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NHL Schedule Analysis: Short Month, Busy Schedule

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"

Welcome to the official first month of the NHL season. Of the 12 teams playing seven games in the next 16 days, the following eight are all playing four games this week.



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Eight Teams at Full Speed

I'm not sure anyone is all that surprised Nashville (@STL vs. LA @MIN vs. CHI) has been disappointing as not only did they lose Ryan Suter, but their offense is more underwhelming than ever before. To top it off, they will face the defending Stanley Cup champions and three of the strongest contenders for the cup this week. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 20-percent owned-defensemen-Jonathon Blum has earned the public respect of coach Barry Trotz, who believes Blum could break the lineup sometime soon. Blum had three goals, four assists and six penalty minutes, but a minus-14 in 2011-12 season.

Henrik Zetterberg (five goals, seven assists) upped his team-high total of 12 points against the Blues with a hat-trick Friday. Fifteen February games for Detroit (vs. CAL @STL vs.EDM vs. LA), but St. Louis and Edmonton are probably the toughest opponents for what has been a meager start to the season in Detroit. Not really a sleeper, but certainly turning heads, 85-percent owned centerman Damien Brunner continues the terrific start to an NHL career and assault of the Red Wings depth charts. After starting out his career scoreless in his first two games, Brunner now has three goals, two assists, and good for a plus-3 during his current five-game point scoring streak.

Undrafted swede Viktor Fasth (2-0-0) has allowed just three goals in two starts this season. Meanwhile incumbent Jonas Hiller has allowed seven goals in his last two starts. Something brewing? Anaheim (vs. SJ @COL @DAL @STL) will crash division rivals in addition to playing two of the NHL's hottest teams. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 22-percent owned right winger Kyle Palmieri (three goals, 1 assist) scored two goals on two shots Friday.

Since we last spoke, Marcus Foligno has made us eat our words, scoring once and assisting on four others in four games. This is a sign of good things to come for a Sabres team that is desperately trying to turn a corner. Buffalo (@OTT vs. MON @NYI vs. BOS) will damn near play every other night in the month February. SLEEPER SIGHTING: One-percent owned defenseman Alexander Sulzer is a plus-3 on the season, while Jordan Leopold may be crucified for sloppy defensive end play soon. Is this a change in depth charts developing or just temporary smoke on the water?

Despite the fact that Martin Brodeur has allowed 14 of his 17 totals goals allowed in his last three games, the Devils are tied for fourth in NHL's goals allowed. New Jersey hopes their offensive punch can come around with Adam Henrique scoring in his first game back and Henrik Tallinder tallying his first goal in the same game against the Islanders Thursday. Still no word as to whether or not Stefan Matteau (0 points in five games) will continue his stay in the NHL. With New Jersey's (vs. NYR vs. TB vs. PIT @PIT) schedule this week, they're going to need all the offense they can get. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Apparently Marek Zidlicky has fallen off half (48-percent owned) of your radar's since being traded to the Devils last season. He has four points -all assists) in six games and is a plus-2 with 10 penalty minutes.

Yeah, James Neal (five goals) can score fairly consistently. But owners of Neal out there have to be disappointed with his minus-3 and zero assists as he was likely a top-50 draft-pick in most leagues. The Penguins, who are 4-3-0, seems to be a bit rusty coming out of the gates, so don't stress. Neal is most likely to be the reason for them turning it around. Pittsburgh (@NYI vs. WAS @NJ vs. NJ), ends the week with a home-and-home with the Devils. The latter of the two can be seen on NBCSports at 7:30 next Sunday. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Seven-percent-center-Zach Boychuck has been acquired and a waiver wire gem he may be. Head coach Dan Blysma wasted no time in utilizing a combination of Neal and Evgeni Malkin for nearly 15-percent of the game. Boychuck who had 141 points (59 goals) in 161 games with Charlotte of the AHL, registered one shot, three hits in 12 minutes of play. Worth noting Dustin Jeffrey was the first to take a healthy scratch so Boychuck could suit up.

Tampa Bay (plus-14 goal differential) (@PHI @NJ @BOS @NYR) is still looking solid, but how will they look after a four-game road trip to Boston and three Atlantic division teams. Looks may be deceiving though, as these four teams have just a decent combined record of 13-8-2 this season. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 22-percent owned defenseman– More like a "owners gave up on him a long time ago sighting", nonetheless, Marc-Andre Bergeron had a sighting against Ottawa's stingy defense, assisting on a goal. However, Bergeron was a healthy scratch Friday, tread with care as usual.

Another year, another mediocre at best start for Toronto (vs. CAR @WAS @WPG @MON) is badly in need of confidence between the pipes. Though both James Reimer (197 minutes played) and Ben Scrivens (162) are hovering around 3.00 GAA, neither has taken the reigns. The closest thing they have to a budding Marlies (AHL) talent is Jussi Rynnas (6-6-1), who has posted a decent goals-against-average (2.44) since Scrivens went to the big club. The irony about hockey's most endearing franchise is their inability (0-2-0) to win at home thus far. Good news is seven Leafs players have at least four points or more. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 17-percent owned right wing-Matt Frattin has three goals, two assists and is a plus-2 in three games this season.

