Expert NHL Handicapping: Home and Road Differences
There is one thing that all playoff teams in the NHL - or at least the true contenders - have in common. They may be better playing at home than on the road, but they are capable of winning, and of playing their best, regardless of where they are playing. It's a crucial trait as they head into the playoffs. Playoff hockey is brutal - the hardest of any league - so teams need to win on the road to limit the games they have to play and the abuse they have to take.
When a team has a big disparity between home and road play, it is tough to take them seriously. A lot of home success can mask the road failures in the overall standings, but it is important to look at these gaps to understand what teams are really like. This is one of the quickest and surest ways to spot teams that are tough to trust in the long term. Here are six NHL teams that have been fine at home and far from it on the road.
Ottawa (9-4-2 home, 3-8-1 road): Heading into the season, the team traded away their franchise player, were going very young, and had ridiculous drama off the ice. It seemed very likely that they would be the worst team in the league. The drama is still there, and they are indeed one of the worst road teams, but somehow they are finding ways to win well more than their share at home - even though their dismal, mostly empty barn is perhaps the worst home-ice advantage in the league. It likely won't last because they just have so many issues, but they have won four of five at home, and it's not like logic applies in this situation.
New York Rangers (10-4-1 home, 3-8-2 road): The Rangers have lost five of their last six, so they aren't playing well on any level right now. And they weren't expected to be very good this year as they are trying to rebuild, so their current woes are no surprise. The fact that they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 home games is one of those things that you just can't explain - but that you don't worry about too much because you know it won't last.
New Jersey (7-2-4 home, 2-10-1 road): Last year the Devils were one of the great stories of the league, producing an MVP and making a very unexpected playoff bid. This year they are back in the cellar. The road record is obviously partly to blame. More realistically, though, this is just a team playing much more like they were expected to this year than last year. They have lost six in a row, and 14 of 18 with four losses in overtime, so they are just in a bad place overall regardless of where they are playing. Taylor Hall is again playing great, but the depth is a major concern and the goaltending has been a total mess.
San Jose (8-3-2 home, 5-7-3 road): Heading into the season, it seemed as if the Sharks were going to be one of the truly elite teams in the West. With the addition of Erik Karlsson, they had a terrifying defense on paper. But it has been slow to mesh, and the team is struggling to work through issues. But you can't really blame these road issues on a struggle to get rolling. The team started with eight of their first 11 games on the road. They were a very solid 4-2-2 in those road games. But before winning in Montreal on Sunday, they had dropped six straight on the road. Any issues they have aren't getting any better, in other words. The philosophy around teams is often that a lot of road games early is good for chemistry because the team is forced to spend time together. That clearly didn't work in this case.
Dallas (9-3-1 home, 6-7-2 road): I would say that I am disappointed by the Stars this year, but by this point that's just a constant - I have been disappointed by this team three years in a row now. They are the Mariners of the NHL for me - a team that I know I shouldn't buy in to, but I just can't seem to help myself. The oddest thing in this case is that they have actually done well on their long road trips - which you wouldn't necessarily expect when a team is struggling on the road. They went 3-2-1 on their longest trip and 2-1-1 on their other extended voyage. That means that they are 1-4 on shorter trips.
Chicago (5-5-3 home, 4-9-2 road): The Blackhawks aren't exactly a good team overall this year - the glory days of this franchise have passed, and there is a lot of pain between here and a return to the elite levels of the league. Their home record isn't really good enough, but it looks good compared to things away from home. We could look deep into this, but we don't really need to. The clear issue is that the league is getting younger and faster as this team is getting older and slower. That is always going to be a problem, but especially on the road where they can't maximize their strengths by managing line pairings.
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