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NHL Schedule Analysis: All-Star Week

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"


Planning on grabbing a beer and setting your lineup for the second half? Not so fast sir... even with All-Star weekend upon us, there's still some work to do. This Sunday, you'll be faced with some interesting lineup changes. Players who have been stashed on your bench all season long are ready to blossom and maybe give you that gooey feeling over the next three days of hockey. This week, we examine a backup goalie and one position player that may help you win some points in a three-day fantasy week. Let's start with the Western Conference, who has six teams playing two games this week while the Eastern only has four.



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Western Conference

CLS (@NSH, TB) Columbus was truly the worst team of the first half, and although you were advised last week to trust no one fantasy-wise, perhaps that was a bit harsh. Sure, they've only felt that winning locker room feeling four times since December 15, but that doesn't mean that they're completely devoid of fantasy value, does it? Sure, Radek Martinek (concussion since early October) has been ruled out for the remainder of the season, but there's got to be someone to trust on the Blue Jackets team! Brett Lebda? Forget the fact that defenseman Grant Clitsome has been scratched for the last five games. Sure, they have a laundry list -D James Wisniewski (broken ankle) C Jeff Carter (separated shoulder), LW Kristian Huselius (lower body), LW R.J. Umberger (concussion) - of imperative players out until AT LEAST mid-to-late February, but there's got to be a reason to bet on Columbus. The Jackets are one of 10 teams that have the raw advantage of two games, back-to-back this week. After taking Detroit to a shootout, surely, there's a reason to invest in a team with whom NO ONE ELSE is pulling from the pool. Yeah, I've got nothing.

DET (vs. STL, @MON) Going into this past Saturday's action, an extension of their five-game winning streak was a foregone conclusion as the Wings were playing the aforementioned Blue Jackets. This week, the Red Wings put their six-game winning streak on the line against division rival St. Louis and slumping Montreal.

-First year Motor City man, D Ian White, Nicklas Lidstrom's partner in crime, has 24 points in 43 games.

-Since allowing four goals on 18 shots to Toronto on January 7, Jimmy Howard (29-10-1) has won five straight, notching a shutout and a .937 save-percentage in that span. Should the Wings split up this week's duties, deduct an embarrassing loss to a reinvigorated Islanders team and Ty Conklin has been solid (2-0, 1.88) on Howard's rest days this month against Chicago and Dallas.

EDM (vs. SJ, @VAN) According to his mom, Taylor Hall WILL be wearing a helmet in warm-ups at least for a while. What's worse? After the Hall mishap, the Oilers let a two-goal lead fade away against the Blue Jackets. Things don't get much easier as Edmonton's youth movement takes on two strong teams this week.

-Jordan Eberle notched his first point (assist) since coming back from his knee injury in Saturday's 4-1 loss to Calgary.

-Devan Dubnyk (2-2, 3.03 GAA in his previous five January games) took over on Saturday, after Nikolai Khabibulin (0-5-1 in January) yielded four goals on 16 Calgary shots.

NSH (vs. CLS, @CHI) Seven days after losing to the Preds in an Avs jersey, Brandon Yip was claimed off waivers from Colorado. Perhaps Nashville is banking on Yip and Colin Wilson to re-live the days of old, when they won a national championship (2009) together at Boston University. Both forwards Yip (41 points in 113 career NHL games) and Jerred Smithson (two of his five season points in the last five games) joined the Nashville lineup this past Saturday against Chicago. After a gimme game with Columbus, the Preds head to Chicago the next night for the second half of their home-and-home with Chicago. Nashville chased Chicago's Corey Crawford quite handily this past Saturday and tied the series at one game apiece.

-Sergei Kostitsyn, seven goals, four assists (plus-8) in January, continues his consistent ways.

-Having won 15 of his last 18 starts, there's no doubt Pekka Rinne (7-1 in January) is the number one man in town. However, with back-to-back games, expect Anders Lindback to steal you a couple points this week. No, Lindback hasn't exactly been terrific in limited action (2-5 in five starts this season), but regardless, he should be licking his chops readying for Columbus.

SJ (@EDM, CAL) San Jose (1-3 last week), who started out 2012 on a hot streak is limping to the break. Going through a bit of a scoring drought, the Sharks hit the road for two games. Defenseman Colin White (lower-body injury) returned last week and was a minus-2 with one shot on goal, three blocked shots, averaging around 14 minutes of ice time in two games.

-Second-year center Andrew Desjardins has four assists (plus-3, 2 PIM) over his last four games.

-With San Jose playing in back-to-back games, if anyone other than Antti Niemi starts, I can assure you, it will not be Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki, was assigned to Worcester of the AHL for a second conditioning assignment in two months.

STL (@DET, PIT) No longer the alpha team of the Central division, we're all about to find out if the Blues are contender or pretender. By the time they're done visiting Detroit and Pittsburgh, they'll need the rest of All-Star weekend.

