When the NHL implemented the salary cap, everyone knew it would it create parity. An interesting byproduct of parity has been the emergence of streaking. Look around the league right now. There's streakiness everywhere, starting with the Ottawa Senators.
From January 5th to January 12th, the Sens lost 5 straight. January 13th to February 14th, they went 14-2, winning 11 straight in the process. Since the Olympic break, they’re 1-8. Montreal entered the break 11 points behind Ottawa. The Habs have gone 7 and 2 to move into a tie for 5th with the Sens. Atlanta has suddenly won 4 in a row and stands just one point out of a playoff spot. Tampa has lost 5 straight and fallen off the map.
Phoenix looked like a franchise ready to die last summer. The Coyotes just won 9 straight to take over top spot in the Western Conference. San Jose, on the other hand, has gone stone cold, losing 5 in a row, including a 5-1 embarassment yesterday versus Edmonton, the worst team in the league. Nashville looks incredible right now, winners of 6 straight.
So back to my original theory. Why does parity create streakiness? If you have two teams who are equally talented and healthy, what, beyond luck, is the difference? Momentum. The team that’s been winning, having fun and feeling good about itself will tend to stay on a roll. The team that’s losing, feeling cursed and quietly getting bitter about struggling teammates (hello, Sens) will tend to stay in their funk.
Before the salary cap, a talented team could quickly bust a slump before it starts, simply because there were several awful teams they could wail on. Now there are no awful teams. The media also loves the streak. More and more reporters show up every day, wondering about the reason for the streak, good or bad, inadvertently reinforcing the excitement or gloom.
Why did the Senators slip into negative momentum again? I blame the long Olympic break and a vicious flu bug. They're having no fun at all right now, just grinding, waiting for a break in the storm. They need a simple little spark like the one Mike Brodeur gave them in New York to start their record 11 game win streak. It can be as simple as that. A new face, a lucky bounce, anything to get them feeling good about themselves and each other.
However, they’re now running out of time. With 10 games to go, it’s like Newton’s first law of motion. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to miss the playoffs.
I’m paraphrasing, of course.