With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the hard work and efforts that started way back in October are coming into focus. Whether you've got your league standings on bookmark to glance your stranglehold daily or you're destined for the consolation bracket of your league playoffs, hockey owners fill out their lineups until the last day of the season. So put away your baseball draft cheat sheets for a few minutes. There's just four weeks of hockey left for fantasy owners and if the NHL schedule is any indication it's going to get tricky.
*B2b (back-to-back occurrences) are in bold
Fives Are Wild
For the second time this season, an NHL team will engage in five games over a seven-day period.
There are several ways you can break down Minnesota's (at BOS, at NYI, at NJD, DET, at DET) five-game schedule. After hosting five of its first six games of March from the Excel Center, the Wild will now play eight of their next 10 tilts on the road where they are a dismal 12-15-5. Additionally, they'll end their tiresome week of travels with a traditional home-and-away series with the Detroit Red Wings. Minnesota has yet to play Boston or Detroit, while they hold contrasting GF/GA in one game against each the Islanders (4-5) and New Jersey (4-0).
Considering the Wild have not registered more than three goals in any contest since late January, we wouldn't suggest putting a lot of stock in their 26th overall ranked offense. While Darcy Kuemper's record in March (2-2-2) may not reflect his efforts, he has been very good since taking over the number one duties. That's good, because Ilya Bryzgalov's 9-8-5 (2.77 GAA) record in 22 career starts versus Detroit doesn't exactly instill confidence.
Mikael Granlund (three assists in last three games) seems to be gelling well on Minnesota's first line. Jason Pominville (40 points in 49 games) and Cody McCormick have a familiarity with the Bruins. Zach Parise (assist in one game) and Nino Niederreiter (goal and an assist in one game) look to build on burning their former organizations this week. Newcomer Matt Moulson has been quiet the last three games, but he and Niederreiter will likely have a spirited game on the Island. Moulson has also enjoyed (four goals, one assist in six games) his small career sampling against Detroit. Matt Cooke has eight points in 15 career games at TD Garden. Mikko Koivu (14 of 37 points) and Ryan Suter (16 of 36 points) just don't seem to produce as well on the road.
Minnesota is not the only team with two b2b occurrences this week.
Boston (MIN, at NJD, at COL, at PHX) is one of two other teams that will play four games all on b2b nights. After serving as a healthy scratch, Dougie Hamilton had an assist in Saturday's rout of Carolina. Matt Linbland (recalled from AHL Providence) played 8-plus minutes in place of Daniel Paille (concussion). However, Paille has not experienced any setbacks, so that ice time with the parent club should be short-lived for Lindbland.
What we were saying last week about James Reimer, will change this week as Toronto (at DET, TBL, MTL, at NJD) will certainly need two goalies with two b2b occurrences. While Jonathan Bernier's lower-body is reportedly not believed to be serious, it could be that Reimer gets the lion's share of duties this week.
Columbus (CAR, at MTL, NYR, at NYI) is trying to hang in there, and every one of their opponents this week has the same attitude. Fedor Tyutin (ankle) played 21-minutes in his return to the lineup on Saturday. The Jackets hold a season series edge with all of their opponents but Montreal (0-1-1).
Chicago (at PHI, STL, CAR, NSH) has a seemingly weak four-game schedule. Look again and you'll see they've outscored the Canes and Flyers by a combined total of 10-4 in two wins. But the Hawks have had their problems (combined 1-3-2, 16-23 GF/GA) against Nashville and St. Louis. Marian Hossa (upper body) was questionable for Sunday's tilt with Detroit, plan appropriately.
Detroit (TOR, PIT, at MIN, MIN) has a full plate ending with the aforementioned weekend against the Wild. Jimmy Howard (9-3-2, 2.10 GAA) is familiar with Minnesota, Jonas Gustavsson (1-1, 2.54 GAA) not so much. Jordin Tootoo has been recalled from Grand Rapids of the AHL. Tomas Tatar broke his silence in Friday's win over Edmonton. The Red Wings are 1-1 against Toronto and lost 4-1 in their only contest with Pittsburgh.
As if things are not bad enough for Florida (at SJS, at PHX, at LOS, at ANA), they take their show on a West Coast swing and end it with the Kings and Ducks on b2b nights. Although the Panthers enjoyed a 3-2 win over Anaheim earlier this season, something tells us things might turn out differently this time around. Florida is a combined 2-4-3 against the Pacific division this season.
New Jersey (BOS, MIN, NYR, TOR) plays all four from home. Eric Gelinas has served as a healthy scratch for two consecutive games. With a 3-1-2 record against the Rangers this season and a 4-0 win over Minnesota, the Devils are a combined 4-1-2 against this week's opponents.
Completely opposite of New Jersey and much like the Panthers, Nashville (at EDM, at VAN, at CGY, at CHI) begins to wind down another disappointing campaign with four on the road. Deduct their positive record (2-1, 11-7 GF/GA) against Chicago thus far this season and the Preds, who are a combined 4-4-1 against this week's opponents, seem scheduled for a very long week.
