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NHL Schedule Analysis: Beware the C.R.A.W.

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"


There's two weeks left and it's time to put a stranglehold on your opponents. Games in hand are obviously the premium in most fantasy sports as you begin your stretch run. However, with half of the NHL playing seven games in the final 12 days, it's difficult to determine what horse(s) to truly back. Let's break things down.



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**C.R.A.W. =combined record against this week's opponents as of 4/11/13

The Turn is a breakdown of teams vying for playoff berth. With the top two of each conference, as well as having a firm grip on their playoff and/or division title hopes, there are arguably seven playoff spots open for grabs. Here's a hot-and-cold break down of the teams within reaching distance of those playoff spots.

Up

Columbus (@COL, @ANH, @LA, @SJ)
C.R.A.W. of 4-4-0 - Next week's schedule: (@DAL, NAS)

Boone Jenner (111 goals, 135 assists in 227 career OHL games) resumes his maturation process with Springfield. Although they're in the midst of a six-game road trip, this week's schedule isn't all that bad for the uptick Jackets. They're 1-1 against the Ducks and Avalanche while 2-0 against the Sharks and 0-2 against the Kings. They were getting healthier (Jared Boll) then the news hit after Friday's game. Artem Anisimov will "be out for a while," with a possible concussion. As long as Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik keep on trucking and they continue gelling together, they are a sexy pick for a playoff berth.

Minnesota (@CAL, @EDM, @SJ, CAL)
C.R.A.W. of 5-2-0 Next week's schedule: (LA, EDM, @COL)

After a strong (11-4) March putting them strong position for a playoff berth, Minnesota is three points from an 11th place Western Conference ranking. While their remaining schedule is hardly anything to fear, their 1-5 record in April is another story. Jason Zucker was recalled from AHL-Houston and Matt Cullen's (lower body) return could be the x-factor for the Wild this week. Jason Pominville has two goals and two assists since heading west, all of it in two games against the Jackets.

Islanders (FLA, @TOR, WPG)
CRAW of 4-0-1 Next week's schedule: (@CAR, @PHI, @BUF)

Here we are, the final two weeks of the season and the Islanders have truly hung in there. O' hell, the Isles are arguably one of the NHL's hottest teams as they have yet to take a regulation loss in April and have won seven of their last 9 games. Josh Bailey's (four goals, three assists in seven games) production in April has been a huge part of the fishermen's surge.

Rangers (@PHI, FLA, @BUF, NJ)
C.R.A.W. of 5-4-0 Next week's schedule: (@FLA, @CAR, NJ)

No game has been easy this season for the anemic Rangers' offense. Case in point, their 1-0 victory over the Isles on Saturday. Despite their combined record, between Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers' offensive POTENTIAL, they truly hold their own destiny. Two games against New Jersey and two games against Florida are the most extreme of match ups.

St. Louis (VAN, PHX, DAL, @COL)
C.R.A.W of 4-2-1 Next week's schedule: (COL, CAL, CHI)

Winners of five in a row, the Blues have a fairly easy schedule of opponents, much less the fact that they'll play six of the remaining seven from home. But in order for things to go right, Ken Hitchcock will have to improve that 9-7-1 record at Scottrade Center. T.J. Oshie (foot) continues his season-long battle with injuries, but is expected to play on Sunday. Allen allowed four goals on 19 shots in Friday's loss to Columbus, so Brian Elliott (three shutouts in his last three starts) is once again, firmly entrenched in Hitchcock's happy place.

Toronto (NJ, @WAS, NYI, @OTT)
C.R.A.W. of 8-2 Next week's schedule: (@TB, @FLA, MON)

Coming off a strong win over Montreal, James Reimer is plenty confident. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk are developing chemistry. JVR has two goals and five assists during his current five game point streak in the month of April. Mikhail Grabovski (stomach ailment) finished plus-1 in 16:49 in Saturday's game.

Washington (TOR, @OTT, @MON)
C.R.A.W. of 1-4-0 Next week's schedule: (WPG, OTT, BOS)

Winners of eight in a row, despite their 'craw', the Caps are without a doubt the hottest team headed into the final two weeks of the season. Their deadline acquisition Martin Erat (leg) returned to action on Saturday night to the tune of 15-minutes played and a minus-2 rating.

Winnipeg (TB, CAR, NYI)
C.R.A.W. of 5-3 Next week's schedule: (@BUF, @WAS, MON)

After losing the first three games this month, the Jets have won three in a row. With just six games left, everyone point counts. We know they're explosive enough, but the question is… will Ondrej Pavelec get hot and stay hot?

Down

Detroit (@CAL, @VAN)
C.R.A.W. of  2-2 Next week's schedule: (PHX, LA, NAS, @DAL)

This week is pretty easy math for fantasy owners as the Red Wings are playing just two games this week. Additionally, things are not as they seem as Detroit is 2-0 against the Canucks and 0-2 versus the Flames. Henrik Zetterberg returned to action and played nearly 23 minutes in Friday's 3-2 loss to Chicago. Despite an injury slowed season, Johan Franzen has a steady 24 points through 34 contests.

