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NHL Schedule Analysis: New Coach, But Same Old Play?

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"

After a 61-game schedule last week, the NHL schedule dwindles down a bit from last week to 50 total games. However, just one team plays less than three games and all 11 teams playing four games this week play on back-to-back nights leaving plenty of room for developing an advantage.


Flying Four

Is there a team more confident in their goalie than Anaheim (@LA, NAS, MIN,@PHX) is in Viktor Fasth? Obviously it's not hard to suggest Matt Beleskey should continue his production as long as he's skating with the top line. However...SLEEPER SIGHTING: It's a risk, but we think Kyle Palmieri is due for a big week. The Long Island native has four goals in six career games versus the Kings, Wild and 'Yotes. Now it's just a matter of whether can continue breaking into third line depth.

Boston's (@NYI, OTT, TB, MON) Dougie Hamilton continued his pace towards consistency notching two assists in the Bruins 4-2 win over Tampa Bay. Tuukka Rask has yet to lose in regulation this month and only once all season. However, despite being in goal for the aforementioned win over the Lightning, Rask's career numbers against the Canadiens are better than those against the Lightning. So look for him to yield to Anton Khudobin against the Lightning on Saturday. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Nothing in his career stats versus these opponent's pops out, but Jonnny Boychuck has been historically more productive through his career in the month of March than February. Call this one a hunch.

A new coach in Buffalo (@TB, @FLA, NJD, @NYR), but the same old play? Three of 4 on the road are not exactly the best circumstances for such. There is no guaranteed win these days for the Sabres. Ryan Miller has exactly the same career GAA (2.20) against the Devils and Rangers. SLEEPER SIGHTING: If new head coach Ron Rolston decides to shake things up more, he could sit Jhonas Enroth (0-2, 4.73 GAA) for either the Devils or Rangers game and bring up more new blood like David Leggio who is 26-15-1-2 with a  2.74 GAA at Rochester of the AHL this season.

Carolina (@WAS, PIT, FLA, @FLA) has been the epitome of two steps forward, one step back all season. Losers of three in a row heading into Sunday's game with the Islanders, due to Tampa Bay's inconsistencies and a weak Southeast, the Canes are constantly a win away from jumping seven spots in the conference standings. Neither Cam Ward nor Dan Ellis has been stellar as of late, but Ward is still in control here. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Former first-round pick, Riley Nash scored his first NHL-point in Saturday's loss to Tampa Bay.

Chicago's (EDM, @STL, CBJ, @DET) record-setting start has been well documented. To say it will stop with this week's schedule would be a risk in itself. However, anything's possible... SLEEPER SIGHTING: Hard to find a sleeper on a roster of studs, but let's give it a shot. Johnny Oduya has a three-game point-scoring streak BUT his career numbers versus this week's opponents don't look so hot. Perhaps take the gamble and enjoy the ride. Also, former second-round pick, Brandon Saad, has three goals (two against San Jose) in the month of February.

No one expects much of the Dallas (@NSH, @CLS, EDM, STL) Stars this season. Kari Lehtonen (lower body) who has been plagued by lower back and groin issues for most of his career was officially placed on the IR Sunday, but could return at anytime. In the meantime, Cristopher Nilstorp got a confidence building 3-1 win against the slumping Sharks Saturday. SLEEPER SIGHTING: There's no two ways about it, Derek Roy has not filled the offensive void left by the departure of Steve Ott (or the scorching Mike Ribeiro), much less the leadership. But career numbers are pointing to a bit of a jolt this week as Roy averages about a point a game against all of this week's opponents except St. Louis. Hokey as it may sound, look for the highly-criticized Alex Goligoski (two goals, three assists in eight career games) to show some offensive spark Saturday against the Blues instead.

