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NHL Schedule Analysis: Division Leaders Check

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"

NHL Schedule Analysis
by Brian Rutherford, RotoWire Writer

Thanksgiving has passed us and the holiday season has officially begun. A few straggles aside, December brings a time when each NHL team has surpassed the quarter mark of the season. In a season where league balance has been the key component for the NHL, the division leaders provide us all season's greetings and perhaps our first preview of what the playoffs may look like.

Atlantic

After being ousted (4-2) by the now mediocre Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final last season, the Philadelphia Flyers (15-6-4) have quietly become among the league's elite once again. Despite Michael Leighton's injury issues, the Flyers on the surface are without weakness. Philadelphia's professional ice hockey team is tied for first in the NHL with 34 points, in large part thanks to Sergei Bobrovsky's 12-3-1 record. Fresh off their shellacking (6-1) of Minnesota's trap defense and Pronger's rule 75 fiasco, Philly features three 10-goal (or more) scorers and merely one player - injured Dan Carcillo - with a minus rating. Ranked first in the NHL for goals, assists, points, SHG and of course PIM, the future for Philly looks good. One weakness can be found with a quick glance at their production on the road. The Flyers have scored only 36% (11 of 25 games) of their goals in visitor apparel. With the guys in orange and black heading out west, we should get a good indication of their staying power this week.

The Flyers' key injuries this year:

(RW) Ian Laperriere - Diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome on September 28. He is out of action indefinitely.
(G) Michael Leighton - Underwent surgery on October 11 to repair a herniated disc in his back. Leighton is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks.
(D) Matt Walker - Underwent surgery on October 20 to repair a torn labrum and bony impingement in his right hip. Walker is expected to miss 10-to-12 weeks.
(RW) Dan Carcillo - Suffered a sprained left knee on Nov. 15. Carcillo will be out approximately three weeks.

This week: @VAN, LA, ANH

Northeast

Not exactly exploding with offensive prowess (ranked 18th), as noted last week, the Montreal Canadiens (14-8-1) have relied on dependable goaltending this season. With the exception of the second place Bruins (12-6-1), the Habs have more-or-less taken advantage of their stumbling Northeast division rivals. Ranked fourth in the NHL in plus/minus rating, the Habs look to get more production out of its offense against the lackluster Oilers and Devils this week. Assuming they can't generate a spark with their current talent, here's a look at the most productive Hamilton Bulldogs (13-3-1) of the AHL.

Prospect(s) watch:

Max Pacioretty, LW - 10 goals (94 shots), 23 points in 20 games
David Desharnais, C - 17 assists, 23 points (+9) in 20 games
Aaron Palushaj, RW - 15 points in 14 games
Brendon Nash, D - nine points (+6) in 19 games

This week: vs. EDM, @NJ, vs. SJ

Southeast

Last week we focused on Washington's (16-6-2) lack of presence on the road. After being shutout (5-0) in New Jersey of all places, Brooks Laich saved the Caps from nearly blowing a 2-0 lead in Carolina. Even more uplifting was Semyon Varlamov's return (groin) performance (30 of 32), playing for the first time in over a month. After Michal Neuvirth played so brilliantly during his absence, he will now take some pine with what's being called a "lower body" injury. Varlamov stood idly (17 saves) in a 6-0 blowout of second place Tampa Bay and is 2-0 since returning to the big club. Without a doubt one of the strongest offensive teams in the NHL last year, now equipped with goaltending to boot, how far will the Capitals go this year? After back-to-back Western Conference road games this week, Washington plays eight out of 12 games at the Verizon Center in December, where they clearly have an advantage.

This week: @STL, DAL, vs.ATL

Central

Every season, the Motor City Red Wings are the one constant the NHL can count on. Detroit (14-4-2) always seems in control of their destiny, and never rebuilding. This year has been no exception, despite a disappointing season by second-line center Valtteri Filppula. A quick start to the season had most believing the change of sweater colors would inspire Mike Modano. In 19 games, Modano has managed just eight points (-3), underlining just how influential the system is in contrast to the talent.

