With the craziness of last week's schedule behind us, we can fully focus on the remaining 287 games until the NHL's three-week break for Olympic action. It's not going to be easy as the schedule shakes out very balanced and "vanilla". It's going to take some work to read between these lines.
*B2B= Back-to-Back occurrence.
FWTOB = Final Week Until Olympic Break
Flush (green highlight)
There is a dwindling availability of teams with a four-game week ahead. After nearly half the league (12 teams) plays four tilts this week, just 11 teams will have a four-game schedule over the final two weeks, so it's imperative you play the percentages.
Dallas (at NSH, MIN, TOR, PIT) has a very favorable schedule that ends with a big bang against Pittsburgh. The Stars blue line is beginning to resemble their training camp presence, but it's not resulting in wins. Trevor Daley is back up to speed, Sergei Gonchar (lower body) has been averaging 19 minutes a game over the past seven days. Alex Chiasson is off the schneid, look out! While you might get some good efforts out of both Kari Lehtonen and Dan Ellis this week, avoid using either that is sent to the wolves when Pittsburgh comes knocking.
While Detroit (STL, CHI, MTL, FLA) has all four in the Motor City, they've got some injury issues to say the least. In addition to Daniel Alfredsson (back) having missed four straight games, Joakim Andersson's (lower body) absence on Saturday meant the Wings were without all four (Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss) centers and still defeated the Kings with the likes of Cory Emmerton, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan. We also like the chance of Tomas Tatar's ice time going up this week. Additionally, Datsyuk (groin) was told not to practice for a few days. Could Johan Franzen (concussion) be nearing a return?
Florida (at PIT, at BUF, COL, at DET) has been tapering off and just in time for a very spirited schedule. After visiting their fearless conference-leading Penguins, the Panthers haul off to Buffalo, head home to face Colorado then back north to Detroit. Going to be a long week and you'll likely see Scott Clemmensen. Regardless, don't expect too many wins from Tim Thomas or Clemmensen, as the Panthers have just eight goals in their last six games. Jesse Winchester (hand) could return this week.
Los Angeles (at BOS, at CBJ, at ANA, ANA) slowly makes their way home, only to be rewarded with an untraditional home-and-home series against the Ducks. While Jonathan Quick remains locked in since returning from the IR, he'll have his work cut out for him. Martin Jones, come on UP, again. Mike Richards snapped a 24-game goal-scoring drought on Saturday.
Nashville (DAL, at VAN, at CGY, at EDM) will host fellow southern style Dallas before embarking on a road trip. Different city, same Devan Dubnyk. In a 5-4 loss to the Avalanche on Saturday, we're still convinced, this guy is simply useless without a number one goalie breathing down his neck. As Pekka Rinne nears a return, look for an uptick, otherwise, avoid like the plague. Roman Josi has a three game (one goal, three assists) point-streak.
The Islanders (PHI, at NYR, PIT, STL) will play three of four from home, but all are big Metro rivalry games. Calvin de Haan has a goal and seven assists in his last seven contests. Brock Nelson is coming into his own, having registered four goals and an assist in his last seven contests as well. Kevin Poulin was on quite a roll, but Saturday's third period breakdown against the Flyers reminds you of his once fantasy irrelevance.
Philadelphia (at NYI, CAR, at CBJ, BOS) has a considerably winnable schedule, with two from home and two on the road. Extension or not, Ray Emery had to relieve Steve Mason of his duties on Saturday night for the win. Andrej Meszaros is getting geared up for the Olympics and you don't hear the Flyers complaining.
Phoenix (TOR, at CGY, at EDM, at VAN) also plays host before embarking on a Canadian road trip. Looks like Martin Hanzal has been a busy man, taking out a trio of Canucks while nearing career-highs (34) for points. Mike Smith notched his first shutout of the season in that game against the Canucks, but Vancouver has been suspect lately so don't get too excited. Rostislav Klesla cleared waivers and will report to AHL Portland.
Pittsburgh (FLA, MTL, at NYI, at DAL) plays two games from home and two on the road, but all four games show to be an excellent opportunity for offensive explosion. After a long rest last week, all hands on deck for Penguins players. Chuck Kobasew (lower body), Paul Martin (leg), Jayson Megna (lower body) and James Neal (upper body) could return this week. Megna has been skating with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby at practice.
After singing their praises, St. Louis (at DET, at NJD, at NYR, at NYI) is stumbling a bit. Nothing like a dreaded (not this year) East Coast swing to get rid of the Blues? Vladimir Sobotka ended his two game point-less drought. Sobotka has two goals and eight assists in his last nine games played. Hmm…T.J. Oshie must have read last week's article, as Oshie has three goals and an assist in his last three games.
The good news? Toronto (at PHX, at COL, at DAL, at WIN) has won four in a row. The bad news is that could end almost immediately. The Leafs are 8-10-4 on the road where they play all four of their games. With David Clarkson heading to IR, Troy Bodie has returned to his parent club. Dave Bolland (ankle) has been skating, but shouldn't be considered near a return. Nazem Kadri has two assists and five hits and there was even a Mason Raymond sighting on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg (at ANA, at SJS, TOR, at CHI) has righted the ship since the coaching change, shocker, eh? Hey, Ondrej Pavelec found an opponent to gain confidence from. Forgetting that he allowed the tying goal in the final two minutes and that opponent was the defunct Oilers, perhaps it's a building block. Jacob Trouba, who saved Pavelec's hide, has three goals in his last two games. Paul Postma (leg) should return to practice with contact this week.
Fold (red highlight)
There are just six teams tapped with a two-game schedule over the next three weeks. The only way we would suggest Tampa Bay (OTT, COL) this week, who joins Boston (LOS, at PHI) as the two game lepers, is if Martin St. Louis guarantees two more four-goal efforts like Saturday night against the Sharks. But as you'll find out in Back-to-Back Jacks, that isn't likely against this week's opponents.