Taylor Hall will not be in Edmonton's (@CHI, @DAL, @STL, @MIN) line-up Monday in Chicago. But that's just the beginning of their nine-game road trip. Don't worry, Hall will get his chance to impress 'Hawks fans on the second-to-last game of this road trip on March 10th. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Looking more and more like Devyn Dubnyk is losing his grip on the starting duties. There's a cozy little back-to-back scenario from Dallas to St. Louis. Look for 40-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin (2-2, 1.89 GAA) to take over the starting job once again.

Florida (PIT, BUF, @CAR, CAR) ends a seven out of nine-game homestand with the Pens and Sabres. Heading back to the beginning of last season, a 6-1 record against the Canes certainly bodes well for the Panthers chances in a traditional home-and-home against their divisional opponents. SLEEPER SIGHTING: 34-year-old defenseman Mike Weaver has been productive as of late. Five of his seven February points have come in the last five games. Take the good with the bad though as Weaver is a minus-2 and second on depth in Florida the season. Also keep an eye out for Jacob Markstrom to make another start soon, possibly against Carolina.

Even with an embarrassment of upgrades in the off season, Minnesota (CAL, @PHX, @ANA, EDM) 4-5-1 in February, has been the definition of mediocre this season, with just a taste of sub-par. Two of their regulation wins have come against their fellow Northwest foes the Flames and Oilers. It's those Pacific road games the Wild fans need to be concerned with this week. SLEEPER SIGHTING: No word yet on Josh Harding's progress but Darcy Kuemper has done well (1-1) 2.02 in two starts against solid opponents.

You have to like the consistent production (two goals, three assists last six games) Montreal (@OTT, @TOR, PIT, @BOS) is getting from Alex Galchenyuk. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Andrei Markov has been eerily quiet all month. After starting out the season with eight points in nine January games, the veteran defenseman is likely to break out sooner or later. We think 94 points in 131 career games versus Toronto, Pittsburgh and Boston indicates sooner rather than later.

After losing Craig Anderson (day-to-day) in another freak incident, Ottawa's (MON, @BOS,@PHI,@NYI) luck couldn't get much worse. But they're still fighting through it and we expect Ben Bishop to do well. Robin Lehner has been recalled to back him up. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Right-winger Jakob Silfverberg (three goals, three assists) is starting to put things together in his first full season. The former second-round pick (2009) had multiple scoring chances in last week's tilt against the Rangers and has a goal and two assists during his current three-game point scoring streak heading into Saturday nights action with Toronto.

Short Trip

Sure they should sweep the set, but with New Jersey (@WIN,@BUF) playing only two games, you may want to head in another direction. Don't stress, they'll be all in with FIVE GAMES next week.

Back-to-Back Three's

Detroit (@LA,@SJ, CHI) finally put a stop to that pesky five-game skid with a 4-0 win over the Preds. But this week shapes up to be quite ugly with two on the road, regardless if they're slumping. Then of course, Chicago anywhere is a problem. GOALIE IDEAS: With the Kings and Sharks on back-to-back nights, Jimmy Howard's career numbers are slightly better against the surging Kings than the Sharks. Jonas Gustavsson should take on San Jose for the first time in his career.

Winners in seven of their last 10 games, Toronto (@PHI,MON,@NYI) hits the road (7-3-0) again for two this week. GOALIE IDEAS: It's looking like James Reimer (knee) is travelling with the team, but is expected to be out another week or so. Newly crowned rookie Ben Scrivens has a decidedly (2.02 GAA in two games) better brief history against Montreal than the Islanders. Looks like the Fin, Jussi Rynas, will make his first start of the season -second of his career- against the fishermen.

After Vancouver (PHX, LA,@CAL) had their six-game winning streak stopped by Dallas, they hit a bump in the road, loss twice in overtime to St. Louis and Chicago. Ryan Kesler has four points in five games this season. Calgary figures to be a break out night as Kesler has 30 points in 48 career games against the Flames. GOALIE IDEAS: Based on performance this season, Roberto Luongo should take on the Kings at home Saturday and Cory Schneider Sunday in Calgary. Both have had good starts this season against the respective teams.

