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NHL Schedule Analysis: Intriguing Islanders

Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford

A freelance writer of all things but mostly sports, music and politics, Brian Rutherford was raised on Long Island, NY and currently resides in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. His favorite teams are the New York Rangers, Texas Rangers, New York Giants and New York Knicks. "So the difference I think, boils down to this: you can either impose yourself on reality and then write about it, or you can impose yourself on reality by writing it." -Hunter S. Thompson "The Proud Highway"

It's only the second full week of the season, but trends are forming. Good teams are beginning to come into focus, and bad teams are becoming an easy target. Some of both have me glowing or eating my own words from last week.

Wow:

Having always been the kind of person to get chores out of the way, let's make amends first. The New York Islanders, much in contrast to my own erroneous predictions, are 'panning out early'. Despite a mediocre 2-1-2 record, C/LW Josh Bailey moved up to center the team's No. 1 line (John Tavares concussion) and has four points in two games since, with two goals and three assists total on the season. As for the goaltending situation, your guess is as good as mine. Though Rick DiPietro has been less than great, and historically his pre All-Star stats are not nearly as good as his stretch run (when he's not injured), perhaps the presence of Dwayne Roloson (2.04 GAA) and his tenacious New York Islanders teammates will light a fire. Three road games this week, including Monday's trip to Eastern Conference leading Toronto, will certainly help us gauge the Islanders' current status among Eastern contenders.

Toronto (4-0) is the early leader of the NHL (16 GF, 9 GA), and though I believe they are an underrated team, three of their four wins are of the one goal variety. However, all four of those teams they beat made a playoff appearance in 2009-10, so let's focus on the Leafs' roster. Jean-Sebastien Giguere's (3-0) first full season in blue and white has started out splendidly, posting a 1.98 GAA. Jonas Gustavsson has been solid as well. Jump on this bandwagon early as the Maple Leafs are getting the electric start they hoped for last year with Phil Kessel (six points) leading the way. The additions of Colby Armstrong and the first full season of Dion Phaneuf should be the highlights, but it's LW Clarke MacArthur (29% owned) leading the team with five goals. Toronto has NYI/ NYR at home and PHI away.

LW Steve Sullivan is owned by a mere 52% of fantasy players on CBS, but his (4 g, 1 a) five points in four games may not be enough to keep the Preds on top of the Western Conference. After home games with Calgary and Pittsburgh, Nashville heads even more south to take on the equally surprising Dallas Stars (4-0) on Saturday. Though you should tread lightly (three wins against ANH, CHI, STL), if you are in a deep league and you're looking to replace your third goalie this early, I've got two words for you, Anders Lindback. Yes, Pekka Rinne is a terrific talent, but anytime a goalie starts experiencing back problems (early or late in the season), taking a chance at the backup on a surging team is Fantasy Hockey common sense. Lindback has been solid thus far (2.18 GAA), and is still unowned in 88% of CBS leagues. Finally, look for a return by RW Martin Erat this Tuesday against Calgary.

Speaking of those also surging Dallas Stars, if you're planning on biding your time, change your plans. Sure, Brad Richards is tied for first in the NHL with nine points and Brenden Morrow has four goals. Kari Lehtonen (4-0) has been confident and reliable (including two shootout wins) but now rather than later is the time to pull the trigger on roster moves. While their young and quick-legged squad looks good, the fluidity has yet to come. But I'm not yet sold on the longevity of this team, so I'm going back on my word from last week. In a strong Western Conference, it's the inexperience of their young core of blue-liners Matt Niskanen, Niklas Grossman and Trevor Daley that may eventually create a disappointing end of the season. Though Jamie Benn is skating with the club in practice again, weekly owners should look in another direction on him. In the meantime, take full advantage of what could be a fruitful Florida (TB, FLA) swing before heading home to take on Nashville in aforementioned game on Saturday.

Woe:

The New Jersey Devils had a dramatic summer, and six games (1-4-1) into the season it's clear that having the first $100 million dollar man of the NHL does not necessarily guarantee a winning result. After a hellacious six games in the first nine days of their young season, New Jersey gets a much needed break. They will use this time to re-group and ready themselves for a pair of games against Northeast teams the Montreal and Buffalo.

So far, this season has not been pretty for the Vancouver Canucks (1-2-1), including two early season losses to division opponent Los Angeles. Perhaps it's the void Pavol Demitra left, or maybe it's the lack of netting second year man Mason Raymond has found to this point. Regardless, The Sedin twins have accounted for 11 of their 21 points, and Roberto Luongo looks to be on par. The Canucks will take on Carolina and Chicago, as well as a non-traditional home and home with The Wild.

The New York Rangers have had a mediocre start to the season, but it's not likely to get better. Chris Drury (C), who had been out, broke the same finger - in a different place - and will be sidelined for six weeks. Marian Gaborik separated his shoulder and will be lost for 2-to-3 weeks. Just in case you're holding onto him, Vaclav Prospal, yet to play this season, will undergo exploratory knee surgery next Tuesday and we will all know more there soon. John Tortorella says Erik Christensen is healthy and previous healthy scratch Todd White will fill the void at least for Monday's game against Colorado in the Garden. Look for Derek Stepan to have increased ice time. New York will visit Toronto and Boston, then back home for cross-river rivals New Jersey.

Anaheim (1-3-1) hits the road this week. Fantasy owners for players with Columbus, Philadelphia and Detroit, you may begin to lick your chops. The Ducks' (minus-45 as a team) defense can pretty much be blamed for a 10 GF, and 21 GA.

Waiver Wire gems to be? (owned by fewer than 50% of CBS Fantasy Hockey owners)

Jarret Stoll, C, LAK - Though he faces three strong goalies this week, Stoll was sharp last week (2G, +4) for the Kings.
Andrew Ladd, LW, ATL - Two goals, three assists last week - the change of scenery seems to have inspired Mr. Ladd and his Atlanta teammates.
Chris Thorburn, RW, ATL - Also with the Thrashers, has three goals and 11 PIM.
Matt Cullen, C, MIN - The Minnesota Wild have enjoyed two goals and four assists from this center. His output includes five power play points.
Jordan Leopold, D, BUF - This Sabres point-man (2G, 2 A, 12 Shots, 6 PIM) should give you a boost in all scoring aspects.
Brent Johnson, G, PIT - Despite being behind Pittsburgh's golden boy Marc-Andre Fluery, Johnson has posted a 3-0 record (1.32 GAA) and is owned by 13% of CBS Owners.

Full Schedule Grid

Team Away Home Total
Calgary 3 1 4
Chicago 1 3 4
Nashville 2 2 4
New York Rangers 2 2 4
San Jose 3 1 4
Tampa Bay 1 3 4
Anaheim 3 0 3
Atlanta 1 2 3
Boston 1 2 3
Buffalo 2 1 3
Carolina 3 0 3
Columbus 1 2 3
Colorado 1 2 3
Dallas 2 1 3
Los Angeles 2 1 3
Minnesota 2 1 3
New Jersey 2 1 3
New York Islanders 3 0 3
Ottawa 2 1 3
Pittsburgh 2 1 3
St. Louis 1 2 3
Toronto 1 2 3
Vancouver 2 1 3
Washington 1 2 3
Detroit 0 2 2
Edmonton 0 2 2
Florida 0 2 2
Montreal 1 1 2
Philadelphia 0 2 2
Phoenix 0 2 2