Three of a Kind (orange highlight)
As we mentioned the NHL schedule seems to get very plain in the final three weeks leading up to the Sochi games. Three of a Kind this week will focus on six teams with three games a week for the next three weeks.
With the Blues and Blackhawks stumbling, it's clear Anaheim (WIN, LOS, at LOS) is the powerhouse of the West. Or are they? They'll play the Kings (0-1) twice this week. Bryan Allen (lower body) returned to the tune of nearly 16 minutes of time on Friday. As it turns out, head coach Bruce Boudreau didn't let Jonas Hiller face all those pucks and Frederik Andersen rewarded him against the Blues. With the Kings on two nights this week, regardless of no b2b occurrence, we think you'll see Andersen in one of those games. However, we're willing to bet against Teemu Selanne's presence against L.A. on Saturday.
Carolina (at PHI, at BUF, OTT) has a very winnable schedule (combined 3-0 record) on paper. He's not as hot as he once was, but Anton Khudobin is almost single-handedly righting the ship while Cam Ward (lower body) has yet to even resume skating. Of course it helps when Alexander Semin scores. Eric Staal is picking up the pace as well. Justin Peters' splinter condition could continue, despite the b2b occurrence.
Calgary (at SJS, PHX, NSH) is being outscored 24-11 by this week's opponents. Blair Jones (knee) returned on Saturday, and thanks to the line brawl, to the tune of 15 penalty minutes in just two seconds of ice time. Guess he was jealous of all the publicity Tom Sestito (64 PIM in his last 22-minutes of ice time) has gotten. If you watch the video Sestito gets his ass handed to him by Brian McGrattan. Apparently, John Tortorella decided to take matters into his own hands?
Chicago (at DET, at MIN, WIN) has a varied schedule. Re-alignment or not, it's strange to be saying this in January. Chicago and Detroit will face-off for the first time this week. From there, Chicago is 1-2 against the Wild and 3-0 (15/5 GF/GA) against the Jets. Depending on Sunday's effort, Patrick Kane may bring a 10-game goal-less drought into the week. As of Sunday morning, all reports had Kris Versteeg (upper body) playing against the Bruins.
Edmonton (VAN, PHX, NSH) has been manhandled by Vancouver (GF-GA 10-2) and Phoenix (15-9). Ales Hemsky (ankle) is likely to miss this week with what is being called "bruising," but don't rule out a return before the week's end. David Perron had an important goal for the team on Saturday, and broke a four game point-less drought in the process. Nail Yakupov (concussion) may hit the IR this week.
After taking on the Blues, New Jersey (STL, WAS, NYR) will play Washington and the Rangers. It should be interesting to see if the Devils can continue their season's dominance (3-0, 11-5 GF/GA) over their cross-river rival. Someone smack Travis Zajac around, this guy is clearly asleep.
In addition to the aforementioned Canes and Hawks, four other teams play three contests and will play on b2b occasions, allowing for a possible back-up goalie spot start.
Despite yielding four goals in a 5-4 win over the lackluster Preds on Saturday, Colorado's (TOR, at FLA, at TBL) Semyon Varlamov is one of the NHL's best goalies in the month of January. Outside of his career 1.00 GAA in two games against his former employer Washington, Varlamov's (winner in eight of his last nine) favorite opponent (1.87 GAA in 8 games) is Tampa Bay. With Jean-Sebastien Giguere (back) out, Sami Aittokallio could get his first start of the season against the Panthers. Not goalie related, but worth mentioning, Nick Holden had two goals, an assist and a whopping nine hits against Nashville on Saturday.
Montreal's (at PIT, at DET, WAS) winning variable always comes down to Carey Price. However, Price has been inconsistent, having given up three or more goals in six of his last eight games. While Peter Budaj has been a much more consistent goalie for the Habs through a small sampling (10 starts), the team doesn't seem (5-4-1) to play as spirited in front of him. While we wouldn't bet on Montreal's chances against any of this week's opponents, Price's career numbers against Detroit (2.36 GAA in 5 games) are certainly better than those against Washington (3.09 in 15 games).
Despite Saturday's matinee loss to the Rangers, Ottawa (at WAS, at TBL, at CAR) has been solid of late, but they've got their fair share of problems. Craig Anderson has given up four or more goals in three of his last four starts. Nonetheless, Robin Lehner gave up 10 in two games prior to shutting out the Wild last week. Like Varlamov, Anderson's favorite team to face over the span of his career (GAA 1.42 in 11 games) has been Tampa Bay. Look for Lehner in Carolina.
Washington's (OTT, @NJD, at MTL) goaltending situation is right back where it started. After this season's mere bright spot, Philipp Grubauer, was pulled in Friday's 5-1 loss to Columbus, we certainly don't see a reason for optimism. Actually, despite giving up four goals to the Pens last week, Michal Neuvirth looked fair for most of a very fast-paced contest. Not to say we consider Neuvirth a great choice for your team's number one goalie, but we see him coming out of this week as the number one man on the Washington depth chart. Adam Oates will have the comfort of starting Neuvirth against either the Devils (2.07 GAA in 8 games) or the Canadiens (2.25 GAA in 9 games).
OTHER ROTOWIRE REPORTS: Alexandre Burrows (jaw) returned just in time for the goon game, while Mike Santorelli (arm) missed it. Josh Harding (illness) has practiced four days in a row and could get a start this week. Martin Havlat (lower body) is very likely to return to game action this week. David Jones (eye) has been cleared for full-contact skating. Jared Spurgeon (foot) skated on Saturday.