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NHL Schedule Analysis: Blues For Five

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

The blood pumps harder as I scan this week's schedule. Looking over the league standings, the Western Conference is still log-jammed, 10 spots (3rd-13th) are separated by only 10 points. In the Eastern Conference, 10 points separates six teams for the eighth and final playoff spot. Over the next seven days, you'll experience a week of Hockey more exciting than stats on a screen, or your place in a league. The trade deadline has been known to flip the NHL upside down and by the time we meet again next week, this year's deadline will have come-and-gone. So let's break down the schedule and minor-league crops for a few teams on the move.

St Louis Blues are a combined 5-5-2 against this week's opponents

 A five-game weekly schedule is not a common occurrence for an NHL team. A busy week is nothing new for the St. Louis Blues (26-21-9), who were very active last week as well. Captain Eric Brewer agreed to waive his no-trade clause and was sent to Tampa Bay. The St. Louis Blues received Brock Bukeboom (Jeff Bukeboom's son) and a third-round pick in 2011. St. Louis was not done however, including some swapped conditional draft-picks, the Colorado Avalanche acquired former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson and Jay McClement from the Blues. St. Louis fetched early-season fizzle Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Blues Executive V.P. And GM Doug Armstrong told, "These are two solid young players who will help us now as we continue to grow and improve our team. I would like to thank Erik and Jay for their service to the St. Louis Blues and wish them nothing but the best of luck." You've got to wonder if Armstrong will feel the same on Tuesday, when the Blues host the Avalanche at The Scottrade Center.

St. Louis is currently in the midst of a 10-day span when they will play seven games, including two back-to-back nights. The first of these are two at home versus Chicago and Colorado, but after a day off, St. Louis travels to Vancouver and onto Edmonton the next evening. The largest problem St. Louis has with a five-game schedule will be Jaroslav Halak's (right hand) health. Exhibit A; Ty Conklin's three goals allowed on five Anaheim Ducks shots. Ironically, Denver native, Ben Bishop, who has a GAA of 2.52 (15-12-2) at Peoria (AHL) was recalled to back-up Conklin for now. Bishop quickly backstopped the Conklin bleeding as an energetic Blues team took a 9-3 win against the Ducks. Immediately, the Colorado deal paid dividends as Stewart had two goals and Shatternkirk added an assist. For the time being the Blues have also called up Philip McRae, and Tyson Strachan from Peoria as well. Speaking of the Peoria Rivermen, the departure of Eric Brewer may have been designed to add another T.J. to the roster. Here's a look at the future of the St. Louis Blues.

Peoria Rivermen (AHL)
RW Graham Mink 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists, 103 PIM) in 47 games
LW Nicholas Drazenovic 28 points, 114 shots (second on the team) in 50 games
T.J. Hensick 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 43 games.
G Jake Allen is 16-9-5 with a GAA of 2.17

Boston Bruins are a combined 0-0 against this week's opponents

Perhaps it's not so coincidental that the Boston Bruins (33-19-7) have been one of the most active teams as we approach the trading deadline. Adding Tomas Kaberle, Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik last week were certainly moves designed to keep them atop the Northeast division. Boston, only four points ahead of Montreal in the division, gears up for nine of their next 12 games on the road. It shouldn't be a problem as the Bruins' record on the road (18-7-4) is far and away more impressive than their record (15-12-3) at home. Third in the Eastern Conference and armed with fresh faces, can Boston pull away the Northeast pack? If the Bruins don't get the expected spark from Peverley and Kaberle, these trades may backfire. Considering Joe Colborne was third in Providence Bruins team-scoring, a call from the ranks is not likely to spark a change later on. But here's the cream of their crop.

Providence Bruins (AHL)
C Jamie Arniel 32 points, minus-10 in 55 games
C Zach Hamill 29 points, minus-16 in 46 games
RW Kirk Macdonald 26 points, minus 3 in 55 games

Phoenix Coyotes are a combined 4-1 against this week's opponents

Another team with an advantage (16-9-4) in road games, this week is filled with opportunity for Phoenix (32-19-9) to prove its worth. After trading Wojtek Wolski to the Rangers, a lot of people assumed the Coyotes to be very active on the seller's market come the deadline. Since then, Phoenix has finagled their way to third in the conference, and first in the Pacific. Having been outscored in the first two games of the month, very decidedly (11-3) to San Jose and Vancouver, the Coyotes take a seven-game winning streak into the new week. Ilya Bryzgalov has been terrific, posting two shutouts in back-to-back games this month. This week will be the first four of five road games to end the month for Phoenix. However, the mirage begins to appear for 'Yotes fans when your leading scorer is/has been a defenseman (Keith Yandle, 51 points) all season. On the brink, LW Lauri Korpikoski registered seven points during a five-game point streak last month. After going pointless in six-games and an injury to Taylor Pyatt, Korpikoski's ice-time (18+ minutes) was increased a few games ago. The 24-year-old Finn has responded, posting two goals and an assist (+4) in two games. Sixth-overall pick (2009), defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson could be a dark-horse ready to start contributing more consistently. However, play-making wingers are the shopping list. In the scenario GM Don Maloney does not make a deal by this Sunday, here's what the future in the desert looks like.

