It's going to be a week of cleansing before the insanity of next week's trade deadline and the final month of the NHL regular season hits. It's the last seven days of March and the NHL utilized it for a slow week. In a sped up lock-out shortened season, this is the yellow flag, the final breather before your stretch run to fantasy doom or gloom.
Anaheim (SJ, @SJ, @CHI, @CLS) will be playing four games this week, but those cuffing Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth should tread lightly as none of these will be b2b (back-to-back) occurrences. Separated (Stick or Fold) by a tilted schedule, here are the teams playing four games with at least one b2b set. Let's take a look at our ...
Four of a Kind:
Boston (TOR, MON @PHI, @BUF) The Bruins have lost two of their last three games. David Krejci's knee is still troublesome, but he did manage an assist in Saturday's loss to Toronto. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (shoulder strain) could be out 3-4 weeks. GOALIE IDEAS: Up until Saturday's loss when Anton Khudobin, the season has been smooth for both Tuukka Rask and Khudobin. No strain of the brain here as Rask's only two shutouts this season have come against Toronto and Philadelphia. Khubodin could play against Montreal but is likely to only see action against Buffalo.
Buffalo (@TB, @FLA, WAS, BOS) Thomas Vanek (lower body) returned to the lineup and scored both Buffalo goals in a 2-1 win over Montreal. For all the talk and acceptance of the Sabres' inefficiency this season, they are 4-4 against this week's opponents. GOALIE IDEAS: Jonas Enroth has his first winning streak since November of last season. It's a modest two games and nothing to write home about, but will have to be enough if the Sabres to ship off Ryan Miller, who looked like his old self in the Montreal game.
Edmonton (@NAS, @STL, CLS, VAN) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (illness) was placed on IR on Saturday. The Oilers hold a 3-3-2 against this week's opponents. GOALIE IDEAS: Despite our pleading for an upgrade via trade, the Oilers have stuck by their future with Devan Dubnyk. That persistency is currently paying off as Dubnyk is 2-0-2 over his past four games. Meanwhile, back up Nikolai Khabibulin has fully recovered from his groin issues, but lost on Saturday night. If this season's game log is any indication, look for Dubnyk to take on the weaker of opponents in Nashville.
Minnesota (@DAL, PHX, @DAL, LA) is 8-3 headed into the last week of the month. While Dallas has been a puzzle this season, none of the three Pacific division opponents the Wild play are considered pushovers currently. Mikko Koivu has 12 points in his last 10 games. GOALIE IDEAS: Including Saturday's 2-0 shutout over San Jose, Niklas Backstrom has a .940 save-percentage during his current five-game winning streak. Be sure to click news on Josh Harding, encouraging stuff. Looks like Darcy Kuemper will get his first start since the fifth of March. Our best bet is Friday in Dallas.
Chicago (LA, CAL, ANH, @DET) Patrick Sharp (shoulder) skated during practice in Chicago this week; however, there is still no timetable for his return at this time. GOALIE IDEAS: With the week starting off on a back-to-back, both Ray Emery and Corey Crawford should be needed. Crawford has been more active as of late. We expect to see Crawford against the Kings, Emery against the Flames. As for their big matchup against the Ducks, we think it will be Emery's chance against the Ducks who won 4-2 last week over Crawford.
Toronto (@BOS, FLA, CAR, @OTT) Joffrey Lupul (suspended) will be missed in Boston, but the Leafs are turning things around. Defenseman Jake Gardiner is seeing an increased slice of the blue-line minutes due to John Michael Liles' ankle issues. It was two months ago we reported head coach Randy Carlyle likening Nazem Kadri to Bobby Ryan. Kadri has 34 points in 32 games; Ryan has 23 points in 30 games. You do the math. GOALIE IDEAS: After hosting the Bruins this past Friday, the heavy load comes on Monday, where you'll most likely see James Reimer on the road in Boston. You'll likely see Ben Scrivens at home on Tuesday versus the Panthers. Barring a sub-par performance in Bean town, Carlyle is likely to stick with Reimer for the rest of the week.
