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NHL Schedule Analysis: New Guy Riding Shotgun

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"

Forget the pending labor talks; we don't have to even think about 10 years of progress down the tubes. Nearly half (14) of the NHL is playing four games this week. We've got a lot to cover, so let's get to it.



First things first, Boston and Carolina will play only two games this week. Regardless of how Cam Ward (27.4 CBS fantasy points last week) and Tim Thomas (22.2 points) have been playing, you may want to go somewhere else for netminders.

Four Card Draw

Twelve points out of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, Coach Bruce Boudreau has Anaheim in the midst of doing things, one night at a time. After going 9-2-1 in the month of January, the Ducks (vs. CAL, CAR, @DET, CLS) are 0-2 in February. Things don't really ease up, as Anaheim hosts two teams (CAL, CAR) with momentum, then hit the road for eight straight, including two this week versus Detroit and Columbus. The need for continued production from the top is obvious, but Anaheim will need role players like Niklas Hagman (17 points) and Andrew Cogliano (20 points) to pick up the pace in February to keep this team from becoming a trading deadline seller.

After a light start to February, Calgary (@ANH, SJ, PHO, vs. VAN) get their month going with three Pacific division road games. Their reward will be a tilt against the Canucks at home this Saturday. After a terrible December, Miikka Kiprusoff (23-17-3, 2SHO, .920 SV %) has been the anchor, allowing more than three goals in a game only once in the new calendar year. A few former first-rounder's are starting to produce in the last 10 games, but can Jay Bouwmeester (eight points) and Mikael Backlund (six points) continue against high-powered teams like San Jose and Vancouver? As for Michael Cammalleri, two goals in seven games with the Flames weren't enough for me to keep him rostered, how about you?

Columbus (vs. MIN, DAL, @MIN, vs. ANH) has a very interesting week ahead. In fact, the Blue Jackets spend almost (8 of 11 games) the entirety of their remaining February hosting solid or elite teams. It all starts with a home-and-home with Minnesota, split up by Dallas and ending the week with Anaheim. Jeff Carter (11 goals, seven assists) scored in his first game back from a shoulder injury, and may get moved before the deadline.

Speaking of Dallas, it's burn-bright-or-disintegrate time for Dallas. It's fairly obvious February could make or break this team's playoff chances. Dallas (vs. PHO, @CLS, BUF, vs. LA) will play four games a week for the next three weeks. If the Stars are to remain in the thick of things, they're going to need someone to step up and help the 22-year old Jamie Benn (22 points in last 17 games). Unfortunately, it won't be Brenden Morrow helping out this week, as the Stars officially placed Morrow (upper body) on the injured reserve. He is expected out at least a week. If you're looking for a spark in Dallas, look for Eric Nystrom (recently promoted to the second line) and Adam Burish, whose game seems to be picking up for the first time since being healthy.

Currently best in the league, Detroit (@PHO, vs. EDM, ANH, PHI) has a favorable schedule that could allow them to start Jimmy Howard all week, if Howard (32-11-1, .924 SV%) was healthy. The Red Wings number one guy broke his pinkie and will miss anywhere between 2-to-6 weeks for recovery. Ty Conklin and Joey MacDonald will steer the way for now. Either way, the Red Wings won't play on back-to-back nights at all this week. Not sure how much that will help Dan Cleary, who apparently has been playing through pain from a cyst behind his knee. He may miss a few games this week to get a cortisone shot and drain the cyst. However, with 10 players having already registered 20 or more points this season, it's safe to go with just about anyone from Detroit. Johan Franzen has been very quiet over the last few weeks and is due for an explosion of sorts. With the exception of their first meeting with Philly, Franzen has a combined 10 points in his previous seven games this season against this week's opponents. Left-winger, Jiri Hudler (50% CBS), has four goals in his last four games.

Los Angeles (@TB, FLA, NYI, DAL) will need to take their clock operator on the road, as they visit four different arena's this week, including two against the Southeast division, one out on Long Island and then head to Dallas. Daryl Sutter has been trying to find the right line chemistry, so left-winger Kyle Clifford, formerly a fourth-liner, found himself playing with Mike Richards and Dustin Penner. Clifford (3 goals, six assists) hasn't registered a point since getting two (goal, assist) against Ottawa on the 23rd of January.

Just like the Ducks, a different team in January, the Islanders (@PHI, vs. MON, LA, FLA) look to become a serious suitor of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. As of this past weekend, the Islanders are 10 points out of that position. The Isles look to make up ground with four games this week, including three at home. Defenseman Milan Jurcina missed this past Saturday's game against Buffalo with an elbow laceration. Center Frans Nielsen (nine goals, 16 assists) had two goals and an assist in that game.

