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Schedule Analysis: Popular Penguins

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"

Sure, you'll go through your usual red tape at work this week, but something is different. You're confident; you'll never look back. From here on out, for the rest of the season, you're the team to make a joke out of your opponents’ mind-sweating efforts. Once again, the NHL starts off cleanly on the first day of the month. Just like the groundhog, its time for some NHL teams to break the surface or head for hibernation.

A large majority of the NHL will get back to work quickly. If you have a goalie on one of the following teams, plan appropriately. CHI, CAR, COL, CBJ, DET, STL, FLA, NSH, NYI, OTT, and PHO will play five times over the next ten days. Four teams (TOR, NJ, MTL,PIT) will play six times in the first ten nights of the second half. Two of the teams already have a strong hold on a postseason appearance, but two others will attempt to peek their way back into the playoff picture.

New Season or Next Season?
Currently 20 points behind Boston for the Northeast division, and 14 points out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs have been a puzzle all season. Stretches of fluidity and one-night explosions have been washed away by the inability to stay consistent. Toronto started off January 5-1, outscoring their opponents (27-15) at a feverish pace. Then, of course, the Leafs ended the month losing five of their next seven and being outscored 30-12. Though the Maple Leafs aren't exactly packing up their gear - they are 74-54-18 after February 1st in the past five seasons - not one of their major producers has stepped up during this latest funk. Over the last seven games, left-winger, Clarke MacArthur and C Mikhail Grabovski have been quiet. Last man standing, RW Phil Kessel (three points), and one-eyed RW Nikolai Kulemin (one point) have done almost nothing over that span. Toronto faithful don't want to hear it, but with several interesting players being eyed by deadline scavengers, it's do-or-die time for the Leafs. Good news - three mediocre teams are in their nearest future.

TOR is a combined 1-4-1 against:

New Jersey head coach Jacques Lemaire, 65, is said to be retiring at season's end. I hate to say it, and I know you're all going to scoff, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the streaking Devils make a run for it. It won't be easy for New Jersey, winners of six of their last eight, since they face the Rangers (0-3) twice and Hurricanes (0-1) three times this month. That's in addition to three tough road games in Montreal, Dallas and Tampa Bay. Perhaps the All-Star break has reinvigorated Martin Brodeur. Perhaps Ilya Kovalchuck will stop focusing on the pressure and settle back into his strengths. Perhaps a hot Devils team could inspire Zach Parise to progress quicker than his current late-March timeframe for resuming practice. Or, perhaps they are just too far out and the fire sale begins Tuesday. If so, young centers will not be on their shopping list. Four of them are among the top seven scorers for Albany:

Matt Anderson: 16 goals (32 points) in 42 games.
Stephen Gionta: 15 points in 27 games
Adam Henrique: 27 points, 102 SOG in 40 games
Michael Swift: 28 points, 48 PIM in 44 games

NJ is a combined 2-5-1 against:

It's Go Time
The Canadiens will visit Washington (leading series 1-0) and then head back to Montreal for a three-game homestretch. As inconsistent as the offense is, and as awful as the penalty kill has been lately, the Canadiens earned 15 of 24 possible points in January. Now, they find themselves only four points behind Boston for the Northeast Division banner. Sporting a 16-6-4 record at the Bell Centre, the Habs have got to find a way to keep the offense afloat while LW Michael Cammalleri (shoulder) gets healthy, and then hopefully hot. Who knows from week to week on Max Pacioretty. While fighting off sore ribs, the 22-year-old had three goals in as many games, including one with a bit of dramatic flavor.

MTL is a combined 4-3 against:

One week from today, the Super Bowl will have just ended, and the Pirates will still not have a team primed for a playoff run. So the Pittsburgh fan is pretty much free until when, next September? That will be plenty of time to worry about the Penguins, especially the health of Sidney Crosby (concussion). There is an outside shot Crosby returns when the games resume, but the news around him has not been too positive lately. While Crosby out, Marc-Andre Fleury will have to keep playing at the level he has of late. The Penguins could also use a scoring boost from Jordan Staal (seven points, 20 hits) while playing the Crosby situation conservatively. Most reports say Evgeni Malkin's knee issues are being polished until the off-season. Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz have been just what the doctor ordered for Pittsburgh, but this team does not have as much swagger as it has in recent years. The Penguins will have trouble keeping pace with Philadelphia if they keep relying on sporadic role-player (i.e.Craig Adams) goals, so it will be interesting to see if Mario Lemieux makes any moves at the deadline. The Penguins have three nationally televised games this week, including a Sunday rematch with Winter Classic foe Washington. Can they go 3-0 on the tube this week?

PIT is a combined 6-3-2 against:
@NYR, NYI, BUF (no TV), @WAS

Hang 'em up?
As good as Marc Savard (706 points in 807 games) is/was, his height (5'10”) was ALWAYS A QUESTION. His most recent collision with the glass was clearly due to his height, and not Avs defenseman Matt Hunwick. Unfortunately, these are the knocks when you're three inches shorter than the average NHL player. Sorry Marc, you were a talent, but it's time to hang up the skates and take on a broadcast and/or coach role. It would be a shame, considering he has posted 60 or more assists in a season four times and is just one helper shy of 500. Other condolences will of course go out to your owners who waited patiently all year. However, as fans, we must promote the retirement of one Marc Savard.

Odds and Ends
Vancouver defenseman Alexander Edler is reportedly out 8-to-10 weeks after undergoing back surgery. Keith Ballard hopes to step up and take over the blue-line scoring…Contrary to what I wrote last week, the Vancouver Sun reports differently on defenseman Sami Salo. "Nothing has changed," Canucks GM Mike Gillis said. "We're unsure about whether he'll play, but he's making progress. That's completely consistent with everything we've said. This is a devastating injury. It could be a career-ending injury. Sami's at the point where he's not 24 or 25, so this is going to take time." Looks like Salo won’t be back soon after all…Wingers Matt Moulson and Alexander Semin received contract extensions from the their respective brass (NYI, WAS) over the weekend…Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk was activated from IR and is expected back this week, but Dan Clearly (ankle) still looks two weeks off…Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (sinus fracture) has been cleared to practice and is expected back mid-next week.

Nationally Televised Action (EST) - 7-3 record this season
Feb 1 -- Pittsburgh at NY Rangers, 7:30 - PREDICTION: 2-1 New York
Feb 1 -- Phoenix at San Jose, 10:00 - PREDICTION: 5-2 San Jose
Feb 2 -- NY Islanders at Pittsburgh, 7:00 - PREDICTION: 5-1 Pittsburgh
Feb 6 -- Pittsburgh at Washington 12:30 - PREDICTION: 4-1 Pittsburgh
***Bonus PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 31, Green Bay 29***

Full Schedule Grid

Team Home Away Total
MON 3 1 4
NJ 2 2 4
PIT 2 2 4
ATL 2 1 3
BOS 2 1 3
CAR 2 1 3
CGY 1 2 3
CLS 2 1 3
COL 2 1 3
DAL 1 2 3
DET 1 2 3
EDM 1 2 3
FLA 0 3 3
LA 0 3 3
MIN 1 2 3
NSH 2 1 3
NYI 1 2 3
NYR 2 1 3
OTT 2 1 3
PHI 2 1 3
PHO 2 1 3
SJ 1 2 3
STL 2 1 3
TB 3 0 3
TOR 2 1 3
VAN 1 2 3
WAS 2 1 3
ANH 1 1 2
BUF 1 1 2
CHI 0 2 2