Four points from anyone on your roster is a good sign. But three goals and an assist in one game from Alex Ovechkin is the largest sigh of relief from any team all season. However, the most valued production lately from a fantasy owner perspective can come from right-winger Eric Fehr, who has four goals, three assists in his last six games.Washington's (CAR, @PHI, @WIN) head coach Adam Oates decided to make us look like fools by starting Braden Holtby (5-6, 3.37 GAA) in both Devils games last week. He wasn't too shabby either. GOALIE IDEAS Michal Neuvirth hasn't started since a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on February 7th and is just 1-4-1 this season. It's looking more and more like it will be March before he gets another shot, but there's no telling what the Caps are up to.

Stay Put

Last week's five-game schedule didn't exactly start well -outscored 10-1 in two losses - but the Islanders (BOS, TOR, OTT) hung tough, beating Montreal and Buffalo later in the week. Just three games this week. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Rick DiPietro cleared waivers and has been officially assigned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Kevin Poulin is headed in the opposite direction to back up Evgeni Nabakov. Poulin is 15-14-2 with a 3.22 goal-allowed-average in 32 games at Bridgeport this season.

The Rangers (WIN, TB, BUF), who have been teetering on a very thin wire for weeks, are finally starting to show the imbalance. Rick Nash (undisclosed) is eligible to come off the IR today, but was just placed there last night. After two consecutive nights off, the Rangers (0-2-2 in their last four games) will host three from home starting with Winnipeg who went 0-4 against New York last season. SLEEPER SIGHTING: He had a minus-2 in the 3-0 loss to Montreal, but Anton Stralman has moved up the depth charts in light of Michael De Zotto's (lowerbody) issues. He has two goals this season so keep the expectations limited, but he should see an increase in ice time at the very least. Also, it may be time for the streaky Marian Gaborik to show his face, especially since he has 21 points in 17 career games against the Winnipeg franchise.

If Philadelphia (TOR, WAS, OTT) could only play from home all season, they might have a bigger cushion on the eighth conference spot. Though they are not near the shadow of the team they were last year, the Flyers had a 9-2-1 record against this week's opponents. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Erik Gustafsson has two points since joining the Flyers five games ago. Keep an eye on this undrafted Swede.

It took San Jose (COL, DET, NAS) three weeks, but they finally won their first game of February. Ceremoniously they began another losing streak this past Friday when yielding 2-1 to Chicago and 3-1 to Dallas. The silver lining is they are unbeaten (1-0-2) in a combined three games this season against this week's opponents. SLEEPER SIGHTING: Dan Boyle has just three assists this month; look for him to possibly break out against Colorado.


- Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is experiencing concussion symptoms.

- Artem Anisimov (head) has been released from a Detroit Hospital.

TV Time (all games EST)

MON - FEB 25 - Stars at Predators 8:00 pm - NBCSports

TUE - FEB 26 - Bruins at Islanders 7:30 pm - NBCSports

WED - FEB 27 - Capitals at Flyers 7:30 pm - NBCSports

WED - FEB 27 - Red Wings at Kings 10:00 pm - NBCSports

THU - FEB 28 - Penguins at Hurricanes 7:00 pm - NHLNetwork

FRI - MAR 1 - Blue Jackets at Blackhawks 8:30 pm - NHLNetwork

SAT - MAR 2 - Senators at Flyers 12:00 pm - NHLNetwork

SAT - MAR 2 - Capitals at Jets 3:00 pm - NHLNetwork

SAT - MAR 2 - Kings at Canucks 10:00 pm - NHLNetwork

SUN - MAR 3 - Blackhawks at Red Wings 12:30 pm - NBC

SUN - MAR 3 - Blues at Stars 3:00 pm - NHLNetwork

SUN - MAR 3 - Canadiens at Bruins 7:30 pm - NBCSports