Not to beat a dead horse, but a lock-out shortened season can wreak havoc upon normalcy. A light week is behind us and we're begging for some "interleague" play that will never come. Get ready owners, it's time to pick apart 61 games and solidify your league lead. Starting with the rare bird, the Halley's Comet of the NHL schedule...
Let's Play Five In Seven Days
Playing five times in seven nights and eight times in 14 days will certainly provide the Islanders (PHI, @OTT, @MON, @BUF, CAR) with challenges. Though none of the five games are 'unwinnable', three straight of the five will be on the road against the Northeast Division. Last season, the Isles were 7-11-2 in such match-ups, thus far, 1-2-0. CAREER TRENDS: Evgeni Nabakov's 2.72 combined career GAA against those teams is encouraging, but can't play all five games. DiPietro (0-2-0, 4.60 GAA) has been less than pedestrian this season, losing his only two starts. However, DiPietro has a sub-3.00 career GAA against Montreal and Buffalo. Their back-to-back instances involve only Buffalo, so hang close to see how this plays out. Michael Grabner has 10 points in nine career games versus the Sabres. Matt Moulson's 25 points in 27 career games versus the Sabres and Canes is interesting as well considering his offensive prowess (goal, three assists) Saturday night.
Like the Islanders, Nashville (@COL, DET, VAN, @DET) will also play on back-to-back nights twice this week. Despite the fact that Patric Hornqvist (knee) is out, February has been pretty good for the Preds, posting a 5-2-1 record headed into last Sunday's action. This week will be their first meeting of the young season with any of the three teams. Though their combined record against them last season was 9-4-1, the absence of Hornqvist and departures of Ryan Suter and Anders Lindback leaves that stat skewed to a crisp under the circumstances. The Preds are 1-1 on the back-end of back-to-back thus far. CAREER TRENDS: Martin Erat has 84 points in 122 career games against this week's opponents. Neither Pekka Rinne nor Chris Mason are of concern to me, as Rinne is… well Rinne, and Mason has been solid in little action. I'd favor Rinne's career numbers (2.25 GAA) against Detroit, so look for Mason to possibly start against the Avs Monday and Canucks Friday.
Finding the Right Four
A depleted Red Wings squad is facing the Preds twice this week. Detroit (@NSH, CLS, NSH, VAN) can win every one of these games if they were healthy. Perhaps three at home will lift some spirits. Meanwhile, Johan Franzen's (hip) notepad update is day-to-day, Todd Bertuzzi (back) is out for again for a minimum injured reserve stay of three games. Jonas Gustavsson (groin) has been activated from the IR, so Petr Mrazek who was still slated to start against the Wild Sunday will head back to the AHL. Averaging just 12 minutes of ice time, Tomas Tatar has two goals and an assist over the last two games.
Despite their 5-1 loss to the Isles, New Jersey's (OTT, @WAS, @WAS, WPG) stingy defense has a good match up in our nation's capital, but be worried about the back end game, it could cause a kick-start to the Caps play. Marek Zidlicky, who has a goal and two assists in his last four games, has eight points in eight career games versus Washington. Look for Johan Hedberg to start at least once this week, possibly two.
After starting the week with back-to-back nights against the Southeast , Toronto (@FLA, @TB, BUF, @OTT) will finish out the week against division rivals on regular (every other night) rest. Three on the road (6-2-0) suits the Buds just fine. Surprisingly, the biggest cog on paper is both active goalies' career record versus the Panthers. Toronto figures to start off with some bumps in the Florida games and finish out the week strong with two division rivalry matchups. Ben Scrivens is the biggest wild card, if he can keep up the good work, should be a good week for Leafs fans.
Avoiding the Wrong Four
Even after exploding for seven goals against Dallas last week, Calgary (@PHX, LA, MIN, PHX) is on our avoid list for the second week in a row. Mind you, the Stars were on the back end of a back-to-back road games and starting Richard Bachman. Not trying to hate, Michael Cammalleri (49% owned) has three goals, five assists heading into Sunday's action against the Stars. An option in some leagues, but we've all seen the technical hat trick from him before. Miikka Kiprusoff (sprained MCL) is expected to miss another two weeks at least. Things do not look good for Leland Irving (2-1-1. 3.33 GAA) as Danny Taylor has been called BACK UP from the AHL to assist recent waivers addition Joey MacDonald. MacDonald, who stopped 18 of 21 shots Saturday in the loss to St. Louis seems entrenched in the number one position until Kiprusoff returns.
Like a carcass awaiting the desert scavenger, the hopeless Columbus (@ANH, @DET, @STL, @CHI) ice hockey team could take one of the most brutal week long beatings we've seen in a long time. Their opponents combined schedule this week is 37-12-6. We went over Columbus' goalie situation last week and it's the same old song and dance this week. Still no time table on Artem Anisimov's foot/ankle, but he's just day-to-day for now. On Saturday, they had a few up and comers find twine, just don't expect too much consistency. Both Derek MacKenzie (two goals last three games) and Matt Calvert (goal, two assists last three games) contributed in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the scavenger Coyotes. If they can survive, starting next week, 10 of their next 12 games will be at home.
Things have not been good for Colorado, but the horizon is shining. Aaron Palushaj scored in his second game with the team. Matt Duchene has a three-game goal scoring streaking and five points total during that span. Jamie McGinn has a goal and three assists in his last two games. Also, Gabriel Landeskog has been skating in practice. As for the netminders, Semyon Varlamov took a beating (55 of 60) in Saturday's loss to the Oilers, but Jean-Seabastien Giguere is expected back from his personal leave on Sunday. That being said, I like Colorado's (NSH, STL, @LA, @ANH) chances at home, especially as inconsistent as the Blues have been. Though Jake Allen is no push over thus far, expect Jaroslav Halak to be back by then anyway, so could be a good game to watch. Obviously, Los Angeles doesn't scare you, but if Colorado doesn't get the momentum going early with a strong win over Nashville, the horizon could get gloomy quick.
