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NHL Schedule Analysis: Time to Fly?

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"

4X4

One thing is for sure, the NHL owners have no problem with competitive balance. While every team has at least two wins (4 points), the league has yet to show a strong favorite. 

Marc-Andre Fleury may have regained his step and possibly his job from hot-stepper Brent Johnson, with a 4-3 OT win over the NHL's last undefeated team the Nashville Predators (3-0-3). Right-wing turned Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien has seen his value increase by 13% amongst fantasy owners and has quickly become a 25 minute absorber at his new position. Rick Rypien got a bit out of hand, wound up suspended (six games) for not being smarter than an out of control fan, but who else was out of control?

We may see a transition year ahead, as the Northeast division is coming out harder and stronger than the usually dominant Atlantic division. With both Buffalo and Ottawa being under .500, but capable teams, the rest of the division is shaping up well. Montreal is 3-2, Toronto looks stronger everyday 4-1-1 and Boston 4-1-0 are suiting up like every one of 82 nights count this year.

Speaking of the Northeast division, the city of Buffalo (2-5-1) is about to find out what their Sabres are made of this year. This is one of those road trips that list as an 80/1 horse race bet. After winning 4-1 in Atlanta, Buffalo immediately lost 4-2 to the Senators (2-4-1). Ryan Miller's men are going to wake up sooner or later. An opponent in my league just released Tyler Myers. Having the last waiver pick, it was a long night, but I got him. Maybe the week they have three road games against the Flyers, Thrashers and Stars is not the week to play him with confidence, but I don't see a Lindy Ruff team struggling for more than a half a season, so pick up the droppings. 

Then, there were four. The NHL schedule is now in full swing with most teams playing three games, which means most tier-1 goalies can be trusted with at least two, maybe even a third start. Let's take a look at those teams where the back-up goalie could [or not] earn you a move in the standings. 

Four by Four

Los Angeles Kings (4-2) 
Seemingly an exciting operation going on, yet Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson have accounted for only two of the team's 42 points. Jonathan Quick has been superb (.940%, 3-1), and coach Terry Murray was recently quoted saying Joanathan Bernier would probably get a look once a week. Considering Quick's collapse in the '09-10 playoffs, we should all buy stock in the process of resting Quick before the All-Star break. The Kings play three games in four nights on the road (MIN, CHI, DAL) before heading home to face Eastern Conference enigma the New Jersey Devils (2-4-1).

Philadelphia Flyers (2-3)
Splitting up the week literally, the Flyers are playing on back-to-back nights, twice this week. Road games are Columbus and Pittsburgh, one at home against the slumping Sabres, and one on Saturday night versus the visiting New York Islanders. Number one goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is 2-2 while backup Brian Boucher hasn't played since an October 14th 3-2 loss to the Lightning. It should be a busy week for both goalies. Daniel Briere does not have much to work with, and those that he does, do not seem to be working. Nikolay Zherdev has been flat out disappointing, posting just one goal in six games. Both James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards have managed three helpers each, but this is not a team going in the right direction. Bright spot is, if you need PIM, look to five players on their roster that already have 10 or more minutes this season.

Montreal Canadiens (3-2-1)
This could be the kind of week for Montreal that gets the offense going. Phoenix, NYI and FLA at home, away at NYI. Carey Price has been solid this season, but with four games this week, look for Alex Auld to get his first spot start in a Canadiens jersey. Michael Cammalleri has been quiet (2g, 1 a) but is second on the team in shots (Brian Gionta, 26) with 21. If the Canadiens are going to make a go of it this season, center Scott Gomez is going to need more than 59 points this season. It's nice to have two goals and three assists from Tomas Plekanec, but not so impressive for that to be leading the team.

Phoenix Coyotes (2-2-1)
Ilya Bryzgalov (133 saves on 142 shots) has been a wall for this under-achieving Coyotes (2-2-1) offense. Both speedster Scottie Upshall and Radim Vrbata have been disappointing with only a pair of goals each. The good news is Ed Jovanovski seems to be alert this year, compiling five assists and eight PIM's this year. Journeyman center, Eric Belanger has been hot this week, netting a goal and three assists. Phoenix will make stops in Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit before returning back home to take on the Eastern conference leading Tampa Bay Lightning in the desert. Look for Bryzgalov to play at least three with Jason LaBarbera to spot start once.

The Others

The New York Islanders 4-1-2 record is more reflective of their two strong goalies than their status in the league. Dwayne Roloson has a 1.65 GAA in 3 starts and Rick DiPietro is undefeated (two OT losses) in four games. Though left-winger Matt Moulson is the team leaders in goals (4), the whole team is showing some balance. Fourth in the league with team on-ice points (61), several players can be scooped off the FA market, including center P.A. Parenteau (owned by less than 10% of CBS owners), who leads the team with seven points (2 G, 5 A). Since returning to the lineup, John Tavares has had a point per game. The New York Islanders take on Montreal in a home and home and visit long-time rival Flyers on Saturday. 

Aside from the aforementioned game against the lackluster Phoenix offense, the 5-1-1 Tampa Bay Lightning have two important games at home against Nashville (3-0-3) and Pittsburgh (5-3). The Lightning have played themselves up to be the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference so far. Steven Stamkos has been without limits through six games (8 G, 6A), and that's without even scanning Martin St. Louis, who is averaging over three shots a game on a one-way (24 GF, 23 GA) squad. Yes, Mike Smith is 4-0, but I'm not yet sold on him being their number one goalie. Dan Ellis is a great backup plan for Stevie Y's. Tighten up the defense and we may be looking at a top conference team by the end of the year.

I'm willing to bet Kari Lehtonen was a selfish child, never let any of his classmates play with his toys. Dallas has yet to turn to another goalie, and why would they? Lehtonen has posted a 5-2 record while facing a barrage of shots (averaging 36+) every game. Sooner or later this will catch up to the Stars, or maybe the defense will just learn to absorb a few here and there. James Neal has landed, and in a big way for the Dallas Stars. The Oshawa native has a four-game goal scoring streak and is a plus-8 during those games. Dallas finds some normalcy in their schedule this week, playing every other day versus Anaheim, L.A. and Buffalo all at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Former Bruin prospect Andrew Raycroft is their backup, in case you were wondering.

Waiver wire gems to be?

Matt Cullen, C, MIN - Still owned by a mere 42%, had four PPP last week.
P.A. Parenteau, RW, NYI - Two goals, five assists (6 PPP), sure to be available if you dare trust an Islander.
Jamie Benn, LW, DAL - Three assists in his first game back (concussion), pick him up now.
Steve Montador, D, BUF - Four assists, plus-6, 10 PIM and 17 SHG.
Kyle Cumiskey, D, COL - Average 21 TOI, he may be awakening (1g, 1 a) in the last two games.
Jonathan Bernier, G, LA - Look for a spot start, maybe two this week. Highly touted prospect.

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