Columbus (@VAN, @EDM, @CAL, ANH) Nick Foligno had a two-goal game against Calgary last week. Despite his injury issues this year, Artem Anisimov has a goal in two straight games. James Wisniewski is still wearing a boot on his right foot and is at least 2-3 weeks away from a return. Despite suffering their first regulation loss of the month to Nashville on Saturday evening, let's face it; the Blue Jackets are turning things around in the month of March. GOALIE IDEAS: Sergei Bobrovsky has been getting the accolades for the team's 8-1-3 record this month and rightfully so. Nonetheless, look for Steve Mason to get the start against Calgary rather than Edmonton, who he was pulled against on the fifth of March.
Philadelphia (NYR, NYI, BOS, WAS) In between a loss to Tampa Bay last Monday and tonight's game with Pittsburgh, you have to wonder what was being worked on in Philly this week. GOALIE IDEAS: That's a lot of time off, but much needed for Ilya Bryzgalov who has played in 28 of the Flyers 30 games this season heading into Sunday's game. Look for this trend to continue, especially against Boston on Saturday and for Brian Boucher to get his first start since March 7th against Washington next Sunday.
Phoenix (DET, @MIN, @NAS, SJ) started out the month with two consecutive 5-4 wins in Anaheim. Since then, the 'Yotes are 2-6-1 and sliding out of playoff contention. A lot of talk about Keith Yandle getting shipped before the deadline, how will that change your stretch run? GOALIE IDEAS: Mike Smith (head) is considered day-to-day, so you weekly and daily people have a chance to pick up some rogue points. Jason LaBarbera figures to get most of the starts this week, with Chad Johnson (1-0-1, 0.98 GAA) getting at least Nashville.
San Jose (@ANH, ANH, DET, PHX) Joe Pavelski's streak without a point has reached eight games. The Sharks were miserable in February and have just barely kept their head above water in March. However, after Saturday's 2-0 loss to Minnesota, the Sharks are 4-5-2 for the month and now seeded ninth in the conference. GOALIE IDEAS: Thomas Greiss (neck) is still on the IR and not expected back this week. Look for Antti Niemi in both Anaheim games, then Alex Stalock against Detroit
Los Angeles (@CHI, @STL, @MIN, @DAL) March has not been good to the Kings. With four road (5-8-1) games to end out the month, it doesn't look like a good bet they'll turn it around. GOALIE IDEAS: Jonathan Quick has been solid all season. We're curious if his play is impacted (for good-or-ill) with no Jonathan Bernier breathing down his neck. We don't expect to see Bernier dealt before this week's b2b set. Look for Quick in Minnesota and Bernier in Dallas on Sunday.
Additionally, we have five teams this week, playing two of their three games on back-to-back occurrences.
Calgary (@CHI, COL, CLS) Miikka Kiprusoff's kiddo is here, so back to regularly scheduled programming with Joey MacDonald backing him up.
Colorado (@CAL, @VAN, NAS) plays Vancouver this evening. Semyon is 2-0 against both Calgary and Vancouver this season, but neither were stellar efforts. On paper, expect to see Varlamov tonight hosting the Canucks then Calgary on Wednesday with Jean-Sebastien Giguere on Thursday in Vancouver. To the victor go the spoils at home against the Preds.
Montreal (@PIT, @BOS, NYR) has probably the most difficult b2b with the Penguins and Bruins on the road. Peter Budaj won in Boston earlier this month. However, Carey Price was horrific in a 7-6 loss to the Pens to start the month. Look for Budaj Tuesday, then Price Wednesday.
New Jersey (@OTT, @TB, @FLA) Monsieur (Martin) Brodeur is back, does that mean so are they Devils? They've won two in a row. Roll with confidence for Brodeur on Friday against the Lightning and Johan Hedberg against the Panthers on Saturday.
Washington (NYI, @BUF, @PHI) Mostly due to a poor Caps defense, Braden Holtby has been streaky this month. Having won three of his last four, Holtby figures to clean up against this week's opponents. Then again, he's looked quite pedestrian (3.79 GAA) against Philly this season, so you could see Michal Neuvirth on Sunday.