Least likely to count on will be, Colorado (vs. DAL vs. ANH) who is playing just two games this week and five total over the next two weeks. Hypothetical thought process for a moment though. The following teams are playing three this week, but in the long term may be switching to high-gear to build momentum knowing they have four games next week. The following teams will only play three this week, but play seven games in the next 14 days...



Hypothetical High Gear

Dallas' (@COL @EDM vs. ANH) rebuilding effort had a bit of a breakthrough against the 'Yotes Friday night. Forward Antoine Roussel and Jamie Oleksiak each made their NHL debut and Reilly Smith was recalled on Saturday to replace Ray Whitney, who will be out four-to-six weeks with a broken foot. Roussel, who had 19 points through 41 AHL games this season, scored a goal on Friday. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Three-percent owned defenseman Brenden Dillon had the Gordie Howe hat-trick Friday and is part of Dallas' planned rebuilding effort.

Things are going as expected in Minnesota (@PHO vs. VAN vs. NSH), with the exception of the Josh Harding situation. Harding at first seemed like a challenger for Niklas Backstrom's job, but after giving up seven goals on his last 31 shots seen, Backstrom is back to seeing a chunk of the time. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 36-percent owned defenseman Tom Gilbert had his four-game point scoring streak snapped Friday against Anaheim. Gilbert now has six points (two goals, four assists) in last five games.

Halak, who left Friday night's game after getting hit in the mask by a puck, has a cut above his lip, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Halak, who didn't seem all that sharp (two goals, 11 shots) was pulled for Brian Elliott (17 of 19 saves made). Matt D'Agostini scored his first goal in just his second game this season. St. Louis (vs. NSH vs. DET vs. ANH) has seemingly a favorable schedule and will look to avenge their 5-3 loss in Detroit. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Sooner or later, someone will reward one-percent owned centerman, T.J. Hensick for his hard work at Peoria of the AHL. His numbers are on a thinner pace this season (35 points in 43 games), but his previous two season's totals (125 points in 139 games) seem to warrant such rewards. If an injury bug hits the Blues, he could be the first, but for now, he should already be on your watch list.

Losers of three in a row, rock bottom finally hit Philadelphia (vs. TB vs. FLA vs. CAR) who lost 3-2 to the Capitals Friday. When second-year undrafted Matt Read (three goals, two assists) is leading the team in scoring, Ilya Bryzgalov (2-5-0, 2.31 GAA) can assume little-to-no credit for their 2-6 overall record. Now tied for 29th in NHL team points, perhaps a big tilt with hosting Tampa Tuesday will get the Flyers going against. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Two-percent owned left wing Tye McGinn (15 points in 33 AHL games this season) who just made his NHL debut last week, has a goal and two assists in his last two games.

NOTES FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE SATURDAY

- Neither Cam Ward nor Dan Ellis are exuding any kind of confidence in Carolina lately, but Cam Ward did stop 11 of 12 shots last night after replacing Ellis.
- The Miami Herald reports Alexei Kovalev (illness) returned to practice Saturday.- Chris Mason stopped 32 of 34 Detroit shots
- Miikka Kiprusoff (1-4-1, with a 3.42 GAA) continues his struggles with another loss to Chicago. Dave Bolland (right leg) did not play for Chicago in that game, but is reportedly day-to-day.
- Artem Anisimov scored two goals and the eventual game-winner, and Fedor Tyutin (one goal, six assists) chipped in two assists in Columbus' 4-2 victory over Detroit Saturday, where Jimmy Howard did not fare well on the second night of a back-to-back start.
- In his first start of the season, Martin Biron stopped 30 Lightning shots in a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay.
- Richard Bachman played the back-end of a home –and-home series with Phoenix and was the hard luck loser in a 2-0 game won by the Coyotes. In that game, Raffi Torres, had four shots in just less than 12 minutes in his first game back since completing his suspension. Mikkel Boedker scored his second of the season, now totaling seven points in 10 games.
- Originally expected out 3-4 weeks, Max Pacioretty (appendectomy) participated in the full practice Friday. The Montreal Gazette reports head coach Michel Therrien said Pacioretty has been cleared to play and that the forward could play next week.
- P.K. Subban returned and Montreal's offense exploded on Saturday. In a 5-1 win over Buffalo, both Rene Bourque and David Desharnais scored twice, while Lars Eller had a goal and two assists. Subban did manager a plus-one with an assist and two penalty minutes in just over 18-minutes of ice time. Speaking of Bourque, after being designated a healthy scratch on Thursday last week, Ryan Bourque scored the only tally in 1-0 win over Toronto.
- Brandon Sutter scored his first goal as a Penguin and has been seeing power-play time.

TV TIME (all games EST)

FEB 4th Dallas @Colorado 9 p.m. NBCSports
FEB 5th Tampa Bay @ Philadelphia 7:30 p.m. NBCSports
FEB 6th Boston @Montreal  7:30 p.m. NBCSports
FEB 10th Los Angeles @ Detroit 12:30 p.m. NBC
FEB 10th New Jersey @ Pittsburgh 7:40 pm NBCSports