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NHL Schedule Analysis: Picking on the Wild

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"

Some of you owners with maximums and minimums on the mind definitely need to dissect the next 14 days carefully. With only two full weeks left in the season, a quick glance at the remaining schedule shows us 14 NHL teams are playing a full (four-game) schedule this week. Furthermore, 17 teams are playing four games next week, so it's certainly imperative to insert only the best players on your roster. Here it begins - the light at the end of the tunnel.


Hanging On

Toronto (@BOS vs. NYI @NJ vs. NYR)

The Leafs have merely a mathematical hope of making the playoffs. But the Jekyl-side of James Reimer (2-0 63-65) has appeared the past two games against Tampa Bay and Ottawa and has Maple Leafs loyal clammering about more than just mathematics. Toronto has games on back-to-back nights on two occurrences this week.

San Jose (vs. ANH @LA vs. BOS vs. PHO)

With a tough road of fellow playoff-hungry conference rivals in their schedule, oddly enough, only Boston looks like an appealing game. Center Tommy Wingels has missed three straight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury while veteran right-winger Martin Havlat returned to the scoring sheet in a big way. Havlat grabbed two goals in just his second game back during the Sharks 3-2 win over Detroit.

Buffalo (@ TB vs. MON @NYR vs. MIN)

The Sabres have been one of the most consistent teams since the trading deadline, causing a ruckus in their conference playoff hunt. Having lost two straight going into Sunday, this week's four-game schedule could put an end to that ruckus. Tyler Ennis has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in his last 16 games.

Los Angeles (vs. SJ vs. STL vs. BOS)

Most concerning for Kings fans should be that their team will play San Jose (series tied 1-1-1) three times in the final three weeks. Right-winger Dustin Brown has not been the same since whispers of a possible trade began before the deadline. Despite being kept quiet in a 4-2 win over Nashville on St. Patrick's Day, the veteran winger has six goals and 11 assists in his last 13 games. Additionally, Brown has been a plus-9 for the Kings, who are tied for eighth in the conference headed into Sunday's action.

Tampa Bay (vs. BUF vs. EDM vs. NYI)

After a showdown with the Sabres, the Lightning has a fairly low strength of schedule this week. Let's face it, though, even their GM started paying more attention to their AHL affiliate after the trading deadline. If the Lightning make the playoffs, I'll fly there for their first home game. At least the future looks good for Tampa Bay as the aforementioned Norfolk Admirals have won an AHL-record 17 straight games. What a number!

Calgary (@COL @MIN @DAL)

Regardless of the fact that the Flames have half an army of role players on the injured reserve, they're hanging tough. Defenseman Mark Giordano (three goals, five assists in nine March games) appears to be heating up just in the nick of time and Lee Stempniak returned Sunday from an ankle injury.

Winnipeg (@PIT @WAS @NSH)

Winnipeg had a commanding 5-2 win over Dallas, but as mentioned last week, they'll need to rely on Ondrej Pavelec, who has been less-than-stellar on the road.

Washington (@DET @PHI vs. WPG vs. MIN)

If the Caps can survive the first half of their week, the second half may provide them with some breathing room on the eighth and final spot in the East. Mike Green is back, and Roman Hamrlik is back to street clothes.

Dallas (vs. PHO vs. VAN vs. CAL)

Currently first in the Pacific has the Stars ranked third in the West. This can change quickly as the Stars will face three strong teams from home this week. Loui Eriksson (15 points in his last 11 games) is finally burning bright. Despite a 4-1 loss to Chicago, Kari Lehtonen is 8-1-1 in his last his last 10 starts.

Easy Pickings

Minnesota (vs. VAN vs. CAL @BUF @WAS)

By far the team to pick on, players taking on the Wild could be considered easy fantasy points this week. Going into Sunday's action with Carolina, Minnesota is being outscored 32-14 in nine March games. All four of Minnesota's opponents this week have something to fight for and may bloody an already beat up Twin Cities squad. Mikko Koivu is still day-to-day for Monday's game against Vancouver. Meanwhilte, is reporting Niklas Backstrom (groin) is nearing a return to action.

