The vagaries of the Ontario Hockey League schedule have made the next four games important for the London Knights.
Four games in December, just before Christmas, important?
No doubt. They are important for a multitude of reasons.
The most obvious reason is points. The eighth-place Knights are 3-7 in their last 10 games. They are in desperate need of a boost to their point total.
The Knights take on Guelph on Thursday, Erie on Friday and Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday afternoon. All three are winnable games. A week Friday, the Knights play Owen Sound.
All four games are at home.
Thatís the second reason for the importance of the games. By the time the Knights are done the four games, they donít play again for 11 days. Imagine laying an egg going into the Christmas break and having 11 days to think about it.
When these four games are done, the Knights will have played 21 home games and only 11 on the road. After the Christmas break they play 23 games on the road and only 13 at home.
Itís a lousy schedule but thatís what happens when the building in which a team plays is a multi-use facility.
Not only do the Knights have to play a lot of games on the road during crunch time, but management doesnít like so many home games wedged into a tight timeframe around Christmas when people have a lot more to do than attend a hockey game.
If the Knights play poorly, fans may find another way to spend their admission during gift-giving season. You donít have to pay money to watch lousy hockey. You can stay home and watch the Toronto Maple Leafs.
From a competitive standpoint, no team can afford to drop a bunch of points at home and the Knights need to come up with a majority of the points from these home before things really get tough after Christmas.
The Knights are 9-6-1-1 at home and that isnít good enough.
But they are 4-7-1-0 away and thatís not very good. They are not good enough at home and not very good on the road.
When you donít play well either at home or on the road that doesnít leave many other places to play, said one hockey wag years ago.
And there will be more than Santa checking out the players to see who is naughty and whoís nice.
You can bet that general Mark Hunter will be looking closely to see what players he might be able to package up for other teamís come January.
Hunter isnít about to tell anyone what heís going to do. He keeps saying he wants to look at his team a little longer.
He knows what he has and what he has to deal that might be attractive to other teams and he is willing to part with, isnít much.
The most marketable player right now is defenceman Michael DíOrazio. There are a number of teams who can use a veteran, solid blueliner who is emerging as a leader.
Chris DeSousa may attract some attention as will Stephen Sanza but those guys are overage players and a team has to have room for an overage player.
Hunter isnít going to give any player away. He has been on the other end looking to fill out his roster for a run at a championship and he was forced to pay a premium for the players he wanted.
It makes him want to get full value for the assets he has now.
Which is another reason the four home games are important.
With Hunter watching closely to see what kind of talent he really has, if his club goes south and doesnít play well, he may be a little more flexible when it comes to pulling the plug on some of his players.