Could go either way, but payroll-to-payroll (as always), Florida (TOR, @PHI, @PIT, BOS) has one of the toughest schedules this week. One bright spot in Miami is former first-rounder (2011) Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals in his last three games and has amassed six goals, three assists and a plus-1 in 14 games. The back-to-back road games with Philly and Pittsburgh are fairly straight up as Jose Theodore has a better career GAA against the Pens. So expect Scott Clemmensen to start against the Flyers.
Vancouver (@CHI, @DAL, @NSH, @DET) was a questionable call for this portion of our analysis. The fact that all four fairly quality opponents will be on the road pushed us off the fence. Already mired in the NHL's most talked about goalie controversy, Roberto Luongo is most likely to line up against unbeaten Chicago, then Dallas who scored four on Cory Schneider last Friday. Schneider most likely gets the start against the Preds, than back to Luongo in Detroit. No controversy at all, just a clear change in the guard. Ryan Kesler (minus-1) made his return last Friday as well, with an assist in 17 minutes of ice time.
MARCH the Trend
Enjoy it now Edmonton (LA, MIN, PHX), your Oilers won't be home for a while. Starting next Monday, they begin a nine game road trip, including trips to the United Center TWICE. After visiting New Jersey, Ottawa (@NJ, NYI, NYR, TOR) enjoys three contests at home this week. Their home-stand ends with Montreal next Monday. At which point, the Sens will embark on a road trip that sees them play seven of their next eight games in a visitor capacity. The aforementioned Montreal (CAR, @NYR, NYI, NYR) team will embark on a very similar trip to start March. After spending the last six consecutive games on the road, the still winless (0-4-3) for February San Jose (@STL, @CHI, @DAL) ice hockey club will play three on the road this week, then three at the Shark tank next week before hitting the road again. Nine of their 15 March games will be on the road. Stretching into mid-March, Winnipeg (@BUF, @CAR, @PHI, @NJ) plays nine of their next 11 games on the road.
Considering Washington's (NJ, NJ) struggles this season, then add in the strangest scheduled pair of consecutive home games against one of the NHL's stingiest teams. Though Braden Holtby has won three straight games, what this will most likely bring is the changing of goalie depth for Adam Oates. Using this series to decide which goalie he'll favor in running with the rest of the season would be brilliant. Same atmosphere, same team, within three days, so who ends up in front when the smoke clears, Holtby or Michal Neuvirth? Once again, that Mike Green guy is questionable for Sunday's game with a lower-body.
You think the Caps schedule is strange, wait till you see the Ducks schedule to start next month. After hosting the Wild from home March 1st, back-to-back-to-back games with the 'Yotes. As for this week, if there's ever been a team playing just twice in a week to bet on it should Anaheim's (CLS, COL) weak schedule. Bang for your buck is there considering Viktor Fasth has yet to lose an NHL start and of course his deeply (NHL ranked fifth) balanced scoring that features 11 players with at least five or more points. We wouldn't blame you if you chose Anaheim over, let's say…
Dallas (VAN, SJ) has certainly proved more comfortable (3-1-1 head into Sunday's action) working from home, but Vancouver and San Jose are no slouches. Especially with Kari Lehtonen's uncertain status, in the foreseeable future, Cristopher Nilstorp and Richard Bachman is the tandem in charge of nullifying two of hockey's biggest slumping giants. Regardless of how the Stars played last Friday in Vancouver, with the way the Stars defense is fading, these are not good match-ups.
Center Mikael Granlund has points in consecutive games. Josh Harding (illness) has officially been placed on IR, so Darcy Kuemper has been called to back up Niklas Backstrom. Justin Falk was also expected to miss Sunday's game with the Red Wings due to illness, stick close on this one. Of the four teams you weekly cats will want to exclude, Minnesota (@EDM, @CAL) will be the trickiest. Though both games will be on the road, neither is considered strong opponents. Either way, Backstrom will most likely start both games.
Tampa Bay's drought came to an end Saturday, albeit against their Florida competitors, the Panthers. Lightning can be the least of opponents' worries if this team explodes and they just got some confidence back. Boston (@TB, @FLA) was a combined 4-4-0 against the Southeast's Florida swing last season. Blue chip, blue-liner Dougie Hamilton (goal, five assists, minus-3) scored his first NHL goal Friday, but his first points in his six games. Second in team scoring, Milan Lucic (eight points) will be held out of Sunday's tilt with Winnipeg for personal reasons.
TV TIME (all times in EST)
MON - FEB 18 - Predators at Avalanche - 3:00 pm - NHLNetwork
MON - FEB 18 - Hurricanes at Canadiens - 7:30 pm- NHLNetwork
TUE - FEB 19 - Sharks at Blues NBCSports - 8:00 pm- NBCSports
WED - FEB 20 - Flyers at Penguins - 7:30 pm - NBCSports
WED - FEB 20 - Blues at Colorado - 10:00 pm - NBCSports
THU - FEB 21 - Blue Jackets at Red Wings - 7:30 pm - NHLNetwork
FRI - FEB 22 - Sharks at Blackhawks - 8:30 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - FEB 23 - Devils at Capitals - 12:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - FEB 23 - Avalanche at Kings - 4:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - FEB 23 - Predators at Red Wings - 7:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SUN - FEB 24 - Bruins at Panthers - 3:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SUN - FEB 24 – Lightning at Penguins 7:30 pm - NBCSports