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NHL Schedule Analysis: Division Drop-Offs

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"

As mentioned last week, 17 of the NHL's 30 teams will be in full four-game swing this week as some playoff-dreams will flame and others will fizzle. Say what you want about Gary Bettman, but this is one hell of a balanced league. It's the final two weeks and if teams like Florida, Los Angeles and Dallas are going to maintain their position in the standings over the next two weeks it will be done primarily from the road. Here's your schedule breakdown of the team's still fighting for playoff contention.


Division Drop-offs

Florida (@MON @MIN @CLS @DET)
The Panthers lead the Southeast, but can they hang on? Although Florida is likely to stumble against both Columbus and Detroit, it's worth noting the Panthers have also edged the Canadiens in all three meetings this season. Tomas Fleischmann has seven points in his past eight games. Both Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss are now tied (54) for the team lead in points. Florida is a combined 3-0-1 against this week's opponents.

Dallas @CAL @EDM @VAN @SJ
Currently tied with the Coyotes for first in the Pacific but leading due to the season series, Dallas didn't (2-2) really take advantage of their recent four-game homestand. If the Stars are to stay within the bubble it's going to be done on the road, where the Stars have won four of five games this month. Although Stars fans should be excited about the prospect of games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver (combined 8-1), their 1-3 record against Saturday night opponent San Jose is a downer. Stars captain left-winger Brenden Morrow has been moved to the fourth line while RW Adam Burish has been moved to second line. Ribeiro has four helpers in his last three games and a total of 42 this season. Dallas is a combined 9-4 against this week's opponents.

Eastern Conference

New Jersey vs. CHI vs. TB @CAR
After the first 20 games this season, New Jersey was clearly a fire-sale candidate. Now sixth in the East with 90 points, New Jersey is back to the thick of things but not quite locked into playoffs. Adam Henrique scored his first goal in 18 games last Friday. While Henrik Tallinder (blood clot, leg) is nowhere near returning just yet, word is center Travis Zajac (Achilles) has been skating with the team and there's a small chance he could be back this week. New Jersey is a combined 4-2 against this week's opponents.

Ottawa @WPG, @PHI @NYI
The Senators have been a lot more consistent this season than I expected. Currently seventh in the conference with 86 points, the Sens have three road games this week. Perhaps due to his second-line (Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson) promotion, Nick Foligno broke out of his March slump in a big way, notching three assists in an 8-4 win over Pittsburgh. In that game, rookie goaltender Ben Bishop left the game with an apparent lower-body injury. Craig Anderson replaced Bishop, stopping all but one shot from Sidney Crosby. Ottawa is a combined 5-2-2 against this week's opponents.

Buffalo @WAS vs. PIT @TOR
Once again, the Sabres (84 points) are one of the sharpest teams in the NHL and it couldn't have come at a better time. Ruff and his boys will play two of three from the road. Their one home game (Pittsburgh) this week should gauge their playoff hopes quite well. The Sabres have their own Foligno, Marcus Foligno. The other Foligno has six goals and four assists in just nine career NHL games this season. Buffalo is a combined 6-4 against this week's opponents.

Washington vs. BUF @BOS vs. MON
Looking at the season's expectations, if the Caps (ninth, 82 points) were to make the playoffs, there would still be a level of disappointment. On paper however, they could be a dangerous team with a fresh slate in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin has eight goals in his last six games. With a rash of day-to-day injuries to Tomas Vokoun (lower body), Alexander Semin and now RW Joel Ward, it's hard to imagine seeing the Caps getting that fresh slate. Washington is a combined 6-3 against this week's opponents.

Winnipeg vs. OTT vs. NYR @CAR @TB
All but eliminated, the Jets and aforementioned Caps have more of a chance of overcoming the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers than anything else. Right-winger, Spencer Machacek has six points in four games since being called up from the AHL. In the end, it's going to come down to the play of Ondrej Pavelec who is 1-3 with a .868 save-percentage over his last four games. Winnipeg is a combined 7-8 against this week's opponents.

Western Conference

Phoenix vs. SJ vs. ANH
Currently leading the final pack of teams jammed up for two spots, the Coyotes (87 points) are the only team in the NHL hampered with a two-game schedule this week. However, one of those two games will be against the Sharks. Ray Whitney (25 points in his last 29 games) is keeping this team alive. Shane Doan returns from his suspension against San Jose. Radim Vrbata (illness), Taylor Pyatt (upper body) and Adrian Aucoin (lower body), all listed day-to-day, could all theoretically return against the Sharks as well. New Jersey is a combined 5-4-1 against this week's opponents.

Los Angeles @VAN @CAL @EDM @MIN
Having a chance to pick up eight points this week will be nice. Of course that will have to be done from the road and against fellow playoff-hungry suitor the Flames. It's not yet do-or-die time, but it's getting close for the Kings who are currently leading a three-way tie (86 points) for the eighth and final spot in the West. Left-winger Simon Gagne (concussion) is rumored to be traveling with the team this week, but there's still no medical clearance for his return. Los Angeles is a combined 5-4-2 against this week's opponents.

San Jose vs. COL @ANH @PHO vs. DAL
With two games at home, you might think San Jose (ninth - 86 points) has a breezier schedule than most. But let's also consider three of the four teams they are playing are in the conference hunt. Brent Burns has a goal and three assists in his last four games while Logan Couture has been very quiet lately. Couture has just two assists (-5) over his last seven games. T.J. Galiardi (upper body) is reportedly skating again but there's no timetable for his return. San Jose is a combined 8-7-2 against this week's opponents.

Colorado @SJ @VAN @CAL
After the Avalanche (10th with 86 points) swaggered out of Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago and squeaked out two points versus Calgary, the Avs had a bit of confidence going. Colorado has now lost two in a row and their schedule this week is horrific. Jamie McGinn (eight goals, four assists in 13 games) is averaging a bit over a point-per-game since coming over to the Avs at the deadline. Colorado is a combined 2-9-2 against this week's opponents.

Calgary vs. DAL vs. LA vs. COL @VAN
Barely keeping afloat, the Flames are 11 th in the conference, but also have a schedule that includes three of four also vying for a playoff seed. Losers of five straight games, although the Flames have manhandled (4-0-1) the Avs this season, it's hard to imagine them still in the race for eight next week. Michael Cammalleri (concussion) returned to action scoring in his first game back last week, a 4-1 loss to the Stars. Calgary is a combined 8-4-3 against this week's opponents.

The Rest

Technically Columbus (@DET vs. DET vs. FLA @STL) will play on back-to-back nights twice this week. After barely keeping their head above water for most of its four-game road trip last week, the Vancouver (vs. LA vs. COL vs. DAL vs. CAL),play six of their last seven regular games at home. Montreal (vs. FLA @NYR @WAS) is a combined 2-6 against this week's opponents.

TV Time

MAR 26 on NBCS / Lightning @Flyers 7:30 pm
MAR 27 on NBCS / Lightning @ Bruins 7:30 pm
MAR 28 on NBCS / Red Wings @ Blue Jackets 7:30 pm
APR 1 on NBC / Flyers @ Penguins
APR 1 on NBCS / Bruins @ Rangers 7:00 pm