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NHL Schedule Analysis: Back-to-Back Bonanza

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"

Going into Sunday's tilt with Philly, Detroit was looking to break the 1975-76 Flyers' (and Bruins 1929-30) consecutive wins at home streak. Whether they do it or not, Detroit (vs. DAL, NSH, SJ) has three more chances this week to either extend or start over. This week's NHL schedule features 11 teams playing four games this week as well, as more than half of the league is playing on back-to-back nights at some point. So let's get your lineups straight before you switch focus to your Valentine's Day.


Spending time with those backups

Headlining those playing on back-to-back nights is Washington and San Jose. Washington, despite playing only three times this week, will technically play on back-to-back nights twice, starting with their game Monday against San Jose. All four of San Jose's games this week will occur on back-to-back nights, more on this later. Also playing on back-to-back nights will be ANH, BOS, BUF, CAR, CHI, CLS, DAL, MIN, OTT, PI, STL, TOR, VAN, WPG.

I ain't missing you

Los Angeles, Ottawa and Philadelphia play only twice this week. The Sens go on back-to-back nights against the NHL's two Floridian teams, while the Flyers take on Sabres and Penguins from home. Meanwhile, the Kings will host the �Yotes and Flames. Of the three teams, only Ottawa will bounce back with four games next week.

True love plays

Anaheim (@MIN, PIT, NJ, FLA), who started out the road trip with an OTL (2-1) in Detroit, hopes to bounce back and avenge their 3-2 home loss to the Blue Jackets earlier this month. From there, the Ducks road trip goes to slumping Minnesota. After their game with the Wild, it's time for the Ducks to take on three strong Eastern Conference teams. Will Teemu Selanne be moved before the trade deadline?

After squeaking by Nashville on Saturday, Boston (vs. NYR, @MON, WPG, MIN) enjoys a few days off. The Bruins will then host the Rangers on Tuesday and take to the road for three in a row to end the week. Bruins centers may be the reason for their lack of consistency lately. One of their key centers is David Krejci, who has one point in his last seven games.

Buffalo (vs. NJ, @PHI, vs. MON, PIT) looks to continue their new ways with four games this week. The Sabres shocked a few people, blowing out the previously mentioned Bruins 6-0 in Buffalo last Wednesday. In fact, if not for two one- goal losses, Buffalo could be 5-0 in February. We'll find out just how alert Lindy Ruff's bunch is with a four-game schedule this week. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is showing some spunk lately, registering a goal, an assist and two penalty-minutes in his last three games.

I'm just not sure things can get any uglier for the Hawks in February. Winless in their last eight games, Chicago (@NSH, NYR, CLS, vs. STL), has been outscored 24-10 in their five regulation losses this month. Granted, all five games has been a part of an eight-game road trip, but that road trip continues this week. The once favored Blackhawks now find themselves heading to the Music City and Manhattan with absolutely no steam. Literally adding injury to insult, two of Chicago's defenseman Niklas Hjarlmarsson (concussion) and Steven Montador (upper-body) are dealing with injuries.

As their schedule has heated up, Dallas (@DET, vs. CAL, @PHO, vs. NSH) has shown flickers of youth, for good or ill. A disheartening OTL to Buffalo on Friday leaves them 11th in a very tight Western Conference race heading into their home game with the Kings. Including tonight's game with Los Angeles (seventh, 63 points), the Stars will need to start notching a few two-point nights against those they're battling for conference position. Perhaps Detroit is out of reach, but Nashville, Phoenix and Calgary all currently sit within 11 points of Dallas. Loui Eriksson finally broke the snide and registered his first point of the second half last Friday. Alex Goligoski had a productive week (11.5 points going into Sunday night) for CBS fantasy owners. Kari Lehtonen had to be pulled halfway through back-to-back starts.

Minnesota (vs. ANH, WPG, @STL, vs. BOS), much like Dallas and Chicago, has found the month of February to be damning to their playoff-cause. Unlike the Stars and Blackhawks, the problem with Minnesota is they simply never had the offensive threats to get back to good in the first place. Our case-in-point is a 3-1 home loss to Columbus this past Saturday night. Niklas Backstrom (1-3-1, .911 save percentage, SHO) has started five consecutive games, but should get a break at some point this week.

After starting out February on a three-game losing streak, Montreal �(vs. CAR, BOS, @BUF, vs. NJ) has seemingly found their groove. The Habs head into the week with a four-game winning streak capped off by ruining (5-0) Mats Sundin's jersey night in Toronto last Saturday. Montreal is outscoring their opponents 15-4 during this win streak. As long as players like Max Pacioretty (four goals in the last 34 minutes of ice time) keep producing, they have a good chance to extend it against this week's inconsistent opponents.

San Jose (@WAS, TB, CAR, DET) takes the cake of ugliest schedule over the next two weeks. Starting with this Sunday night in St. Louis, the Sharks head out on a nine-game road trip. Technically they have two back-to-back games this week, with the first coming on Monday and then a back-to-back set against the Southeast Division's Lightning and Hurricanes. They then close out the week with the Red Wings at 12:30 pm (EST) on NBC. San Jose backup, Thomas Greiss is 3-0-1, with a .942 save percentage in four starts since the beginning of the new calendar year.

It's been almost a month since Vancouver (vs. PHO, COL, TOR, @EDM) lost in regulation. Another team heavily dependent upon the one-goal win, the Canucks are 3-0-2 this month and have outscored their opponents 17-14 in that span. This week's schedule may suggest an offensive boost or two, as Vancouver is 8-1 against their opponents over the next seven days, outscoring those teams 36-16 in their previous contests. Just be mindful that Henrik Sedin has been playing through an ankle injury.

Up until the offensive showdown with Pittsburgh this past Saturday, Winnipeg (vs. NYI, @MIN, vs. BOS, COL) has been teetering on the one-goal decisions all month. Now .500 on the month heading into a very busy week, it appears the Jets most offensive weapon is warming up. Although he missed the end of December and all of January due to injury, it's a good sign when Dustin Byfuglien (two goals, two assists in last two games) has points in consecutive games.

Team(s) of the week

St. Louis (@CLS, vs. NYI, MIN, @ CHI), enjoying the month of February, is playing four games this week. Winners in four of their five games this month, Hitchcock and his Blues have preferred the one-goal win variety lately as well. Outscoring their opponents 12-9 in the month of the groundhog, St. Louis is getting the job done and is firmly planted within the top five of the conference. T.J. Oshie is on the rise again as well, three points in his last two games.

TV Time (all games EST)

FEB 13 Sharks at Capitals; 7:30 on NBCSports network
FEB 14 Ducks at Wild; 7:30 on NBCSports network
FEB 15 Bruins at Canadiens; 7:30 on NBCSports network
FEB 19 Devils at Canadiens; 6:00 on NBCSports network

Regional� games on NBC Sunday

FEB 19 Penguins at Sabres; 12:30
FEB 19 Blues at Blackhawks; 12:30
FEB 19 Sharks at Red Wings; 12:30
FEB 19 Bruins at Wild; 3:30