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NHL Schedule Analysis: Four For the Pens

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"

NHL Schedule Analysis
Brian Rutherford, RotoWire Writer

With the NHL season now underway and the European series having concluded, it's time to get back to the norm. Other than the Red Wings (2-0) leading the Western Conference, there's nothing normal about the first weekend of the 2010-11. Pittsburgh's new home-opener (Consol Energy Center) was soured by an opening night loss to Philly, and followed by yet another loss (3-2 to Montreal), but they are one of eight teams playing four games this week, getting a quick chance to right the ship. Yes, the season is four days old and already your fantasy leagues are in high gear. With all leagues wide open, just waiting for someone to take a commanding league, H2H or Rotisserie, let's focus on the eight teams with a brimming schedule.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (0-1-1) are still reeling after their fire sale and split the week with two on the road and two at home, including a home and home with Buffalo (1-1). Marty Turco is trying to find a new home in Chicago, but something tells me this week will be all about former second-round draft pick Corey Crawford.

Another four-game team is Buffalo (1-1). Look for Ryan Miller (22-27 vs. NY Rangers) to have a bounce back week against a dilapidated Chicago roster twice this week as well as a showdown with Martin Brodeur. A band of Tyler's seems to be taking over the upstate NY team. It's not just about sophomore superstar defenseman Tyler Myers, as Tyler Ennis (26th pick overall in 2008), who is eligible for C and LW in many leagues, already has three helpers on the year.

Anaheim (0-2) will start the first full week of the season in the cellar of the Western Conference. Having been outscored 8-1 in their first two games of the season, Curtis McElhinney is Jonas Hiller's backup. At this point, stay away from either as the Ducks' top six defenseman are anchored by Cam Fowler, Lubomir Visnovsky and Paul Mara. It's going to be a long year for those in the pipes of Anaheim.

After an opening night win against Chicago, the Colorado Avalanche have the ugliest schedule in the NHL this week. All four games will be on the road, against Philadelphia, Detroit, New Jersey and finally a breather against the still-rebuilding New York Islanders. The Avs will lean on Paul Stastny and second year phenom Matt Duchene for scoring. Look for T.J. Galiardi to build upon last season, and Milan Hejduk to come back after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign. Dark horse defenseman Kyle Cumiskey may step in with some offensive assistance for an exciting Colorado team.

New Jersey is one of three four-game teams playing three games this week at home. As every year, despite an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars and embarrassing performance against the Washington Capitals (2-7), the Devils will be in the mix again this year. Though, I'm not sure the Meadowlands faithful will understand, Martin Broduer may not be the key component to their success. Johan Hedberg has played second fiddle on several teams for quite some time, look to Brodeur finally face Father Time. John MacLean will have to face playing Hedberg almost as much (for one reason or another) as Brodeur this year.

The New York Islanders (0-1) are perhaps the quintessential rebuilding team of the NHL. After years of poor outcomes, sooner or later a few highly touted draft picks have to pan out, logically speaking. *AHEM Rick DiPietro.* With a schedule against hometown rivals the NY Rangers, both Washington and Pittsburgh on the road and then Colorado at home, nothing tells me that panning out will come anytime soon.

After all the drama of getting their new arena, the Pittsburgh Penquins homecoming was ruined by their in-state rival Flyers 3-2 on opening night. Then the Pens followed up with 3-2 loss to Michael Cammalleri and the Montreal Canadiens. So far the lackluster Penguins are less than fluid. Perhaps a 4 pm Columbus Day start against the Devils in New Jersey will get Crosby and incorporated going. After that, they head home against a surprisingly sharp Toronto Maple Leafs team and then the New York Islanders on Friday. Crosby is as Crosby does, but it will be Malkin, Fleury and the rest that truly puts Pittsburgh back atop the Eastern Conference. If you're not already a believer, Alex Goligoski is a pure offensive defenseman threat.

The Vancouver Canucks have just about the most favorable schedule, taking on Florida at home, then two rival road games. One will be against the immediately slumping Ducks, and a chance for redemption against the LA Kings, who handed them their opening night shootout (2-1) loss. Sunday night they will face the overlooked Carolina Hurricances (2-0) at Rogers Arena. The Sedin brothers and Robert Luongo are of course expected to have another good year, but what 2nd round pick Mason Raymond will do after his 53 point sophomore year is what many are questioning.

The aforementioned Carolina Hurricanes WERE worried about their goaltending situation, until Cam Ward showed up. Many were worried after an 18-23 season in 2009-2010, but yours truly has no problem starting in him in every opportunity, especially after yielding a mere four goals in 71 shots in two European games.

Then there are the rest...

The Dallas Stars have been highly criticized for allowing both Marty Turco and Mike Modano (Detroit Red Wings) to go in favor of a young and inexperienced squad. But after two one goal wins against Eastern Conference teams (NJ, NYI), Joe Nieuwendyk seems to be the great and wonderful Oz in D/FW. Kari Lehtonen and the Dallas Stars will welcome back Modano and his new teammates on Thursday. Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribiero, Louis Eriksson and a surging James Neal should put the Stars in the playoffs this year, regardless of experience or age.

Derek Stepan (NYR) became the the 4th NHL player to net a hat trick in his debut game, but the Broadway Blues only play twice this week. Nathan Horton had a terrific debut as a Boston Bruin, registering three goals and one assist in two games against Phoenix. Will his transformation to Black and Gold continue, or will the flight back to North America stunt his growth?

Yes indeed, it's that time of the year. You no longer have to keep up with the demanding everyday maintenance of MLB, and you have a solid feel of your NFL team by Week 5. It's time to start grasping an idea of your place in Fantasy Hockey.

Full Schedule Grid

Team Away Home Total
Anaheim 1 3 4
Buffalo 1 3 4
Chicago 2 2 4
Colorado 4 0 4
New Jersey 1 3 4
New York Islanders 2 2 4
Pittsburgh 2 2 4
Vancouver 2 2 4
Atlanta 3 0 3
Detroit 2 1 3
Florida 2 1 3
Montreal 1 2 3
Nashville 1 2 3
Ottawa 2 1 3
Philadelphia 0 3 3
St. Louis 2 1 3
Tampa Bay 3 0 3
Washington 1 2 3
Carolina 2 0 2
Calgary 0 2 2
Columbus 1 1 2
Dallas 0 2 2
Edmonton 2 0 2
Los Angeles 0 2 2
Minnesota 0 2 2
New York Rangers 1 1 2
Phoenix 1 1 2
Toronto 2 0 2
Boston 1 0 1
San Jose 0 1 1