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NHL Schedule Analysis: Smell the Desperation

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"

Can you smell that? Desperation has run amuck on a handful of NHL teams who are beginning the descent of their 2011-12 campaign. With just about four weeks left in the NHL season, only Columbus has no chance of making the playoffs. This week, Schedule Analysis will break down the schedule of two types of teams. Those that are looking to concrete their spot in the conference playoffs and those that are attempting to stave off elimination. With your fantasy leagues playoffs most likely starting this week, it's certainly important to recognize the difference between the two.



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AWAY

The following three teams will spend their week on the road.

Of the three, Los Angeles Kings (@NSH @CLS @DET @CHI) seem most likely to make the playoffs. Winners in three of their last four games, the Kings outscored their opponents 13-3 in that span. Jeff Carter netted his first two goals as a Kings forward in a 4-2 over Anaheim and Dustin Brown has been much more productive (five goals, three assists in four games) since Carter's arrival. The pair of Jonathan's [Quick\Bernier] has these guys shooting confidently up the standings late in the season. Keep in mind Simon Gagne (concussion) has been skating for the past three weeks. "It's getting better," Gagne said. "It's not getting worse. That's a good sign. Slowly, we're increasing what we're doing on the ice, and responding to that." By the time the week is up, we should know a lot more about where Los Angeles is headed.

Regardless if Raleigh's men on ice make the playoffs, Kirk Muller has done a solid job turning this team around. The Carolina Hurricanes' (@WAS @BUF @TB @FLA) Brian Boucher (lower body) is back, and with two back-to-back instances this week, he could see a bit of action. While newly re-signed right-winger Tuomo Ruutu (upper body) could return before the season is up, there's no certainty on defenseman Joni Pitkanen (concussion). Justin Faulk (seven goals, 10 assists) hasn't gone more than one game without registering a point since his six-game point-scoring drought in late January. Finnish left-winger, Jussi Jokinen, has two goals and an assist in his last four games.

Luckily for the injury depleted Montreal Canadiens (@CAL @EDM @VAN), David Desharnais (four goals, three assists) and linemate Max Pacioretty (two goals, one assist) are starting to warm-up just in time for one last push into the playoffs. Moot point, as it doesn't seem to be helping the hapless Habs, who have lost six of their last seven games. Montreal takes to the road for three against the Northwest division this week, against which, they have a 0-2 (outscored 7-2 in two games) record this season.

HOME

Three teams enjoying all home games this week, also happen to be three of the top ten favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season.

Fresh off their deadline semi-splash, the Nashville Predators (vs. LA vs. COL vs. DET) have recognized their ability to shut down the offensive powers of most and if anything improved those abilities with a few moves at the deadline. More impressive is their newest additions all chipped in for a 3-1 win against Florida this past weekend. Both Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad chipped in an assist and first points as a Predator. Meanwhile, Sergei's brother Andrei Kostitsyn had a two-point (goal, assist) effort. Rookie Swiss blue-liner, Roman Josi has two goals, two assists and 10 blocked shots in his last five games.

Breathing down the neck of the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins (vs. PHO vs. TOR vs. FLA vs. BOS) have won five straight games. Having outscored their opponents 23-7 over that span, not many are screaming for the return of Sidney Crosby, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. Over the last week or so, queries of Crosby's return status have been heating up and perhaps escalating the play of his teammates. Although it's been Evgeni Malkin supplying most of the scoring touch this season, the Penguins, short Kris Letang (concussion symptoms) in the 5-1 over Colorado, have been showing a bit of offensive balance lately. Left-winger Steve Sullivan has a seven-game point streak (three goals, eight assists) while Pascal Dupuis just had a four-game point streak ended against Colorado. Yes, Letang's uncertain status is a bit of a downer, but with right-winger Tyler Kennedy due to be back any week and the pending status of Sid the Kid, the sky is the limit for this breed of Penguins in March.

It was an up and down Saturday night for the Vancouver Canucks (vs. DAL vs. WPG vs. MON) and its fans. The big buzz was Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian going head-to-head for the first time since the deal that sent them packing this past Monday. Although Kassian (two assists) was the prospect with the most swagger by the end of the night, it was Buffalo's Ville Leino that led to the early exit of Roberto Luongo and former Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff's goal in the third period that made Vancouver just another (more on this later) victim of this all-of-a-sudden very efficient Buffalo squad. Vancouver has three very winnable home games this week.

SPLITS

The following two teams have a schedule that splits them between the road and home. With both teams already entrenched in the top eight of their conference, the results of this week's schedule could end up a factor in whether they even make the playoffs or fold like a Red Sock in September.

