Now that the re-introduction into NHL life is over, the league's schedule will begin to take a few large swings, starting with this week. Though 20 of the NHL's 30 teams are playing a vanilla three-game schedule, with things kicking up a notch next week, it will be important to read in between the lines and find the variables.
B2B - back-to-back occurrences in bold
As we mentioned last week, Anaheim (MTL, PIT) plays just twice, but both are from home. Nick Bonino returned to the lineup on Friday to the tune of 12-minute. Mark Fistric returned as well to 17-minutes of ice time.
Philadelphia (WAS, at TOR) has just two tilts and both should be considered hard-nosed. Good thing their schedule is light as Cal Heeter (15-19, 2.48 GAA with AHL Adirondack) was Steve Mason's backup in Saturday's win over the Rangers. With Ray Emery (lower body) day-to-day, Mason was likely to draw today's start against the Capitals and possibly Wednesday's against Washington again. Kimmo Timonen nabbed two assists in Saturday's win.
With the exception of Montreal, all teams featured in Four Aces will not only be busy this week, but have at least 11 games over the next 21 days, giving you the most bang for your buck.
Boston (FLA, WAS, at TBL, at FLA) hosts the Panthers and Capitals before a Florida swing. Adam McQuaid (leg) suffered a setback and was not expected to play on Sunday. No, he wasn't his usual sharp-self, but Tuukka Rask endured Saturday's loss to Washington, so Chad Johnson was expected to draw the start on Sunday against the Rangers. Regardless, both should see action this week with a four-game slate.
Buffalo (at DAL, at TBL, at FLA, CHI) has a tough schedule that starts with three on the road (including two b2b in Florida) then the flying Blackhawks at home as a reward for their travels, yikes. More unsettling is Pat LaFontaine's decision to resign from the front office. Should keeper league owners be worried about the future of players like Cody Hodgson, Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Moulson and Tyler Myers to name a few? LaFontaine insists the resignation was planned and he was there him to help the organization "transition," so we shall see. Zemgus Girgensons has picked up the pace since returning from the Olympics. With Ryan Miller gone, should be interesting to see how Jaroslav Halak plays and how that impacts the pecking order for Jhonas Enroth.
PENDING UFA: Jaroslav Halak, Henrik Tallinder, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, Zenon Konopka, John Scott, Alexander Sulzer, Matt D'Agostini, Kevin Porter
DEADLINE STATUS: Likely done
Calgary (at MIN, OTT, NYI, at VAN) has been anything but dependable this year. But their schedule this week includes teams of the same ilk. Head coach Bob Hartley doesn't see Curtis Glencross (ankle) returning any time soon, but perhaps practicing in a contact jersey could happen this week? Chad Billins has been recalled while Chris Butler (lower body) is day-to-day. Lee Stempniak (personal) is expected to meet the team in Minnesota on Monday.
PENDING UFA: Reto Berra, Chris Butler, Mike Cammalleri, Derek Smith, Lee Stempniak, Kevin Westgarth. RFA: Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Joe Colborne, T.J. Galiardi
DEADLINE STATUS: Brian Burke ladies and gents, need we say more?
While Columbus (at TOR, DAL, at CHI, at NSH) plays three of four from the road, we think this is the Jackets' chance to rise and shine with games against Dallas (on b2b occurrence) and Chicago to prove it. Jack Johnson has five points (four assists) in his last four games. Johnson has truly picked up the pace in the last month or so of hockey and his career numbers in March suggest that could continue. Sergei Bobrovsky has not exactly been stellar since returning from a disappointing Sochi tournament. You can bet the farm Curtis McElhinney should get his first start in over a month.
Dallas (BUF, at CBJ, VAN, MIN) plays three of four from home. Brenden Dillon (lower body) did not play against Tampa Bay and there's little info about his condition, leading to his current day-to-day status. Antoine Roussel continues his onslaught of PIM with a slight scoring touch.
Detroit (at NJD, COL, NJD, at NYR) will have a week of inconsistencies, especially with two at home and two on the road. Speaking of inconsistencies, no Olympics, no Pavel Datsyuk (knee)? Is this really happening? Jakub Kindl (lower body) expects to be ready for Tuesday's tilt in New Jersey, but could end up a healthy scratch anyway. Stephen Weiss (hernia) could be cleared as early as Monday, but he could end up with Grand Rapids considering his length of absence and his struggles prior to the injury.
Montreal (at LOS, at ANA, at PHX, at SJS) begins and ends its week on a four-game West coast swing and not even the world's hottest goaltender (Carey Price) can save them. No seriously, Carey Price (lower body) has missed three straight but is travelling with the team. While Peter Budaj is pedestrian at best, it appears he'll take the lion's share until Price returns. If Price's issue worsens, Dustin Tokarski (17-13-2, 2.34 GAA) and Robert Mayer (7-12-2, 2.91 GAA) have been basically splitting time in Hamilton. Since being called up three games ago, Jarred Tinordi (nine points, 70 PIM with Hamilton of the AHL) has not had much impact with the Canadiens. Andrei Markov has a five-game (seven assists) point-scoring streak. Max Pacioretty has six goals in his last five games. Daniel Briere has had a strange return from the Olympic break, registering two goals and an assist in just nine minutes of ice time against the Pens, but just one assist in two games over 12 minutes of ice time.