Pittsburgh (DAL, at DET, TBL, STL) has three-of-four at home, but all of these are quality opponents. While we won't guarantee he misses the entire week, James Neal (concussion) is out indefinitely. There was talk prior to Saturday's 4-0 loss to Philly that Brian Gibbons could center the Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen line, but he logged just 12 minutes in the game. Jayson Megna (recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scanton) also played for nearly 12-minutes. Chris Kunitz (leg) did not play against Philly on Saturday, but should be back this week. While they're owning (3-0, 12-5 GF/GA) their opponents this week from their own conference, the Pens have had their struggles (0-2, 1-5 GF/GA) against this week's Western Conference opponents.
St. Louis (WIN, at CHI, at PHI, at PIT) has three on the road, but two are very winnable games on paper. Patrik Berglund (lower body) seemed just fine to us in Saturday's win over Nashville. Brenden Morrow played in place of Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) on Saturday. It should come as no surprise that the Blues are a combined 7-0-1 against the Jets, Hawks and Pens.
Tampa Bay (VAN, at TOR, at OTT, at PIT) also has three on the road, but with Vancouver to feast on, we think the Lightning will get their confidence and not look back. Nonetheless, the Lightning are a combined 3-5 against this week's opponents.
Three of a Kind
The following eight teams play their three games from a distinct advantage or disadvantage. Here are their records under the applicable circumstances.
Buffalo (at CGY, at EDM, at VAN) is 7-21-3 on the road this season. Alexander Sulzer is expected to miss at least a week with a head injury.
Carolina (at CBJ, at CHI, at WIN) is 12-16-4 on the road this season. Justin Faulk (upper body) returned to the tune of 20-plus minutes in Saturday's loss. Cam Ward was burned for five goals in the same game.
Edmonton (NSH, BUF, CGY) is 11-20-6 at home this season. Mark Fraser (groin) and Sam Gagner (ankle) did not play on Friday.
Los Angeles (PHX, WAS, FLA) is 19-12-3 at home this season. Marian Gaborik is off the schneid in Hollywood. Jonathan Quick (illness) missed practice on Friday allowing Martin Jones to absorb Saturday's 2-1 loss to Anaheim.
Rangers (at OTT, at CBJ, at NJD) are 20-13 on the road this season. Henrik Lundqvist is 2-3-1 with a 3.02 GAA and .901 save percentage since returning from the Olympics. Head coach Alain Vigneault has been juggling lines to get Martin St. Louis going. St. Louis (two assists in six games with the team) has most recently been playing alongside Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.
Philadelphia (CHI, DAL, STL) is 15-13-6 at home this season. Steve Mason shut out the Pens on Saturday.
San Jose (FLA, ANA, WAS) is 19-13-3 at home this season. Despite his inconsistent presence in the lineup, Martin Havlat has three goals and an assist through five games played in March. Matthew Nieto has three goals in his last four games. Raffi Torres (soreness) is expected to return to the lineup in Sunday's game at the Rangers. Bracken Kearns was reassigned to AHL Worcester on Friday.
Washington (at ANA, at LOS, at SJS) is 12-16-5 on the road this season. Jaroslav Halak evened his record (2-2) with the Caps. After two quiet games, Evgeny Kuznetsov broke out in a big way on Friday averaging an assist for every three-and-a-half minutes of ice time.
The rebuilding and John Tavares-less Islanders (MIN, CBJ) haven't been playing all that terrible since the first of the year. Nonetheless, there's no way they sneak into the conference playoffs, especially not since they'll play just two games this week and three next week, regardless of how many young guns (Anders Lee, Ryan Strome) are maturing at the NHL level.
OTHER ROTOWIRE REPORTS: With the way Robin Lehner was shelled on Saturday, the Sens could really use Craig Anderson (shoulder), who was questionable going into Sunday's tilt with Colorado. Nathan Lawson was recalled on Friday just in case Anderson's injury doesn't get better. Michael Bournival (concussion) practiced in a full-contact jersey over the weekend and could return this week. Dustin Brown (illness) missed practice on Friday and Saturday's loss. Cody Eakin (lower body) and Shawn Horcoff (unknown) missed Friday's game and the injuries could linger into this week. Travis Morin (74 points in 55 games with AHL Texas) notched his first point of his career. Meanwhile, Kari Lehtonen "could return" early this week, but we're skeptical. Cam Fowler (lower body) missed Saturday's win over the Kings. Jiri Hudler (upper body) is expected to return this week. Ryan Kesler (knee) is reportedly out for "at least a couple of weeks." Jamie McGinn has three points in two games since forming a line with Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. After serving as a healthy scratch for two straight games, Derek Morris returned this past weekend and went minus-1 with two penalty minutes, averaging around 19-minutes a game on Friday and Saturday. Ondrej Pavelec left Friday's loss after the first period with an apparent leg injury. Though he allowed four goals, Carey Price (lower body) returned to the lineup and defeated the Sens on Saturday. Daniel Sedin (hamstring) is nearing a return but no timetable. Paul Stastny (back) missed his third straight game on Friday.