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Schedule Analysis: Targeting the Predators

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"

A short week always adds the exciting and sometimes uncomfortable variable. Celebrating it's 98th year of existence (11/26/1917), with the one-day thanksgiving break and just one game on Sunday, for all intents and purposes, its a five-day week in the NHL.



7 X 4

While you will want to avoid investing in two-game teams like San Jose, Toronto and Vancouver, ranked for the easiest strength of schedule in the upcoming seven days, here is the week's outlook on the seven teams playing four times.

1. Nashville plays three on the road, including at Buffalo, who they return home to host and play for the second time in two days. While they're a .500 team (4-4-2) on the road, their opponents suggest that should change. Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom returned to the lineup in Saturday's shutout loss.

2. Washington plays three of four at home (6-2). Jason Chimera had a trio of assists and Evgeny Kuznetsov has his third three-point-or-better game in the last month in Saturday's 7-3 win.

3. Winnipeg has three of four on the road (5-6-1). Ondrej Pavelec was reportedly seen leaving the arena on crutches Saturday. Michael Hutchinson's time is now, and he started with a win over the Yotes.

4. Edmonton plays four on the road, where they are 3-7. With four goals and 10 points during his five-game point streak, Leon Draisaitl is really providing good value out of the free-agent pool and for DFS players. But Taylor Hall (24 points, fourth in NHL scoring) is the one setting the pace. Jordan Eberle has two of his three goals in the last two tilts. It's hard to bet on anyone in goal for the Oilers other than Anders Nilsson; sorry Cam Talbot owners. Andrej Sekera (illness) and Justin Schultz (back) should both return during this road trip.

5. The Rangers stumbled last week with tight contests in Tampa Bay and Florida. While they boast a 9-1-1 record at MSG, Nashville and Montreal pose as threats, then they'll play the Bruins and Flyers on back-to-back nights. Expect to see Antti Raanta on Friday in Boston. Rick Nash netted a hat trick in Saturday's OT win over Florida and Mats Zuccarello is top-10 in scoring league-wide.

6. Philadelphia splits the week with a pair on the road (3-5-2) and a pair at home (3-4-3). Scott Laughton left Saturday's loss with an upper-body injury and R.J. Umberger (undisclosed) didn't play at all.

7. Buffalo will host three of four this week at the Niagara Center, where they are 4-6-1 this season. Chad Johnson wasn't half bad in their loss to the Stars.

3-on-3

With almost two thirds of the league playing on back-to back nights, streaming productive backup goalies will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Most three-game teams will play all of their contests within a four-day stretch around Thanksgiving, so here is the week's outlook on three teams that are favorable bets and three that are not.

The Good

St. Louis' opponents have a combined record of 28-31-2. Believe it or not, it's Columbus (0-3, 3:14 GF:GA in last three games) that will provide the Blues with the most resistance this week. Jori Lehtera had another poor week before tipping in a goal Saturday but Jake Allen yielded four in the loss, so there could be a Brian Elliott sighting or two this week. Colton Parayko (lower body) did play Saturday, but he continued through his cooling period having registered two points in his last five. Still, all signs point towards a good week for owners of Blues players.

Arizona has all three of their games in a four-night stretch at home. The Yotes are outscoring Anaheim and Ottawa 12-4 en route to a combined 3-0 record against the two teams this season. The biggest question will be how Anders Lindback holds up while Mike Smith (lower body) is out.

Pittsburgh squeezes all three games in a four-night stretch as well. Although the Pens are just 1-1 against this week's opponents, they were a combined 4-2-1 against them last season and this sleeping giant is going to turn things around sooner or later. A bit concerning is Marc-Andre Fleury's pedestrian play of late, averaging three goals allowed in his last six contests. Kris Letang had a co-team-high (tied with Phil Kessel) six shots on goal, despite taking a puck to the face in Saturday's loss.

The Bad

Much like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay continues along at their mediocre pace. This week's opponents combined record of 35-19-4 suggests that might head in the wrong direction this week. Jonathan Drouin is on IR, but Ryan Callahan (17:52 TOI, one assist, three hits) did return in Saturday's win over the Ducks. Nikita Kucherov has 10 points in as many games.

Let's forget for a moment that New Jersey has lost two in a row, or that they've already lost a tilt against the Blue Jackets earlier this season. The fact is they'll play a home-and-home starting the night after thanksgiving with the Canadiens, who outscored them 12-7 in three contests last season. You may have to avoid Cory Schneider's services.

Anaheim has improved in their last 10 (5-3-2), but Saturday night's 5-0 loss to Tampa suggests they haven't turned a corner just yet. Perhaps they will get a win against the Flames, but the Hawks and Coyotes should give them fits. Frederik Andersen has just four wins in 15 games this season. Hampus Lindholm (upper body) didn't play Saturday.

Sunday's Best

No, they're not the best in the league, but Detroit and Florida will be the only game on the slate Sunday. This will be the first meeting of the year for the division rivals. The upstart Panthers won last year's season series 3-1 (14:11 GF:GA) and Detroit is 6-3-1 over their last 10. This could easily be two teams scratching and clawing for the final playoff spots this spring. Dylan Larkin has goals in four straight games and Roberto Luongo's numbers (14-14-5, 2.90 GAA) in 34 career starts against the Wings is ranked the third worst in his career. Perhaps the slow start to the season for Pavel Datsyuk comes to a halt in this one as the veteran has his best point-per-game ratio on Sundays and has collected 20 points in 16 career games against Florida.