Just like the Islanders, their cross-town rival Rangers (vs. NJ, TB, @PHI, vs. WAS) will also play four games this week, only the view is a bit more promising for the Eastern Conference leading Broadway Blues. Camp fire stories have Oilers Ryan Smyth damn near requesting a trade to Manhattan. The New York Post reports, the Rangers want to add "both scoring punch and a defenseman in advance of the Feb. 27 trade deadline." This is in addition to trading Erik Christensen to the Wild for forward, Casey Wellman (assigned to Connecticut of AHL) and a seventh-round pick in 2012. Sure this is one of the most underwhelming offensive units in hockey, but who cares when your goalie tandem is posting a 1.85 goals against average.

Philadelphia (vs. NYI, TOR, NYR, @DET) hosts the Isles and Maple Leafs, two games they must grab to build momentum. For the remainder of the week, the Flyers will play the Rangers for the second time (5-2 loss Sunday in a week and the aforementioned, first game of the season with Detroit on Sunday. Say what you want about youngster Brayden Schenn's (7 points) fighting abilities, but the kid is finding a way to get on the scoreboard these days. Over the past six games, Schenn has three goals, one assist, 12 penalty-minutes and 21 hits.

Phoenix has their work cut out this week. Taking on Detroit live on NBCsports network on Monday, travelling to Dallas Tuesday, then Calgary and Chicago from home to end the week. Defenseman, Derek Morris is back after missing two games with a lower body injury. Left-winger Lauri Korpikoski (three goals in his last four games) has gelled well with his new line of Body Gordon and Shane Doan.

St. Louis is back at it again, playing four this week. Over the next two weeks, the Blues will play eight games, and only one, maybe two could be considered against “tough” teams. The first two games will be on the road versus the Sens and Devils, then its home to host the Avs and Sharks. Next week, they'll play four more against a much more lackluster group. Jason Arnott (shoulder) is day-to-day, while left-wingers Andy McDonald (concussion) and Alex Steen (concussion) have resumed skating with the team. No timetable on their returns.

Tampa Bay (vs. LA, @NYR, BUF, PIT) finishes their three-game home stand to start February when they host Los Angeles. From there, the Lightning will visit the Rangers, Sabres and Penguins within a three day span. Not only is Ryan Shannon back from injury, but he's been promoted to the Vincent Lecavalier/ Marty St. Louis line. Shannon (two assists in Saturday's 6-3 win over Florida) immediately paid dividends, helping St. Louis notch his first hat trick in five years.

Toronto (vs. EDM, @WPG, PHI, vs. MON) starts out the week at home against Edmonton before travelling to Winnipeg and Philly and heading home again to host the last place Canadiens. James Reimer now favored? He'll go for a third consecutive shutout on Monday against Edmonton.

Three of a Kind

Still reeling from their loss to Gagner and the Oilers, Chicago is 0-4-1 in the last five games. Things are just going to get busier for the sliding Hawks, as they begin a six-game road trip (@COL, SJ, PHO) with three on the road this week.

Florida's (@WAS, vs. LA, @NJ, NYI) Mikael Samuelson has four goals, one assist, seven hits, and four blocked shots over his last four games.

For anyone doubting Sam Gagner's ability to repeat last week's historical (four goals, four assists) night, he threw in two more goals and an assist, giving him an astronomical 12 points during his current three-game point scoring streak. To put this streak in more perspective, Gagner has produced 36 percent of his total, 33 season points over the last three Oilers games, which coincidentally have been wins. Edmonton, who has gotten some solid goaltending from Devan Dubnyk recently, has three road games (@TOR, DET, OTT) this week. In case you're wondering, Gagner has two goals, two assists in three games this season versus Detroit. This will be the first meeting of the season for the Oilers with both Toronto and Ottawa.

Montreal's (vs. PIT, @NYI, TOR) Aaron Palushaj had a couple of shots on goals and two hits in his return (8:
20) to the NHL this past weekend.

Minnesota's (@CLS, vs. VAN, CLS) vet-defenseman, Marek Zidlicky, had this to say about his recent stretch of healthy scratches. "If I would be a healthy scratch, if it helped the team, that's good. I will not cry. I will not tell him he's wrong. But if he doesn't want to play me again, I have to do something." Zidlicky played this past Saturday, registering two shots and one hit in the Wild's 2-1 loss to Dallas.

New Jersey's (@NYR, vs. STL, FLA) Dainius Zubrus (two goals, four assists, plus-4) had 17 CBS points last week.

Washington has recalled Keith Aucoin to the NHL. Although Aucoin went pointless in his first two this season, he was leading the AHL in points (70) and assists (59 in 43 games with Hershey.

TV Time (all games in EST)

FEB 6 Red Wings @ Coyotes 8:00 NBCS
FEB 7 Kings @ Lightning 7:30 NBCS
FEB 8 Bruins @ Sabres 7:30 NBCS
FEB 9 Capitals @ Rangers 12:30 NBC
FEB 9 Flyers @ Red Wings 7:30 NBCS