Although 10 teams will play two games the week of the All-Star break, for all intents and purposes, this is your final week of the NHL first half. And what a week it's going to be. With Boston playing the rare five game schedule, it's anything goes out there as teams prepare for the break. Let's find you some juicy crevasses to steal some points in the fantasy standings.
Don't call it a comeback - Looky here, the Ducks are sneaking up the standings. Teemu Selanne has woken up a bit (three goals, three assists in last seven days) and Anaheim is 4-1-1 in 2012. Anaheim (vs. PHO, OTT, COL) hosts three winnable games.
Busy B's - Boston (@FLA, TB, NJ, vs. NYR, @PHI) plays five times in the next seven nights. Four of those games will occur on back-to-back nights and in visitor jerseys. Outside of their first meeting with NHL points-leading Rangers, Boston is a combined 5-2 (29-9 GF/GA) against their five opponents this week.
Busted blue-line - Injury depleted Buffalo (@DET, CHI, WPG, STL) has its work cut out for them. Jhonas Enroth is 0-5-2 is his last seven decisions, including a 0-1-1 record in January, despite stopping almost everything (.943 SV% last three games) that comes his way. *AHEM at Coach Ruff.* Ryan Miller has a .912 save-percentage in the month of January. Of the injured Sabres defensemen, Robyn Regehr (upper body), Brayden McNabb (possible concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (upper-body) only Andrej Sekera (upper-body) is expected back any time soon. Additionally, left-wingers, Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Colin Stuart (knee) are still out with no word on a return date.
Re-kindling the Flame - Calgary (@SJ, LA, EDM) hits the road for two against the Northwest and one against a slumping Edmonton. New addition Michael Cammalleri (77% CBS owned) notched a goal in his first game back in Flames colors. Will the romance last? My money is on yes and I'm dropping the slumping Mason Raymond to prove it.
Wind speed picking up? - Perhaps Carolina (@PIT, vs. WAS, @NYI), who plays two on the road, can turn things around after the All-Star break. Nineteen year old Jeff Skinner (missed 16 games) has been activated off the injured-reserve. Rookie defenseman Justin Faulk (four goals, seven assists in 27 games) is clearly getting more comfortable and headed to the Molson Canadian All-Star Skills Competition. After a 4-2 win over the Bruins, it seems Kirk Muller has got the blood moving in Raleigh again.
Rivalry brewing - Chicago (vs. BUF, FLA, @NSH) has two confidence builder games and a road trip to Nashville. Having already beat Nashville once this season, Chicago will need their confidence as this is the start of a home-and-home with the Preds extending into next week. The Hawks will certainly miss Daniel Carcillo, who had ACL (left knee) surgery and will need six months to recover. Rookie center Andrew Shaw (three goals in six career games) has two goals in his last two games.
Ever changing altitude - It's been an inconsistent month for Colorado (@PHO, vs. FLA, @LA, ANH), who has three of four on the road this week. After crumbling Chicago (4-0) earlier this month, the Blues gave the Avs the same treatment the next night. Add in last week's 0-1-1 two losses to Nashville (7-3 GF/GA), and January was starting to look gloomy. But a third period goal from Paul Stastny (12 goals, 13 assists) against the Stars helped Colorado end the week proper. Although the Avs play two road games this week (Phoenix, Los Angeles), neither one are considered far destinations. Add in two home games and the schedule is filled to the brim. Ryan O'Reilly (two goals, two assists in last three games) continues to show sparks in Matt Duchene's absence.
Perhaps another colored jacket? - Things are not getting better in Columbus. Though their combined record (2-4-1, 23-28 GF/GA) against this week's opponents (vs. EDM, NSH, @DET) is fairly balanced, I'm not sure I would put fantasy stock in any Columbus player at this time.
Bachman backup overdrive - Symmetrically intriguing, Dallas (@STL, vs. DET, vs. TB, @MIN) starts off the week with back-to-back nights, travelling to St. Louis and hosting Detroit. After a two day rest, they host the Lightning and travel to play the Wild. As mentioned in last week's SA, Richard Bachman (6-2, 2.56) may be a good pick up for the week if you're looking to steal a couple of goalie points.
Quietly coasting - I dare you to find a more dangerous third place team in hockey. Heading into Sunday night, Detroit (vs. BUF, @DAL, PHO, vs. CLS), who has the best home record (17-2-1) in the NHL, has two more in the Motor City. Very similar to Dallas' schedule, only the Wings start out hosting the Sabres and travel to the Stars. After a day rest, they head to Phoenix and then home to host Columbus on Saturday night.
Sliding Slick - Edmonton (@CLS, STL, vs. CAL), losers of five straight headed into their game with the Kings on Sunday, has a schedule this week that could get harder with each game.