The Philadelphia Flyers (vs. DET vs. FLA @TOR @NJ) will play exclusively on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for the next three weeks. With seven of those 12 games at Wells Fargo Center, it will certainly be a good time for Philly to get their affairs in order. First and foremost, fill in the production for the fallen left-winger, James van Riemsdyk. Two weeks ago we reported JVR was finally back from concussion symptoms. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, as of this morning he's back on the IR and is expected to miss the next six-to-eight weeks with a broken left foot. Forget about players like Jakub Voracek and Max Talbot who need to fill the void; if the Flyers really want to garner some confidence in the final week or the season, head coach Peter Laviolette needs to give backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky a chance to get back in the fold. While, Bobrovsky didn't really shine in his opportunities earlier this season, something tells me he may be ready to take the reign. The 23-year-old Russian has watched on since February 18 as his counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov (3-2, .865 save-percentage) has played Jekyl and Hyde. Newly acquired defenseman Nicklas Grossman has nearly doubled (four assists) his season points total in just six games with the Flyers.

Currently first-place in the Pacific, Phoenix, much like Florida (@PHI @PIT vs. CAR), holds the third seed in their conference standings due to a weak division. Though, make no mistake, San Jose and Dallas are breathing down their neck. If Phoenix plays any of this week's opponents (@PIT @CLS vs. MIN vs. SJ) like they did in a 5-2 loss to Columbus, they will not achieve a much needed playoff-birth for a city that needs to see the value in their NHL franchise. The problems begin, well, at the beginning for Phoenix. The Coyotes are being outscored 10-2 in the first period of their last six games. Perhaps an offensively minded defenseman could help out there. David Runblad—received in Kyle Turris deal—was brought up from AHL Portland. In just 15 games with Portland, Runblad had recorded six goals and four assists, while registering a minus-10. The Swede, a former first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, has picked up where he left off. In three different stints with NHL call-ups with Phoenix, Runblad has three assists, four hits, five shots on goal and is a minus-5. Regardless of his plus/minus, something tells me he'll be sticking around for the month of March.

BUBBLING

There are two teams whose schedule provides an opportunity to make or break their season. The Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. BOS @PIT vs. PHI @WAS) were very quiet at the deadline. For any casual sports fan, with all the equity in the NHL, this was no surprise. But anyone worth their weight in Canadian gold knows GM Brian Burke doesn't go quietly to the golf course. With 18 games to go in the season, Burke made former head coach Ron Wilson the scapegoat, hiring Randy Carlyle as the man in charge of getting Toronto to the playoffs. Burke elaborated further at the conference. "I've never had a team fall off a cliff like this. I've had dips. I've had slumps. I've had rough patches. But this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff." Hopefully for Leafs fans, Saturday's 3-1 win over Montreal was the jumpstart they needed. Of course, none of those three goals came from Joffrey Lupul, who reportedly had issues with Carlyle during their time together in Anaheim. Should be an interesting last four weeks in Toronto - tune into NBC Sports Network on Wednesday as Toronto travels to Pittsburgh.

With Zids gone to the Devils, Koivu hurt and Backstrom (groin) on the IR, you're more likely to find quick FA pool points in a Blue Jackets jersey than from anyone on the Minnesota Wild (@COL @PHO vs. CAL) roster. Add in the fact that the Wild will only play five games in the next two weeks and it's clear to see this bubble is about to pop.

THE REST: Once again, the music is stopping on Corey Crawford while Ray Emery is firmly planted in his chair. Is Emery or Ottawa's (@TB vs. NYR vs. BUF) Robin Lehner still in your FA pool? Ville Leino scored for the first time (twice) since January 31st during the Sabres trip to Vancouver this past Saturday night, propelling Buffalo to a 5-3 win over the NHL's team points leader. Buffalo (@WPG vs. CAR @BOS @OTT) has not lost a game since February 16th, which includes two overtime losses. The Rangers (@NJ @OTT @CHI vs. NYI) sophomore center Derek Stepan recorded 12 fantasy points (CBS) last week. Avs (vs. MIN @NSH vs. EDM) newly acquired forward, Steve Downie, has a shoulder injury. The severity of the injury was not known at the time of publishing.

TV TIME (all games in EST)

NBCS MAR 5 Sabres @ Jets 8:00
NBCS MAR 6 Wild @ Avs 9:00
NBCS MAR 7 Maple Leafs @ Penguins 7:30
NBC MAR 11 Bruins @ Penguins 12:30
NBCS MAR 11 Kings @ Blackhawks 8:00

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