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NHL Schedule Analysis: Scanning the Bottom Feeders

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
by Brian Rutherford, RotoWire Writer

Scan the division standings this week, and something should stick out like a sore thumb. Though it appears the Western Conference hasn't gotten the memo, we finally have some separation in this young NHL season.

With the exception of Calgary and Edmonton, the entire Western Conference is a .500 team or better and is separated by a mere 12 points. The Eastern Conference cannot boast the same, as 13 points behind the leader means you're golfing when the first round of the playoffs start. As it turns out, the Eastern Conference division dwellers have a rugged schedule this week that will require their best hockey.

Turning Over a New Leaf?
After an embarrassing (5-0) defeat to youthful Edmonton on Thursday, Toronto has now lost four of their last five. Simply put, their record (9-12-4) may not be reflective of their efforts. Aside from a 4-0 loss to streaky Tampa Bay last month, the only losses the Maple Leafs should hang their heads at are to those of other underachieving teams. Before jotting down an 0-4 record for Toronto this week, consider their record (2-2-2) and goal differential (-2) last month against the six of the NHLs strongest teams.

(11/3 - OTL) Washington 5-4
(11/13 - Loss) Vancouver 5-3
(11/16 - W) Nashville 5-4
(11/20 - Loss) Montreal 2-0
(11/22 - Win) Dallas 4-1
(11/30 - OTL) Tampa 4-3

Amid reports of their $505 million (Forbes) franchise being unofficially shopped, the Leafs went 0-5 against Northeast division rivals last month. If they are to right the ship, its obvious they will have to change their luck against division opponents. As you can see below, Montreal is not the only big fish to fry this week.

This week: @ WAS, PIT vs. PHI, MON (combined average record of 17-8-3)

Sliding South
When your hope for glorious seasons to come is a third year right-winger, sometimes the locker room climate is a bit nippy. However warm the climate is outside the locker room for the Florida Panthers (11-14), it's far from cozy inside when that third year winger (Michael Frolik) is leading the team with 13 points in 23 games. What's worse, two (Dennis Wideman, Bryan McCabe) of the Panthers top four point-getters are defenseman. In his fourth season with the Florida, and quite possibly his last (16th) in the NHL, Cory Stillman is needed to step up with one last 25 goal season. Likely to happen or not, perhaps this could spark some of the overpriced Sunrise, FL talent.

On a team of career-long castoffs like Radek Dvorak, there are a few bright spots. Such as second-line center, Mike Santorelli, who is enjoying his first full season in the NHL. Santorelli has three points in as many games and a total of seven goals (11 points) on the season. The Southeast cellar team looks to lean on Tomas Vokoun when they take on three strong teams this week.

This week: vs. COL @ WAS, NSH (combined average record 14-8-3)

Hell Frozen Over
There was once a time, that the New Jersey Devils (8-15-2) could survive a long-gated absence by the almighty Martin Brodeur. But for one million less this season than the disappointing Ilya Kovalchuck, Patrick Elias is the team leader with 13 points, and needless to say this was not the plan laid out for the Meadowlands faithful. With Brodeur's (bruised elbow) status still unknown, this is certainly an opportunity for Johan Hedberg to step in and garner some attention as a trustworthy number one goalie. Hedberg went 3-1 over his last four, but was yanked 98 seconds into the 5-1 loss to Montreal. Mike McKenna faired no better against what seemed to be a possessed Canadiens offense.

Regardless of the stopper situation in Jersey, the real hell is evident in the team's lack of focus on defense. With an on ice minus-97, the Devils are ranked a horrendous 28th in the league. Devastated by the loss of Zach Parise, outside of Jason Arnott's team leading nine goals, no one else on the team has more than four goals. Add in a slow start for Travis Zajac and things are downright ugly in New Jersey. In his third NHL season, Henrik Tallinder (-11) was an off-season acquisition brought over from Buffalo to bring a positive presence, but this just has not happened yet. New Jersey hits the road in hopes of distancing themselves from league stinkpots, the New York Islanders.

This week: @PIT, OTT vs. DET (combined average record 15-9-2)

Other last place teams and bottom feeders facing the wood-chipper this week:
Buffalo - @BOS, vs. SJ and PIT (combined average record 14-8-3)
Calgary - vs. TB @ LA, ANH (combined average record 14-10-2)
Edmonton - vs. ANH, TB, VAN (combined average record 14-9-3)
San Jose - @DET, PHI, BUF, vs. CHI (combined average record 14-9-3)

Playing four games this week: ANH, DAL, DET, SJ, TOR, WASH
Playing two games this week: STL, PHX, NYI, LA, CHI, CAR

More Notes...Jonas Gustavsson vs. Jean-Sebastien Giguere - Despite a Toronto defense that allowed only 19 shots to Edmonton last week, these two gave up five goals combined. With Toronto playing four games this week, it's time to shake the sheets and find out who will take this team to the All-Star break.

Mike Modano had his right wrist sliced against Columbus last week, and even though surgery reportedly went well, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock isn't holding his breath for a regular season return. "It's different when you're 25 than when you're 35. Those are challenges for him."

As TSN first reported, Andrei Markov is gone for the year. The Canadiens officially placed him on the injured reserve list on Dec. 1. The world renowned Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery on his right knee, which was injured in a collision with Carolina's Eric Staal.

Full Schedule Grid

Team Away Home Total
Anh 2 2 4
Dal 3 1 4
Det 1 3 4
SJ 3 1 4
Tor 2 2 4
Was 1 3 4
Atl 1 2 3
Bos 0 3 3
Buf 1 2 3
Cgy 2 1 3
Cls 1 2 3
Col 3 0 3
Edm 0 3 3
Fla 2 1 3
Min 3 0 3
Mon 2 1 3
NJ 2 1 3
Nsh 2 1 3
NYR 2 1 3
Ott 1 2 3
Phi 2 1 3
Pit 1 2 3
TB 3 0 3
Van 1 2 3
Car 2 0 2
Chi 1 1 2
LA 0 2 2
NYI 1 1 2
Pho 0 2 2
StL 0 2 2