Panthers Pride - Take away their Division lead and Florida goes from third to seventh in the conference. That doesn't mean anything to the slumping (3-5-2) Panthers. The season series is tied at one win a piece as Florida (vs. BOS, @COL, CHI, WPG) heads into Monday's matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champs. From there, the Panthers play the Avs for the first time, attempt to avenge an OT loss to Chicago and look to go 2-0 up on division suitor Winnipeg.
Crossing January off the list - Los Angeles (@VAN, vs. CAL, COL) starts out the week finishing up their three-game road trip against the Northwest division. From there, LA will head home to play out their three remaining January games from home, all prior to the All-Star Break.
Enduring the road - The Wild (@PHI, TOR, vs. DAL) continue their January travels (eight of 11 games this month on the road) with two more against the Eastern Conference before heading home for the Stars. Though Minnesota is no longer boasting the NHL's best record, they still hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot amidst a locker room flu that took on two of their top three goalies. Josh Harding seems to be breaking loose of the flu quicker than Niklas Backstrom, who hasn't even dressed in two games, much less played since the January 7. Matt Hackett has been backing up Harding, who made 47 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to St. Louis on Saturday.
Trading away their mentality - Having traded away their own locker room issue and limping into the All-Star break, Montreal (vs. WAS, @PIT, TOR) is hoping the addition of Rene Bourque will spark the fuel of the Scott Gomez (4 points) and Tomas Plekanec (31 points) line. After hosting the red hot Rangers this past Sunday night, the Canadiens rest at home for two days and play host to the Capitals. From there, the Habs take to the road against the Pens and Leafs.
Tale of two opponents - Nashville, headed into Sunday night, is only four points behind Chicago and Central division leader St. Louis. Consider Nashville (@NYI, NYR, CLS, vs. CHI) the busiest NHL team over the next 10 days leading up to the AS Break. Although the Preds will actually play four this week, they'll have two types of opponents. Games against the Islanders and Blue Jackets will be entirely different than those against the Rangers and Blackhawks. Music City's ice hockey club will play six times in the next 10 days. Four of their remaining six games before the break will be on the road. Winners of five of their six January games, one can look to left-winger Sergei Kostitsyn (five goals, two assists in six games) as a big reason for this month's success.
Father time asleep - After spending the first five of seven January games on the road, the Devils (vs. WPG, BOS, PHI) play in home jerseys for their remaining five games in January. Though the calendar year started off poorly for the Devils (0-1-1, 3-9 GF/GA), a perfectly timed schedule against teams on the stitch has New Jersey in the thick (sixth place, 52 points) of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Outside of an embarrassing start in their 6-3 loss to Calgary, it helps when your 39-year old goalie defies old man logic. Martin Brodeur (13-10-1, 2.90 GAA) is 7-2-1 over his last 11 starts.
Terrible and terrific - Long Island have a tough week ahead, fortunately for the Islanders (vs. NSH, @WAS, PHI, vs. CAR), 36-year old Evgeni Nabokov (11 straight starts) is holding off father time as well. Of course, with the system in front of him, results have varied (2-3, 3.04 GAA). The New York Islanders are terrible when they're bad (5-12 GA/GF in three January losses) and terrific when they're good (13-6 GF/GA in three January wins). The Islanders have a chance over the next 10 days to balance out the ship with six games. As of now, Al Montoya (concussion), the ship's backup, has resumed skating with the team. As for Rick IR DiPietro, he's likely gone for the season. If any goalie is to fill in for Nabakov over the next 10 days, look to Kevin Poulin, (last week's AHL player of the week) who recently celebrated three straight shutouts for the AHL's Sound Tigers.
Best for the best - Heading into their aforementioned match up with the Canadiens, the Rangers led the NHL in points. As for strength of schedule this week, it's only fitting the Rangers (vs. NSH, PIT, @BOS) have the toughest week ahead, facing three strong Stanley Cup contenders this week. Winners in 11 of their last 13 games, the Rangers are not an explosive team by any means, but the balanced scoring attack and NHL second ranked GAA of 1.88 has the pedal to the metal. As of Sunday, Coach Tortorella is playing it safe with Brandon Dubinsky (shoulder), but it's not said to be serious.
Pre-occupied hosts - Ottawa (vs. WPG, @TOR, SJ, ANH) is yet another team with six games over the next ten days. Once the Jets leave town this Monday, the Sens hit the road for six straight road games to end the month as they get ready to host this year's All-Star weekend.
Resilient Flyers - Philadelphia, 4-2 since their loss to the Rangers in the Winter Classic, hosts three this week including the Wild and Bruins. Philly is dealing with several major injuries including Chris Pronger (concussion), who was recently quoted. "It is very, very tough right now, I don't feel well and it hurts so much not to be playing." The team announced on Saturday left-winger James van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely with a concussion. Despite the IR issues, with a 4-1-1 combined record against this week's (vs. MIN, NYI, @NJ, vs. BOS) opponents, the Flyers look to steal back the Atlantic division lead from the hated Rangers.