St. Louis (TBL, at NSH, at COL, at MIN) will spend nine of 15 games in March on the road, starting with a three-game trip through America's heartland this week. Brian Elliott turned in a solid performance in Friday's loss to the Ducks. Regardless of how he played, the workhorse Ryan Miller could leave Elliott owners out in the cold. Ironically enough, Steve Ott will play alongside who he was traded out of Dallas for, Derek Roy as well as T.J. Oshie.
While the following five teams have your ordinary three-game schedule this week, fantasy owners should be gearing up for a very busy three week landscape. The next five teams are playing at least 11 games in 21 days as well.
Florida (at BOS, BUF, BOS) plays three games, but only prepares for two teams, could be seen as an advantage. Nonetheless, Tim Thomas has been horrific and there's little hope Scott Clemmensen can turn things around with a depleted bunch in front of them. We've got nothing.
PENDING UFA: Tim Thomas, Scott Clemmensen, Mike Weaver, Brad Boyes, Scott Gomez, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Matt Gilroy, Jesse Winchester
DEADLINE STATUS: Where to start? The injuries have clouded things, but Boyes and Gilbert are fairly sought after commodities.
After a three-game docket over the next two weeks, Minnesota (CGY, at DAL, STL) draws the rare five- game schedule two weeks from tomorrow. John Curry was returned to AHL Iowa, leaving us to safely assume Niklas Backstrom's abdominal soreness is manageable enough to play. They'll likely need him in either Dallas or at home against the Blues.
Nashville (PIT, STL, CBJ) has an ugly schedule this week, regardless if it's played exclusively at home. Looking to build on Thursday's win over Tampa Bay, Carter Hutton gave up three goals to Winnipeg on Saturday. Despite seeing a five-minute drop in ice time from last week's tilt against Tampa Bay, Michael Del Zotto registered his second point since being shipped to Nashville. Simon Moser (25 points in 42 games with AHL Milwaukee) scored his first NHL goal. Nick Spaling (lower body) practiced on Friday in a non-contact jersey.
Pittsburgh (at NSH, at SJS, ANA), who plays three on the road, will play eight in the following two weeks, including two b2b ocurrences next week. Marc-Andre Fleury did not get much help last week, resulting in 10 goals allowed in his last two games. After Nashville, we're not sure the situation will get any better. Brandon Sutter (upper body) did end up returning in Saturday's 5-1 loss to Pittsburgh after taking a puck to the face.
Toronto (CBJ, at NYR, PHI) has an intriguing schedule with two of three at home this week against some teams that should give a good fight, then eight more games over the following 14-day span. Jonathan Bernier's penalty cost the Leafs the game on Saturday. With no b2b games this week, should you see James Reimer, it would be clear how head coach Randy Carlyle felt about the incident. We already know how Carlyle feels about his combination of Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson. Peter Holland (infection) registered a minus-1 and two shots on goal in just under 12-minutes of ice time in Saturday's return to the lineup. Phil Kessel has four straight two-point efforts and James Van Riemsdyk (five points since returning from Sochi) is blowing it up as well.
The March 5 deadline looms, really the only two other teams completely out of the playoff picture will even play each other.
What can we say, other than, how does the management in Edmonton (OTT, NYI, LOS) do anything BUT sell with this type of season. Nail Yakupov (ankle) did not play on Saturday.
PENDING UFA: Ales Hemsky, Ilya Bryzgalvo, Ryan Smyth, Anton Belov, Ryan Jones, Mark Fraser, Ben Eager, Taylor Fedun, Ben Scrivens.
DEADLINE STATUS: Seems like a team just waiting for the right deal to gel it all together. We wouldn't be surprised to see a move. Think the Devils will take Hemsky? Ha!
The Islanders (at WIN, at EDM at CAL) had a return to league action. Evgeni Nabakov had to be pulled. Now they head out on the road.
PENDING UFA: Thomas Vanek, Evgeni Nabakov, Radek Martinek, Eric Boulton, Andrew MacDonald
DEADLINE STATUS: Vanek seems likely.
OTHER ROTOWIRE REPORTS: Martin Erat (undisclosed) was seen skating gingerly during warm-ups and did not play on Saturday. Chris Higgins has three points in his last four games. Despite allowing four goals to the Panthers last week, Braden Holtby seems to be turning things around with seven wins in his last eight starts. Marian Hossa (upper body) did not return after leaving in the first period of Saturday's Stadium Series game against the Pens.