Aside from the aforementioned disappointments, it's been the stellar sophomoric performance of one Jimmy Howard (12-2-2) that has anchored Detroit in a very competitive Central division. Justin Abdelkader, LW, is also bringing a youth movement, having compiled seven points, 15 PIM for a +8 in just 12 games. However, much like the Flyers and Capitals, the Red Wings have much to prove on the road (5-3), in order to stave off second place road warriors Columbus (8-1 on the road). They'll quickly get their chance this week as they also head out west.

This week: @ SJ, ANH, LA

Northwest

What can we say about the Northwest division? Although Vancouver (11-7-3) has cooled off, they still lead what most consider to be the most under-achieving division in hockey. Aside from the amazing Sedin brothers, the production has been missing from several key components, such as speedy winger Mason Raymond. Expected to be the spark plug of this team once again, his November (one goal) has been anything but electric.

Another winger who must step things up to ensure a division title will be 11-year veteran Mikael Samuelsson, who is coming off a 30 goal season in his first campaign with the Canucks. Though he has managed 14 points and 65 shots on goal, it's only resulted in four to the back of the net. After losing four in a row, the streaky Raffi Torres and Vancouver have outscored their opponents 10-3 during their current two game winning streak.

Caution: could become flammable

Alexandre Burrows (LW) who has four points (two goals) in his last three games, looks to get back in the fold.
Mikael Samuelsson (RW) is a plus-4 in his last two games and had two goals in Vancouver's rout of San Jose.
Jeff Tambellini (LW) could be sent back to the AHL at anytime, but is making the most of his opportunity with five points and 17 shots in eight games.
Dan Hamhuis (D) is a former first round pick and a plus-4 in his last two games.

This week: @ CGY, CHI, vs. STL

Meanwhile, Colorado's goalies issues continue as Craig Anderson injured his groin and Peter Budaj moves back up the depth charts despite averaging three goals allowed over the last six games. The Avs are 4-2 in that span. Anderson who originally returned from a knee injury is currently listed as day-to-day.

Pacific

It seems like just yesterday, we were staring at a Coyotes team destined for cellar of the Pacific. At that time, I had the displeasure to catch their uncomfortable passing game as they lost 6-3 to Dallas on November 5th. Since then, Phoenix (11-5-5) has won seven games in a row heading into Saturday night's action against Anaheim. Ilya Bryzgalov and company have not lost in regulation time since that game in Dallas. As for benefiting your team, a look at their team leader board says there's not much for a fantasy manager to salivate over. Look for Shane Doan to get his legs as the Coyotes try to hold off an ice cold second place Kings team this week.

This week: @ NSH ANH, MIN vs. FLA

Teams playing four games: ANH, CGY, EDM, MIN, NYR, OTT, PHX, STL
Teams playing two games: NJ, BUF

Making moves:

Last place Anaheim (10-11-3) has been very busy over the last eight days:

- Called up Dan Sexton (RW), Nick Bonino (C), Brandon McMillan (LW)
- Traded Stu Bickel (D) to the Rangers for Nigel Williams (D)
- Traded Ryan Carter (C) to the Hurricanes for Stefan Chaput (C), Matt Kennedy (RW)
- Traded Danny Syvret (D), Rob Bordson (LW) for Pat Maroon (LW) and David Laliberte (RW). Both stay in AHL.
- Sent Kennedy, Chaput, Josh Green, and Bickel to Syracuse of the AHL

The Full Schedule

Team Away Home Total
Anh 0 4 4
Cgy 2 2 4
Edm 3 1 4
Min 2 2 4
NYR 1 3 4
Ott 1 3 4
Pho 3 1 4
StL 3 1 4
Atl 3 0 3
Bos 2 1 3
Car 1 2 3
Chi 0 3 3
Cls 1 2 3
Col 2 1 3
Dal 1 2 3
Det 3 0 3
Fla 3 0 3
LA 1 2 3
Mon 1 2 3
Nsh 1 2 3
NYI 1 2 3
Phi 1 2 3
Pit 2 1 3
SJ 2 1 3
TB 2 1 3
Tor 0 3 3
Van 2 1 3
Was 2 1 3
Buf 1 1 2
NJ 1 1 2

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