Howling Swedes and role players - Phoenix (vs. COL, @ANH, vs. DET, TB) hosts three of four this week. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson had two two-point nights in less than seven days. He's becoming an SA regular. The 'Yotes have a bit of their own injury problems, missing key players like center Martin Hanzal (upper body), who sat out his 10th straight game. Hanzal is optimistic he's within a week of returning. Defenseman David Schlemko however, is out six-to-eight weeks after surgery on his right foot.
Healing the wounds - Despite the over-publicized issues with the concussed Pittsburgh captain, it seems the Penguins true strength is left-winger James Neal (24 goals, 16 assists) and Evgeni Malkin (21 goals). During the Penguins recent six-game losing streak, Neal was a minus-6 rating and held pointless. During the Penguins last two convincing wins three goal wins, Neal has registered three goals, an assist and is a plus-4, while Malkin has four goals, two assists and is a plus-5. Outside of their game against the Rangers, Pittsburgh (vs. CAR, @NYR, vs. MON, WAS) should head into the break with good momentum.
Just nibbling - And yet another team yet to be beaten during January regulation, San Jose (vs. CAL, OTT, @VAN) heads into Sunday night's matchup with juggernaut Chicago, full of steam. Though, off the surface the Sharks seem potent, one might saying they've been just skating by. During their 6-0-1 run to start 2012, the Sharks haven't exactly blown any doors off the hinges, outscoring opponents 21-12, and earning three one-goal wins. Good old Patrick Marleau (four goals, five assists in seven January games) is fine. It's only a matter of time before Logan Couture's (two goals, three assists in last seven games) consistent scoring transitions back into multiple scoring. No one will de-seat Antti Niemi, but it seems there's a bit of controversy between the pipes in NoCal. Antero Niittymaki is complaining to the media about being scratched in favor of Thomas Greiss, who picked up his second start in 17 games.
Nothing blue about St. Louis - St. Louis (5-0-1) gears up for what could possibly be their most difficult back-to-back match ups all season in Detroit and Pittsburgh next week. But first, the Blues (vs. DAL, EDM, BUF) host three games against, Dallas, Edmonton and Buffalo. The Blues have the second best home record (18-3-3) in the league.
Darkening - With a team so talented but winless at the same time, is it safe to say Tampa Bay is coming up on the deadline as a seller? Crawling to the All-Star break, the Lightning are 0-5-1 in 2012, and with this week's schedule (vs. BOS, @DAL, PHO), there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps their only game next week (vs. CLS) will finally get them off the snide.
More drama from the GM - Toronto's schedule over the next two weeks is fairly light, especially with a home-and-home series against the Islanders headed into the All-Star Break. But first, this week (vs. OTT, MIN, MON). Word around Brian Burke's campfire is prior to van Riemsdyk's concussion on Saturday, there was a deal to send Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn to play with his brother Brayden in exchange for the now concussed Riemsdyk. From my vantage point, despite two straight losses, it appears goalie Jonas Gustavsson is still the man in Toronto, as coach Ron Wilson was hesitant about naming James Reimer his starter on Tuesday versus the Senators.
Quiet Canuck-land - Vancouver (vs. LA, SJ) has been home since Friday of last week, and that will continue throughout the rest of the month. A short remaining January schedule starts with two games against the Pacific Division this week. Though the Canucks are a combined 3-1 against the Sharks and Kings, they've been outscored 13-12 by these two teams this season.
Caps lock off - Washington (vs. NYI, @MON, CAR, PIT) plays host to the Islanders, before hitting the road on a progressively more difficult road trip. Their reward next week? Host the explosive Bruins. With Tom Poti already lost for the season, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom out indefinitely, there's no surprise Dennis Wideman (eight goals, 23 assists) thinks a call from his GM means he's being traded. Don't rest your shoulders yet Dennis, you may still get shipped.
Jet-setting ? - The Jets look to snag a few wins and sneak back into the playoff picture against a few stumbling teams. Winnipeg (@OTT, NJ, vs. BUF, FLA), losers of their last three, play six games in the next 10 days as well. With four of those six on the road, only one of those games will be against an NHL elite (next week, Rangers). Hating to sound like a broken record (but doing it anyway), the Jets truly miss the presence of Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien recently had the following to say in regards to his injury. "Rehab's going well right now, and I'll just hopefully get on the ice here in the next week. I guess we kind of hit a spot where we don't really know what's going on right now. It's just a matter of a couple days here, just get on a good streak and feel better and hopefully start skating. I'm just not feeling the best on it. I want to be a hundred percent with it. It's something I don't want to have nagging me later in the year." Byfuglien won't travel with the team on the two-game road trip to Ottawa and New Jersey.
TV Time (all games EST)
NBC Sports Network
Monday Stars at Blues - 7:30 pm
Tuesday Predators at Rangers - 7:30 pm
Wednesday Sabres at Chicago 7:30 pm
Sunday - Washington at Pittsburgh - 12:30 pm
Sunday - Boston at Philadelphia - 3:00 pm