was for these sets, reserving energy in game 1 or whatnot, it worked, and New Jersey was a dominant team in the second game while still not performing badly in the first.
For the Devils to take a scheduling disadvantage like this, where nearly 30% of their season is played in back-to-backs, and turn it into a strength, is truly impressive. And, they will need to really harness that prowess once again this year, as they will be playing in more of them. This upcoming season, the Devils are slated to play in 15 back-to-back sets, equating to 30 games out of 82, good for 36.5% of their season, more than a third. So at least one out of every 3 games the Devils play this season will be in a back-to-back, a very large amount. Also, out of those 15 sets, only 4 of them come with both games in New Jersey. In 11 of those 15 sets, the Devils will need to travel between the two games, which increases the difficulty a good amount. At least if both games are at home, they have more rest time that night in between. But nope, that will only happen in 4 of the 15 sets.
So, it will be interesting to watch how they handle these back-to-backs again this year. They were remarkably good at them last season, and it really paid off in the long run, leading to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. If they want to continue to compete at a high level in the very competitive Metropolitan Division, they will most likely need to continue to be good at these sets again this year.