The regular season concludes at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday April 14, 2012 against the St. John's Ice Caps, new AHL affiliate of the new Winnipeg Jets.
In between, there are 74 more games on the 2011-2012 schedule for the Falcons. After some input by the NHL, the AHL has reduced its number of games for each club from 80 to 76. Also, the leagues have agreed that there will be no more of the 4 games in 5 days situations, as there had been in the past. Three games in four days is hellacious enough, adding that fourth game usually meant A) marginal hockey B) greater opportunity for injury among fatigued players.
In the AHL's new realigment this season, the Falcons have moved to the Northeast Division. Also commencing this season, the playoffs in the AHL will more closely resemble those of the NHL, in that the top eight teams from each conference will qualify for post season play.
Previously, things may have gotten confusing, with odd numbers of teams in divisions and crossovers for playoffs, based on points comparisons.
The concept of a balanced schedule doesn't come into play in the AHL. This is primarily because, as a minor league, the clubs are reliant on filling as many seats as possible, in as cost efficient a manner as possible. So despite the appearance of divisions and conferences, more of an effort goes into preserving rivalries and minimizing travel costs.
I'll be analyzing the schedule after the jump...
This becomes more apparent when looking at the quantities of games with certain opponents. Divisionally, the game breakdown illustrates the disparity. Although the Falcons are in the Northeast Division, only 28 of their 76 games will be played within the division. The number of games, divided evenly home and away, breaks down like this:
CONNECTICUT (NYR) - 12
BRIDGEPORT (NYI) - 8
ALBANY (NJD) - 4
ADIRONDACK (PHI) - 4
While the Falcons former divisional home, the Atlantic stacks up this way (36 games):
PROVIDENCE (BOS) - 10
WORCESTER (SJ) - 8
MANCHESTER (LA) - 6
PORTLAND (PHX) - 8
ST. JOHN'S (WPG) - 4
Meanwhile, the Falcons Eastern Division opponents (12 games) are:
NORFOLK (TB) - 4
HERSHEY (WSH) - 2
SYRACUSE (ANA) - 2
BINGHAMTON (OTT) - 0
The Falcons have no regular season games scheduled with the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators, despite the baby Sens playing in the Eastern Conference. (So much for seeing Filly's triumphant return! Check that, I hear he's a Top 6 forward for Ottawa.)
Also, the Falcons don't have any regular season games scheduled with any of the Western Conference teams.
Momentum plays a big role in a team's success. So too, is it in the "A", where the following might be positives or negatives in the flight of the Falcons:
After the season starts with a three game road trip, the Falcons (who struggled on home ice last season) return home for four home games in eight days when they host Providence, Manchester, Wilkes-Barre and Connecticut. Over the last several seasons, Wilkes-Barre has been a consistent performer, so this could be an early season test for Springfield.
Timing is everything and what better time for a six game homestand than from October 28 through November 16? This part of the season is typically where the roster has stabilized, and line combinations and defensive pairings solidify. Being at home for the better part of three weeks should translate to plenty of practice time for the team, while the pace of six games in three weeks won't be a backbreaker.
Another nice homestand comes from December 3rd to the 13th, when the Falcons play five more consecutive games on home ice. Based on historical performance, these are five more games that I would say are "winnable". The opponents: Connecticut, Portland, Manchester, Bridgeport and Worcester.
The Falcons embark on their longest road trip of the first half from Friday December 16th through Wednesday December 28th (keep in mind the league shuts down for Christmas weekend, Dec. 23-25). If the Birds have hit their stride by this time, the games in Providence, Albany, Worcester and Syracuse should be competitive.
Between January 22 and February 3, the team takes to the road for five straight games. The bookends of the roadie are games in Providence, with Worcester, Portland and Connecticut in the middle.
Back at the MassMutual Center for some home cooking during February school vacation, the Falcons play at home four times in eight days again. The opposition should be looking familiar to you at this point: Providence, Worcester, Bridgeport and Connecticut.
From February 26 to March 9, the Falcons play five in a row on the road. Quantitatively, not so bad. The weekend of March 2, 3 and 4 may be daunting though, as they will play two in Norfolk, VA on the 2nd and 3rd, before heading up to Hershey, PA for a 5PM game on March 4th. I never like road trips like that late in the season, and if the Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives, this trip could be a real challenge.
After three home games from March 10-16, the Falcons play nine of their next eleven on the road. In the middle of that run, the Birds take on the Adirondack Phantoms on March 24th, before heading down I-88 and 81 to meet Wilkes-Barre the next afternoon at 3PM.The final two of that eleven game stretch mark their only trip of the season up to St. John's to meet the Ice Caps.
When looking at the schedule as a whole, the Falcons, on paper and depending on training camp moves, should be the class of the Northeast Division. In fact, top five in the conference isn't out of the question either. However, camp has yet to start and the ice isn't even in at the MassMutual Center yet. There's a long, long way to go. Optimism abounds. This could be fun.
The entire 2011-2012 Springfield Falcons schedule is available here.