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NHL Schedule Analysis: Do-Or-Die Time

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"

It's been a long season of highs and lows, soaked in buzz about concussed players and dizzying organizations. With less than a month to go in the NHL's regular season, all but two teams (Pittsburgh and Edmonton) are playing three or more games this week. Though some teams will look to St. Patrick for a bit of luck, it's the rugged nature of the game, off-sides and carefully chosen goalie pulls with less than two minutes to go will separate the men from the boys in the closing weeks. Let's find out which teams will find a pot-of-gold at the end of this week's schedule.

Nightly Schedule

Sure, the San Jose @ Chicago game should be a tight match up. But it's Toronto that gets their shot to prove they belong in the playoffs when Tampa Bay visits the Air Canada Centre Monday. Six points out of the final playoff spot and fourth place in the Northeast, the Maple Leafs are looking to sneak into the post-season. Tampa is outscoring Toronto 10-3 and leading this season series 3-0

Dwayne Roloson - Roloson has been the saving grace for Tampa since coming from Long Island. Though Roloson is an uninspring 5-7 in his career against the Leafs, Rolie the Goalie was flawless on January 25th against Toronto, stopping all 26 shots.

Joffrey Lupul - Lupul, one of the most recent additions to the Leafs roster, has 12 career points (3 G, 9 A) in 11 games against Tampa Bay.

In other action Monday 3.14.11 - TB @ TOR, MIN @ VAN, SJ @ CHI

PHO @ CAL After San Jose, who is in third place with 85 points, there's a three-way (Chicago, Phoenix, Calgary) tie for 4th place in the Western Conference. The Flames are as confident as they've been all year going into this past Saturday night with the Canucks. The key for the Flames could be getting the puck to Rene Bourque, who has twelve shots (three points) against Phoenix in three games. The Coyotes leads this series 3-0-0.

Ilya Bryzgalov - Over four years since being sent to the wire by Anaheim, Bryzgalov is setting records what some are calling his last year in the desert for the NHL. Only a shutout away from breaking Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record, who else can you focus in on for this team? Alright, alright, Kyle Turris is a plus-5 in his last five games and has five points in seven games since being recalled.

David Moss - Not at a centerman at heart, Moss has helped spark life from Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay as of late. When he's on, he is ON. Though quiet as of late, Moss had four, two-goal games in January. The problem is the no points (-2) in the nine other games that month. The further the Flames go, the hotter this guy will get.

PIT @ OTT I know, who cares about the jumbo team missing it's snake bite and an organization with "rebuilding" written all over it. Regardless of the Pens injury report, they are fourth (86 points) in the Eastern Conference, and have extended head coach Dan Blysma's contract three years. As for Ottawa, they are outscoring their opponents 9-3 in their four wins in six games this month as Craig Anderson has won three of his last four starts.

Erik Karlsson - Though Karlsson has 15 shots, two goals and three assists in only five career games versus the Penguins, he is an ugly minus-5 in those games.

James Neal - Having recorded his first two points as a Penguin against Buffalo last week, you had to know this quiet streak in yellow and black was going to be short-term. With the Penguins only playing twice (OTT, NYR) this week, you may want to sit Neal and play your long-shot benchie this week.

In other action Tuesday 3.15.11 - BOS @ CLB, ATL @ NJ, WAS @ MON, PHI @ FLA, CAR @ BUF, LA @ NSH, SJ @ DAL

WAS @ DET A battle of second place conference teams, this could easily be a preview of the Stanley Cup finals. This will be their only meeting of the regular season. The octopi are few and far in between as Detroit is 8-10-2 in their last 20 home games. Washington, four points away from the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, has won 10 of their last 12 games and is in prime position for pouncing on Philadelphia. You better believe they'll be playing hard on Wednesday.

Pavel Datsyuk - is a Capitals killer, having registered 14 points (4 G, 10 A) in nine career games versus Washington.

Jason Arnott - is not only a plus-5 (1 g, 3 a) in six games with the Capitals, but has provided a consistency to model after.

In other action Wednesday 3.16.11 - TOR @ CAR, COL @ VAN, STL @ ANH

DET @ CLB Yet another season is coming to an end, and yet another season where the Red Wings have man-handled the poor Blue Jackets. This is the second of Columbus' very important three games ( BOS, MIN) to not only stay in the playoff race but end the season series with Detroit respectably. If Blue Jackets fans are looking for hope, their team has lost by more than a goal once in the last 17 games. Perhaps the persistence will pay dividends - Columbus is 8-5-4 over that span - but only time will tell. Detroit leads this season series 3-1-1.

Johan Franzen - after a minus-5 in his previous four games, Franzen is a plus-3 and has three points in his last two games.