- David Backes enjoyed a two-goal two-assist night against the injury depleted Buffalo Sabres. This gives Backes five goals, seven assists, a plus-8 and 23 PIM in nine January games.

- After the Blues signed Brian Elliott to a two-year extension Wednesday, there's a traffic jam in the St. Louis net minding scheme. Jaroslav Halak (14-7-5) has been a solid goalie lately. So, what should they do with Ben Bishop, who waits in the AHL wings? Bishop (17-12, 2.36 GAA) was recently named the AHL Player of the Week. Bishop notched his league-leading sixth shutout last week. The 25-year-old Ben Bishop is waiting to hear about the AHL All-Star game.

Eastern Conference

NYI (@TOR, vs. TOR) Ebbs and flows? Who knows, but for the second consecutive week, we're talking about a team that WAS ebbing and now is flowing. The Islanders are turning things around and heading into a traditional home-and-home with yet another slumping Canadian team, Toronto.

-Arguably the most productive NHL forward in January, John Tavares (19 goals, 29 assists) is pulling the Islanders out of their dire straits. Would you consider Tavares, who is on a 12-game point streak (21 points), for league MVP if he continues this type of pace?

-Evgeni Nabakov (6-3, SHO in January) has allowed an average of one goal per game over his last four starts. The consistency is of course bringing the W's for the Islanders. Al Montoya was activated and Kevin Poulin returned to the AHL last week after a disappointing 3-1 loss to Nashville. It's not guaranteed that Montoya will give Nabakov a rest this week, as the Russian is hot to trot.

OTT (@LA, PHO) The Senators continue their four-game west coast swing with two more games before heading home to enjoy the All-Star festivities. Already 8-2-1 in January heading into the week, Ottawa would love to roll into Boston (after the break) full of steam.

-Colin Greening (11 goals, 15 assists) has certainly showed a propensity for producing more consistently this campaign. Greening, who notched two goals against the Sharks, last week, has three goals and five assists (+3) in the month of January.

-Since (12.27.11) allowing three goals on seven Montreal shots, Craig Anderson (25-13, 4) has not only been the key to Ottawa's success, but quite possibly the hottest (.950 SV %) goalie in hockey. He has started 17 straight games, but will he get a rest with back-to-back games this week? Alex Auld is 1-3-2 with a 3.73 goals against average.

TOR (vs. NYI, @NYI) Maybe it's the hypothetical tinkering of GM Brian Burke, but after starting out 2012 on a four-game winning streak, the Leafs have now lost four of their last five games. Two weeks ago, had you asked Toronto how they felt about a home-and-home with the Islanders going into the All-Star break, I'm sure an ear-to-ear smile would have been the natural reaction. All of a sudden, this could be an interesting mini-series.

-It's possible defenseman John-Michael Liles (concussion) and right-winger Colby Armstrong (concussion) could play one game before All-Star weekend, but more than likely they will both sit it out till after the break. Either way, you may want to sit Liles due to rust, and just keep Armstrong on the watch list.

-Go with the Gustavsson... Jonas Gustavsson is the key to the Leafs turning things around and locking them into a playoff spot. Though James Reimer hasn't been a pushover, he hasn't shown nearly as much consistency this season as Gustavsson. Either way, you're likely to see each goalie get a start this week.

WPG (@CAR, NYR) Neither team is a pushover, so it could be yet another tough week for the Jets (3-6-1 in January), who travel to Raleigh and Manhattan this week. In order to find the good news for Manitoba ice hockey, you'll need to look beyond this week. The month of January ends with their ninth of 13 January games in Philadelphia after the All-Star break.

-Up until Saturday night, defenseman Tobias Enstrom had a three-game goal scoring streak. Although Enstrom's (minus-4 in January) turnover resulted into a Florida goal, he did manage an assist, totaling three goals, five assists in 10 January games.

-Although Ondrej Pavelec (2-5 in January) has continued his inconsistent ways, its noteworthy, in his two wins this month, Pavelec carries a .965 save-percentage.

NOTES and QUOTES Canucks forward David Booth has two goals and an assist since returning to the lineup three games ago. The Hurricanes made several moves last week, including trading left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to the New Jersey Devils for minor-league defenseman Joe Sova and New Jersey's fourth-round pick in this year's draft. Ponikarovsky, (seven goals and eight assists in 49 games with Carolina) paid immediate dividends, scoring the Devils only goal in a 4-1 loss to the Flyers on Saturday. Kyle Palmieri (goal, assist in 10 NHL appearances) was recalled by Anaheim on Saturday.

NBCSports Network (all games EST)

Monday - Blues @ Red Wings 7:30 pm
Tuesday - Wild @ Avalanche 9:00 pm
Wednesday - Red Wings @ Canadiens 7:30 pm
Saturday - All-Star Skills Competition 7:00 pm
Sunday - All-Star Game 4:00 pm