Edmonton (MIN, @COL, ANH)
C.R.A.W. of 3-4-0 Next week's schedule: (ANH, CHI, @MIN, VAN)

Even with five of their final seven games at home, Edmonton's chances of making the playoffs get worse every day. After starting the month outscoring the Flames 12-3 in back-to-back wins, the slick show has lost three in a row. Ales Hemsky (foot) is likely to miss at least the first two games this week. Nikolai Khabibulin has struggled in three straight outings.

New Jersey (@TOR, @PHI, FLA, @NYR)
C.R.A.W. of 5-3-2 Next week's schedule: (MON, PIT, @NYR)

Although they have a fairly decent record against this week's opponents and Ilya Kovalchuck (shoulder) is nearing a return, the fact is, the Devils have lost nine in a row, leaving us little-to-no confidence. With just eight goals in their last six games, this team is clearly fading out of the picture. Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac have produced very little in recent weeks.

Ottawa (@BOS, CAR, WAS, TOR)
C.R.A.W. of 2-5-3 Next week's schedule: (PIT, @WAS, PHI)

Senators have lost five of their last 6 and outside of a tilt with slumping Carolina, things are not looking any better this week when you check out their schedule. Sure Craig Anderson is getting comfortable again, but Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington could change that. Seeded sixth headed into Saturday's action, it's possible the Sens are on the outside looking in, despite their resiliency this season.

Phoenix (SJ, @STL, @CHI)
C.R.A.W. of 1-5-1 Next week's schedule: (@DET, SJ, COL, @ANH)

After winning three big games to start the month, Phoenix waffled last week. Although they've looked good at times this season, the combination of road life and strength of opponents as well as key scoring components Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker cooling off, we're thinking they're a bad bet from here on out.

San Jose (@PHX, LA, MIN, CLS)
C.R.A.W. of 4-4-1 Next week's schedule:  (DAL, @PHO, @LA)

We've always been big fans of the fifth-seeded Sharks, but consider their inability to remain consistent. Antti Niemi's struggles this season against Los Angeles and Columbus and the fact that four points separates them from eighth place Detroit. All of a sudden, it's possible the organization could be stripping things down this summer.

ROTOWIRE BEAT REPORTS:

-Sami Aittokallio served as backup Saturday for Jean-Sebastien Giguere against the Canucks as Semyon Varlamov (hip) is still day-to-day.
-Patrice Bergeron seems to be progressing well and you may see him back in action before the end of the regular season, barring a setback.
-Filip Forsberg is expected to make his NHL debut with Nashville on Sunday.
-Sidney Crosby is traveling (but not practicing) with the team.
-Relax, Dougie Hamilton's healthy scratch against the Isles last week was just to provide the youngster with rest.
-Speaking of youngsters, Hobey Baker (2013) winner Drew Leblanc is expected to join Chicago for the remainder of the season.
-Tyler Myers (leg) will miss the rest of the season.
-Alex Tanguay (knee) did not return to the Flames' match-up with Phoenix. Akim Aliu was recalled by the Flames on Saturday.
-Taylor Beck has seven points in 13 games with Nashville.
-For the last 13 contests, Beau Bennett has at least one point in every other game.
-Ben Bishop was pulled after the first period of Saturday's game against the Capitals having yielded three goals on 20 shots and Anders Lindback could return this week.
-Daniel Briere returned to action in Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Sabres.
-Jhonas Enroth stopped all 29 shots the Flyers took for his first shutout of the season and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel made his NHL debut in the same game.
-Carey Price gave up three goals on Toronto's first four shots Saturday night before giving way to Peter Budaj.
-Andrew Cogliano suffered a knee-on-knee hit from the Kings' Dustin Brown on Saturday.
-Mark Giordano has been productive since returning to the lineup.
-Gabriel Landeskog scored his second goal in the past three games on Saturday.
-Tom Pyatt has five points in his last five games.
-Cory Schneider (illness) wasn't exactly sharp in his return against the Avs.

TV Time (all games EST)

APR 15 - Stars at Blackhawks - 8:00 - NBCSports
APR 16 - Rangers at Flyers - 7:30 - NBCSports
APR 17 - Sabres at Bruins - 7:30 - NBCSports
APR 18 - Devils at Flyers - 7:30 - NBCSports
APR 18 - Canucks at Stars - 8:30 -NHLNetwork
APR 19 - Penguins at Bruins - 7:00 - NHLNetwork
APR 20 - Panthers at Devils - 1:00 - NHLNetwork
APR 20 - Sabres at Penguins - 7:00 - NHLNetwork
APR 20 - Red Wings at Canucks - 10:00 - NHLNetwork
APR 21 - Devils at Rangers - 3:00 - NBC/NBCSports
APR 21 - Blues at Avalanche - 8:00 - NBC/NBCSports
APR 21 - Stars at Kings - 9:00 - NHLNetwork