As most of you assume and quite honestly ALREADY KNOW, cramming a 48-game schedule in makes for an interesting express version of the NHL season. Because the season is beginning on a Saturday, we're going to extend our first Schedule Analysis of the season to a nine-day span.
The Flyers (vs. PIT @BUF @NJ vs. NYR @FLA @TB) are without a doubt one of the busiest teams in the opening nine days of the schedule, including a season opener against last year's epic playoff rival, Pittsburgh. Complicating matters, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, right-winger Daniel Briere (hand) will miss at least Saturday and Sunday's game.
Most teams should shudder at the thought of the Blues (vs. DET @NSH @CHI vs. NSH @DAL vs. MIN) projected top power play line. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that line to consist of David Perron, David Backes, Patrik Berglund with T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo at the point. With Ken Hitchcock firmly at the helm, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in between the pipes, the sky's the limit.
The Blackhawks (@LA, @PHO vs. STL @DAL @CLS vs. DET) are playing six games in the first nine days, but just one set on back-to-back nights. However, four road games, including one with the Kings to start the season and one with Detroit to end our calendar week could certainly end ugly. In the meantime, Nick Leddy was recalled by the Hawks from Rockford. And as you can guess, ANY team playing six times in nine days, they'll be included in our segment.
Twenty-four of the NHL's 30 teams will play on back-to-back nights. In other words, be hesitant about putting too much early stock in back-up goalies for the Bruins, Canadiens, Devils, Avs, Oilers and Kings. Back-up tenders on these teams will likely only see action if their coaches are being hesitant about over-working their number one man in the pipes.
The Rangers (@BOS vs. PIT vs. BOS @PHI vs. TOR) start out with five games in the first 9, including a home-and-home with Boston separated by Pittsburgh at the Garden. Most intriguing to you fantasy owners is the two b2b occurrences in the first six days. Carl Hagelin is a trendy pick for most writers to be their sleeper of the year, especially if he ends up skating with Rick Nash and Brad Richards as the New York Post reported earlier this week.
The Blackhawks, Blues and Coyotes (@DAL vs. CHI vs. CLS @SJ vs. LA) can all be expected to utilize both goalies with back-to-back action twice over the next nine days. The Coyotes found out Raffi Torres will not be returning early from suspension, and have invited quite a bit of fresh talent to the shortened camp such as defensemen Michael Stone (22 points) David Runblad (23 points) as well as forward Andy Miele (26 points), who have all done well with Portland of the AHL this season.
Eight Is Enough for Rebuilding
Starting with this week's schedule, the, Yotes, Blackhawks, Flyers and six other teams will endure the biggest sweep of games in the first 16 days of the season. Starting with the Sabres (vs. PHI @TOR, @CAR vs. CAR @WAS), who will play on back-to-back nights twice, including a home-and-home with the Hurricanes. Center Cody Hodgson is expected to be on Buffalo's top line with Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Without a doubt, Buffalo could be one of the most exciting teams this year. Will Steve Ott keep that team motivated? Will Otter reinvigorate Ville Leino and perhaps take rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko under his wing?
No longer hampered by trade talk from within, are the Blue Jackets (@NSH vs. DET @PHO @COL vs. CHI) off to a fresh start? IF their schedule is any indication, even a compacted lock-out shortened season could be long. Not much early fantasy impact outside of some possible offensive sleeper defensemen and the keeper competition between Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Stars (vs. PHO @MIN @DET vs. CHI vs. STL) are in a similar position to Columbus, except they still have marquee players like Loui Eriksson and goalie Kari Lehtonen in addition to the potentially potent Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. But it will be players like Brenden Morrow who should really point this young ship in the right direction.
No, Senators (@WPG vs. FLA @FLA @TB vs. PIT) fans, Bryan Murray will not bring Wade Redden back, but he did bring in Kurtis Foster on a one-year deal. Although we shouldn't call him a sleeper, if Craig Anderson looks weak to start, look to Ben Bishop rather than Robin Lehner to take over the reins.