Grant Clitsome - This sophomore defenseman has logged nearly 44% of his points (seven) in his last nine games

In other action Thursday 3.17.11 - PHI @ ATL, TOR @ FLA, NJ @ OTT, TB @ MON, BOS @ NSH, CHI @ DAL, PHO @ EDM, COL @ CAL, MIN @ SJ, STL @ L.A.

WAS @ NJ Neither team (WAS 1-13, NJ 2-10) has been very effective on the power-play in this series. While Washington leads this series 2-1, New Jersey has come a long way. Jason Arnott is a +4 in five games with the Caps, and providing a large fire to a team that has under-performed all year.

Zach Parise - A restricted FA in June, he may be back in the picture. RotoWire reports..."Parise (knee) took shots on New Jersey assistant coach Chris Terreri Wednesday and has progressed to hard stops with his skating, the Bergen Record reports....Parise still needs about two weeks of skating on his own before joining the team's practices, but he's progressing well in his recovery from surgery on his torn meniscus. There's no exact timetable for his return to game action, but he is skating and feeling well and is progressing toward cutting and pivoting on his skates." I wouldn't rule out a "do it for the gipper" like setting here for the Devils.

Braden Holtby - Michal Neuvirth set a Capitals goalie rookie record (22) for wins. Holtby then replaced him in the first period of the next game and is now making a name for himself. Just about the hottest goalie playing home games in the Eastern Standard time zone currently, the Caps former fourth rounder has stopped 75 of his last 76 shots. Holtby has started the last three Caps games and is currently in the midst of a 4-0-1 in span.

In other action Friday 3.18.11 - NYI @ CAR, MON @ NYR, PHO @ VAN

PHI @ DAL Put your Eagles/Cowboys gear away. The Flyers are still in control of the Eastern Conference top seed, while the Stars earlier this season were firmly bound for the playoffs. Unbeaten (6-0-2) in regulation since February 22nd, the Stars on the uptick again, will look to gain some confidence against defending Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia.

Brad Richards - The bad news is Richards' (64 points) three-game goal scoring streak is over. The good news it started before his concussion. Yes, Richards is back and managed his first point in two games since coming back against Minnesota. In his 58 games this year, the Stars number one center has been held pointless only 15 times. The Stars are 5-8-3 in those games.

Matt Carle - The seventh-year defenseman is about to eclipse a career-high (31) for assists in one season. Though six of those assists have come in the last eight games, it's Carle's 16 blocked shots in the last nine games that Philly appreciates the most, even if it does not show up on your fantasy ledger.

In other action Saturday 3.19.11 - CLB @ MIN, NYI @ FLA, BOS @ TOR, ATL @ BUF, TB @ OTT, PHI @ DAL, DET @ NSH, COL @ EDM, ANH@ LA, STL @ SJ

NJ @ CLB In their only match-up last season, the Devils took this match-up (6-3) without blinking. The biggest question will be whether or not Columbus can shut down New Jersey's power-play, which was 3-for-6 in that game. Both teams must win the majority of their games remaining to even stay on the bubble of playoff life.

Ilya Kovalchuck - Kovalchuck has come alive since the beginning of February, scoring 19 points in his last 17 games, and has notched 11 points in eight career games against the Blue Jackets.

Jakub Voracek - Voracek has five points (2 G, 3 A) in his last three games.

In other action Sunday 3.20.11 - NSH @ BUF, NYR @ PIT, MON @ MIN, CHI @ PHO, CAL @ ANH


St. Louis Blues - Three road games this week and eight points out of the final playoff spot, the Blues are surely looking forward to their match-up (3-0) against the Kings.

6-3 - combined record this season @ANH, L.A., S.J.

New Jersey Devils - Ten points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, should the Devils falter this week, they can probably start making their golf reservations for May.

4-5 - combined record this season VS. ATL, @OTT, VS WAS, @CLB

Nationally Televised Action in EST

14 MARCH -- San Jose at Chicago, 8:00
15 MARCH-- Carolina at Buffalo, 7:30
16 MARCH -- Washington at Detroit, 7:30
20 MARCH - New York Rangers at Pittsburgh 12:30

Author's note: Now onto a more serious topic.... If you've been reading Right On Schedule this season, than you know how I feel about the very talented Max Pacioretty. Still, a push to the head does not specify intent to nearly paralyze. At no point do I believe Zdeno Chara said to himself "Hm... I'd like to take away a man's ability and passion to play hockey", if indeed that's what he's done. Would he do it again, this time knowing he would damage a 4th cervical vertebrae? Highly doubtful. It's highly unlikely and rightfully so, Chara will stop being aggressive with his biggest advantage over other NHLer's, his stature. Though I think everyone will be a little more careful around "the turnbuckle" as Carey Price called it, my prayers are with Pacioretty, and of course any victims devastated in the Japan earthquakes.