Columbus (vs. CHI vs. CAR vs. EDM)

After starting out the month 5-0 and hanging tough with St. Louis and Vancouver, the Blue Jackets have lost four in a row heading into their Sunday match up with Calgary. Columbus heads home for three straight.

Losing Steam

New York Rangers (vs. NJ vs. DET vs. BUF @TOR)

Losers of two in a row, the MSG faithful have their Stanley Cup contending boys at home for a busy, three of four at home. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is back from injury and Mats Zuccarello is back from Connecticut of the AHL. Zuccarello scored the team's lone-goal in their loss to Colorado this past weekend.

Vancouver (@MIN @ CHI @ DAL @ COL)

After squeaking out a 4-3 win over Columbus, no one is quite sure where to seed the Canucks. Let's see if four games away from home can help straighten the ship. Once again, talk around the British Columbia ice hockey club is to replace Roberto Luongo with Cory Schneider. Schneider (two assists this season) is 9-1-1 in his sporadic spot starts since the December 29. Defenseman Alexander Edler has three goals and an assist in his last five games. Left-winger Chris Higgins has two goals, seven assists in his last nine games and is currently riding a five-game point scoring streak.

Boston (vs. TOR @SJ @LA @ANH)

Same goes here for the Bruins, who after hosting the hungry Leafs, will head out West for three games. Right-wingers Rich Peverley (torn MCL in right knee) has resumed skating, while deadline pickup Brian Rolston has a goal and an assist in last two games.

Building Momentum

Pittsburgh (vs. WPG vs. NSH @OTT vs. NJ)

Though Sidney Crosby (17 points in 11 games this season) has yet to find the back of the net since coming back three games ago, he has notched five assists since Thursday. Pittsburgh has not lost in regulation since a 6-2 loss to Buffalo on the 19th of February.

Ottawa (vs. NJ @MON vs. PIT)

As if Boston wasn't playing bad enough for the Sens to take over the lead in the Northeast Division, Ottawa can also attribute their new-found divisional lead to their GM Bryan Murray. In hindsight, they may turn out to have completed the most underrated trade in quite some time. Traded from St. Louis due to a traffic jam for a mere second-round draft pick (2012), goalie Ben Bishop (3-1-2) has been everything he was at the AHL level. The Sens are gearing up for a deep run this year with a rookie goalie that may have the chops to get it done. Last week the Canadian (TOR, MON) rivalry, this week a few east coast visitors for Bishop.

St. Louis (@ANH @LA @PHO)

The Blues are the first team to eclipse 100 points in the 2011-12 campaign. How they handle this road-trip against those clawing to make the playoffs could make for an interesting week. Left-winger Jaden Schwartz made the most of first NHL shot on goal, scoring during his debut this past weekend. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports a bit of good new on the horizon as Jason Arnott (general soreness) should return to the Blues' lineup this week, possibly Wednesday against Anaheim. Andy McDonald began treatment for his injured shoulder and did some off-ice stick-handling drills.

Your CBS Stream

Still no return date for New Jersey's Travis Zajac (Achilles'). Nashville's Paul Gaustad (upper body) did not play Sunday against the Ducks. Rene Bourque had a goal and five shots on net, Aaron Palushaj scored his first NHL goal and defenseman Andrei Markov played a season-high 21:49 of ice time in a losing cause as the Canadiens fell to Isles in a 3-2 shootout. Preds forward Colin Wilson was a healthy scratch for two games this past weekend. Taylor Hall (concussion) missed Sunday's night's game against Phoenix.

TV Time (all games in EST)

MAR 19 - Devils @ Rangers 7:30 - NBCS
MAR 20 - Coyotes @ Stars 8:00 - NBCS
MAR 21 - Red Wings @ Rangers 7:30 - NBCS
MAR 25 - Wild @ Caps 5:00 - NBCS
MAR 25 - Predators @ Blackhawks 7:30 - NBCS