The Lightning (vs. WAS @NYI @CAR vs. OTT vs. PHI) will begin the season with nine games in the first 16 days of the season. Anders Lindback has been riding the bench for so long we wouldn't be surprised if he played every minute, but Mathieu Garon is reportedly still in the running for the start on Saturday. Stay tuned on this one folks. That being said, one factor to consider in the first few weeks is the rolling start to this season. This may hurt teams like Tampa Bay and Detroit (@STL @CLS vs. DAL vs. MIN @CHI) more than others with younger legs. Average age is courtesy of NHLnumbers.com:
The Capitals (@TB vs. WPG vs. MON @NJ vs. BUF) Brooks Laich (groin) skated this week but is not expected to start in the team's opener. Despite the fact Mike Green missed a bit of training camp with the flu, thanks to the lockout, he's fully recovered from two surgeries, groin and Lasik. If you've been burned before, obviously you'll be hesitant to believe in a Greenie renaissance.
Between the Lines
The Bruins (vs. NYR vs. WPG @NYR vs. NYI) have officially moved beyond their Tim Thomas days and are all but naming Tuukka Rask the starter. Meanwhile The Boston Herald reports Chris Kelly will line up with Rich Peverley and Chris Bourque to start the campaign.
After raising their Stanley Cup banner and hosting Chicago, the Kings (vs. CHI @COL @EDM @ PHO) finish out the week travelling to Colorado, Edmonton and Phoenix. Los Angeles meets Chicago in a the top billed match-up opening night, but will use a “lighter than the rest” schedule to cure a knee bug in camp. Willie Mitchell (knee) has not resumed skating and there is no time table for his return. Anze Kopitar (knee) is expected to miss the Kings first few games. Jeff Carter will play center with Justin Williams and Dustin Penner until Kopitar comes back.
Travis Zajac has received an eight-year extension from the Devils and Stefan Matteau is in camp. All of a sudden old number nine is a thing of the past to the Devils (@NYI vs. PHI vs. WAS @MON). On the other end of the youth movement spectrum, 40-year-old Martin Brodeur is reportedly not planning on sharing any of the load with back up Johan Hedberg.
The Predators (vs. CLS vs. STL @MIN @STL @ANH) will play five games in their first 9 nights of 2013, including one with Ryan Suter's new team. The Pred's will most likely look to make a statement against the Wild who also have five opening games in the first nine days. For once, we are ALL excited to see how the Wild (vs. COL vs. DAL vs. NSH @DET @STL) start out the season. The NHL certainly didn't give the Twin Cities any easy games to start.
The Islanders (vs. NJ vs. TB @TOR @BOS @WPG) have suspended Josh Bailey and Jesse Joensuu due to knee injuries sustained overseas during the lockout. And on Thursday, Lubomir Visnovsky, also found himself on the suspension list as well, according to reports he wants to continue playing for his KHL team in Slovakia. Visnovsky insists it's due to his child's sickness, but is confident he would be back in 2-3 weeks. Looks like another season of turmoil for the soon-to-be Brooklyn franchise.
- Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle believes center Nazem Kadri could be a sleeper of sorts, recently comparing him to Bobby Ryan early in his development. James van Riemsdyk (foot) reportedly intends to play Saturday.
- Vancouver winger Alexandre Burrows will reportedly begin the season on Canucks top line.
- Hurricanes center Zac Dalpe (28 points with Charlotte of the AHL) has done well in Carolina camp and seen time on a line with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner.
- Erik Cole will not retire after all, in fact, he will play on a line with David Deshernais and Max Pacioretty. Scott Gomez and Wade Redden won't.
- The Coyotes also picked up center Matthew Lombardi from Toronto for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2014.
- Mikael Samuelsson skated Thursday morning and is questionable for Saturday's opener.
- Zack Kassian, who has been dealing with spasms, will reap the benefits of David Booth's (groin) absence, who is expected to miss up to a month. Kassian is reportedly penciled in for a line two spot with Mason Raymond.
TV Time (all times EST)
Saturday, Jan. 19
L.A. Kings Banner Raising- 3 p.m. NBC
Chicago at Los Angeles, 3:25 p.m., NBC
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, 3:35 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Jan. 20
Philadelphia at Buffalo, 12:30 p.m., NBC
Chicago at Phoenix 10 p.m., NBCSN
Monday, Jan. 21
Detroit at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. NBCSN
Tuesday, Jan. 22
Philadelphia at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN
Wednesday, Jan. 23
Boston at N.Y. Rangers, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN