How all-Canadian division coaches, players plan to guard against predictability this season

The shortened NHL season has each team playing an abbreviated 56-game schedule within its division. Some of the Canadian clubs will see each other nine or 10 times.

Some Canadian clubs will face each other upwards of 10 times in shortened campaign

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid, left, says players will have to adapt to facing the same opponents upwards of 9 or 10 times during the NHL's abbreviated 56-game schedule this season. (Dale MacMillan/The Canadian Press)

A degree of contempt is expected to grow between the seven teams in the NHL's all-Canadian North Division, but the number of times the clubs play each will also breed some familiarity.

The shortened NHL season has each team playing a 56-game schedule within its division. Some of the Canadian clubs will see each other nine or 10 times.

During a 14-day stretch within the first month, the Vancouver Canucks will face the Montreal Canadiens five times, with a three-game series against Ottawa squeezed into the same period.

The Winnipeg Jets will face the Calgary Flames four times in the first nine days of February.

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Most players and coaches agree the games will have a playoff feel about them, but teams will also have to guard against becoming predictable.

"For all the teams you are going to have to come up with different sort of strategies and ways to mix things up, especially when you are seeing a team three times in a row," said Flames captain Mark Giordano. "Little things like the way you kill penalties or the way you are on the power play, the way your faceoffs are drawn up. Teams are going to be able to scout that.

"You are going to have to change things up and have a lot of different plays in your book. It's going to be exciting."

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said having a Canadian division is "going to be fantastic. The message boards are going to be awesome, funny as hell."

It also means coaches will be tested on their ability to make subtle changes without completely deviating from their schemes.

"You have to be real careful about how many times you are going to change your grip on your golf club because you are going to get a different trajectory every time," Maurice said. "You have to play well, play hard, but I do agree you are going to have to be fairly creative in how you approach the game."

Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green said teams are constantly adjusting for opponents.

"There are wrinkles that you throw into your team for a game, but there are certain things, certain staples that every team has that [indicates] how they play," he said. "You don't want to go change your whole system from game to game.

"I think it's perfecting a system that works for your team. There are different things [you can do], faceoff plays, on special teams, certain things you can change."

'Different for everybody'

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said players will have to adapt.

"You're going to have to learn on the fly," he said. "It's going to be different for everybody."

Vancouver forward Brock Boeser said the schedule reminds him of his college days playing for the University of North Dakota.

"You have to learn from game to game," Boeser said. "You watch film, you have to adjust to what you didn't do right in the game before and make sure you don't make those mistakes again."

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Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said reducing the number of opponents will make coaches focus.

"It allows you to just zero in on a very small number of opponents, you get to know them very well," he said. "It frees up so much more time just to focus on our own team."

Edmonton's Dave Tippett said the compressed schedule will keep coaches concentrating.

"Sometimes you get into the regular season, games flow into each other," he said. "Every game [now] is going to be so important. The competition is going to be stiff.

"I think it's going to be a playoff mindset coaches are really going to dig into. It's going to push coaches to be better.

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Vancouver forward Antoine Roussel, one of the Canucks who plays the game with an edge, said scores will be quickly settled.

"It's going to be more edgy every night," he said. "You see the same guys all the time.

"If something happens in game one . . . in game two you may have to answer the bell. The emotion and the fire in the games are going to step up, maybe linger longer."

Playing more games against teams from the East will also give more exposure to young Canuck stars like Elias Pettersson and Quin Hughes.

"I don't think our guys sometimes get the attention they deserve," Roussel said. "They could be in better position to market themselves as the best players in the league."

Vancouver forward Tanner Pearson said the shortened season means teams must always keep an eye on the standings.

"It's going to be different for a points race," he said. "You always talk about a four-point game when you play a division team. Now it's more crucial than ever."

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Jim has written about sports in Canada for more than 40 years for The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, CFL.ca and Swimming Canada. He has covered eight Olympic Games and three Paralympics. He was there the night the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup and has covered 12 Grey Cups.

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