While you weekly folks will most likely avoid two-game-teams like Tampa Bay (BUF, NJ) and St. Louis (EDM, LA), they have good matchups for daily folks. Teams like Detroit (@PHX, SJ, CHI) andDallas (MIN, MIN, LA) are easy prey this week. The following teams are playing three games this week with a tilted schedule in their favor, so let's scan for some...
Vancouver (CLS, COL, @EDM) Zack Kassian, already dealing with back issues, left after just over two minutes of ice time Wednesday. Mason Raymond (goal, two assists) has been awakening during the Canucks low-scoring affairs lately. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Two of Jason Garrisons' four goals this season have come against the Jackets and 'Lanche.
Winnipeg (@CAR, PIT, CAR) is 11-4-1 over their last 15 games WITHOUT one of their premier defensemen. Tobias Enstrom (shoulder) has resumed practice in a non-contact jersey and is expected back any game. The Jets can truly separate themselves from a weak Southeast and step up as a serious Eastern Conference threat with a three-game sweep this week. SLEEPER SIGHTING: For you dailies, we like Al Montoya's career numbers for starting against Pittsburgh in between Pavelec's two starts against the Canes.
Ottawa (NJ, NYR, TOR) After starting the month, 1-2-3, the Sens have won four of their last five games. Sergei Gonchar and Kyle Turris have each stepped up their production over the past six weeks, making Erik Karlson's absence easier to deal with. Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop have both done decent jobs since Craig Anderson (ankle) went down. Can you imagine how good this team would have been without injuries? The Sens are 3-0 against the Devils and Rangers, but it's Saturday's divisional tilt with the Leafs that they must have to keep the steam. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Jakob Silfverberg has four goals and an assist in his last four games. Silverberg has two goals and an assist in three games against the Devils and Rangers this season.
Nashville (EDM, PHX, @COL) Hal Gill (lower body) returned to the lineup with a plus-2 Jonathon Blum and Gabriel Bourque. Hornqvist (upper body) has resumed skating but does not yet have a return date. Bobby Butler has a three-game point streak and Martin Erat has a goal and four assists in his last two games. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Taylor Beck had a goal and an assist in the win over Columbus. Beck is a former third round (2009) pick and has played in just three games.
Florida (@TOR, BUF, NJ) Eric Selleck (suspended) has now been suspended more games than he's played in the NHL. Scott Clemmensen is 0-5 for the month and Jacob Markstrom has won his last two starts. You can confidently expect Markstrom in at least one start this week possibly more. SLEEPER SIGHTING: The newly minted Panther, defenseman T.J. Brennan has two points in two games for Brennan since coming over from Buffalo. Brennan, was nearly a point-per-game scorer in the AHL this year. Keeper's swarm of course, dailies and weeklies may want to keep an eye on him for his grudge matchup Thursday.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES: We love the trade of Matt D'Agostini in the long term, but will wait for Ilya Kovalchuck (shoulder) to return before predicting any kind of splash and that is 2-4 weeks away. Mike Commodore has signed a professional tryout contract with the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate the Texas Stars. The professional tryout contract is unique to the AHL and allows the Texas Stars to keep Commodore for 25 games, so the veteran blue-liner likely would not see action till next season. Justin Faulk will miss 2-to-4 weeks with a sprained knee suffered last week. With Anders Lindback (ankle) on the IR, and Mathieu Garon not looking sharp lately, Cedrick Desjardins figures to see a start. Michael Grabner (shoulder) went pointless in two games since returning from injury. Evgeni Malkin (upper-body) and Kris Letang (lower-body) have been practicing but reportedly would not suit up against the Flyers on Sunday.
TV Time (all games in EST)
MAR 25 - Kings @ Blackhawks 8:00 NBCSports
MAR 26 - Rangers @ Flyers 7:30 NBCSports
MAR 27 - Canadiens @ Bruins 7:30 NBCSports
MAR 28 - Kings @ Blues 8:00 NHLNetwork
MAR 29 - Ducks @ Blackhawks 8:30 NHLNetwork
MAR 30 - Bruins @ Flyers 1:00 NHLNetwork
MAR 30 - Rangers @ Canadiens 7:00 NHLNetwork
MAR 31 - Blackhawks @ Red Wings 12:30 NBC
MAR 31 - Bruins @ Sabres 7:30 NBCSports