San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
RW Brett MacLean has 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 48 games.
RW Mathieu Beaudoin has 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games
Garrett Stafford has 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) and 51 PIM in 43 games

San Jose Sharks are a combined 2-2 against this week's opponents

The Sharks (33-21-6) acquired D Ian White from the Hurricanes on Friday in exchange for a 2012 second-round pick. White managed an assist in his Sharks debut, a 4-0 win over Colorado. This is the second time this year White has been traded, each time (Calgary, Carolina) being upgraded to a more likely playoff-bound team. Speaking of Calgary, White's original team, the Flames (6-1-2 in February) are one of three strong opponents on San Jose's schedule this week, all three slated to host the team most in need of Tomas Vokoun's services. Or are they? G Antti Niemi, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in Nashville last week, has been very dependable. Having started 14 consecutive games, Niemi is 7-2 (1.90 GAA) in February with three shutouts, including two in consecutive starts. The Sharks also called up defenseman Matt Irwin (21 points, 93 SOG in 46 games) from Worcester of the AHL. Let's have a look at who else lurks in the Sharks' pipeline.

Worcester Sharks (AHL)
RW Jonathan Cheechoo 17 goals, 27 assists, 147 shots in 49 games
C Michael Swift 16 goals (30 points with Albany/Worcester) in 51 games
LW T.J. Trevelyan 12 goals (26 points) in 47 games
RW Dan DaSilva 26 points, plus-14 (leads team) 58 PIM in 53 games
D Sean Sullivan 26 points in 46 games

Toronto Maple Leafs are a combined 6-4-1 against this week's opponents
vs. NYI @MON vs, PIT @ATL

Toronto (25-27-7) is maybe more intriguing as the waiting is over. Like a breath of fresh air finally coming through town, the trading of Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin is complete. As for the men defending twine, General Manager Brian Burke said that Jonas Gustavsson (heart surgery) will be out "probably only another few days." No one tell James Reimer, who is 3-1-1 and aside from an ugly five-goal performance against lackluster Buffalo, has things under control. G Jean-Sebastien Giguere's is still 7-10 days away. If you remove the s10ch of the 6-2 loss to the Sabres, Reimer has logged an outrageous GAA (1.74) and a shutout to boot in February.

Toronto Marlies (AHL)
C Mike Zigomanis 36 points, 54 PIM in 50 games
C Nazem Kadri 12 goals (31 points) 52 PIM in 32 games
LW Ryan Hamilton nine goals (17 points), plus-10, 17 PIM in 24 games
C Joe Colborne a goal in his Marlies debut, has 26 points, 35 PIM in 56 AHL games

More notes...

This could be the week I pull the trigger and release Craig Anderson from my CBS format. Only to pick up former New York Rangers first-rounder (2004), Al Montoya? Montoya was with the San Antonio Rampage when he was traded to the goalie desperate Islanders. Of course, I may regret this drop as Anderson was traded to the Senators for Brian Elliott. Yes, a change of scenery is known to have an impact on a man's play, as evident in Anderson's win (47 saves) on Saturday against Toronto. However, it is unlikely for anyone to play consistently in a Senators jersey this season. Montoya, the latest addition to the land of misfit toys, came on in relief after Nathan Lawson gave up five goals (18 shots) to Boston. The twenty-five-year-old Montoya stopped 15 of the Bruins remaining 16 shots in a 6-3 loss. As a result, Montoya's first NHL start in two years brought immediate   reason for hope. Although a 3-0 shutout of Los Angeles should be tempered as the Kings (8-1-3 run) have just recently found their winning touch. Perhaps armed with their goalie for the rest of the year, the team from Long Island is among nine other teams to play four times in seven nights this week.

In addition to the Phoenix, St. Louis and Toronto, back-up goalies from Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville and Pittsburgh should be considered for quick points in daily leagues. Florida should be interesting as "The Tomas Voukon affair" will heat up. Without research I jest, San Jose has the biggest need for Voukon. Oddly enough, it was Scott Clemmensen who minded the net this past Saturday in the Panthers' (3-2 SO) win over Floridian rival Tampa Bay. Digging into their runaway stance from the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Flyers added a vital right-winger in Kris Versteeg. Yes, Versteeg is barely on pace to match career highs and has not quite matched the breakout potential expected since leaving Chicago for Toronto in the off-season. Ignoring his slow start in Philly (four shots -1), Versteeg will prove to be a major pick-up after everything's said and done. Versteeg should be in for a more productive week against Phoenix, New York (Islanders) and Ottawa.

A decision must be made
Yahoo! Sports League: Goalie Decision

Nationally televised action in EST
21 -- Washington at Pittsburgh, 7:30
22 -- New Jersey at Dallas, 8:30
23 -- San Jose at Pittsburgh, 7:30 

The Full Schedule Grid
Team  Away  Home  Total
StL 3 2 5
Col 3 1 4
Edm 2 2 4
Fla 3 1 4
Nsh 2 2 4
NYI 2 2 4
Pho 4 0 4
Pit 2 2 4
Tor 2 2 4
Anh 0 3 3
Atl 1 2 3
Bos 3 0 3
Buf 0 3 3
Car 1 2 3
Cgy 0 3 3
Chi 2 1 3
Cls 1 2 3
Dal 1 2 3
Det 1 2 3
LA 1 2 3
Min 2 1 3
Mon 1 2 3
NJ 3 0 3
NYR 2 1 3
Ott 1 2 3
Phi 1 2 3
SJ 3 0 3
TB 1 2 3
Van 0 3 3
Was 2 1 3