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NHL Schedule Analysis: March's Rollercoaster Schedule

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"

The rollercoaster ride known that is the NHL schedule throttles on into March. This week we have 55 total games on tap before drumming back down to 47 next week. Obviously Bettman and company were rushed when creating this season's three month schedule. With a minimum of four games on every night this week, there's a ton of room for creating a trend and gaming these weird matchups to your advantage.

Let's Play Back-To-Back, Twice

New Jersey (@TOR,TB, BUF,@CAR,WPG) who is the second team in three weeks to have a five-game slate in seven days lost 4-3 in a shootout to listless Buffalo on Saturday. However, Adam Henrique snapped a nine-game goalless streak to end February in the process. Andrei Loktionov has three goals and two assists during his current five game point streak. GOALIE IDEAS: With Martin Brodeur's (back) injury issues, despite losing to the aforementioned Sabres, Johan Hedberg is ripe for the taking this week. Also, Keith Kinkaid has been called up from Albany of the AHL. Kinkaid is 17-11-1-5 with a 2.69 GAA at the AHL level. 

As we've mentioned in previous weeks, not even Henrique is happier than San Jose (@ VAN, @CAL, STL, @COL) is to see February (2-6-4) come to an end. For Logan Couture, he didn't wait till the end of the month. Couture has two goals and two assists in the Sharks last three games, in which they've gone 2-0-1. GOALIE IDEAS: Thomas Greiss owners everywhere are rejoicing as he is likely to get two starts this week.  However, Niemi has been great against of all of this week's opponents, so this will have to be closely monitored with two back-to-back occurrences (TUE/WED & SAT/SUN) this week. Perhaps it's noteworthy that Niemi is 4-1-1 (2.10 GAA) on Tuesday's, but has yet to play on a Wednesday this season. Also, the Fin backstop is 0-1-2 (1.27 GAA) on Saturday's and 2-0 on Sunday's.

Between The Back-To-Back Twines

Ottawa (@TOR, @NYR) and Dallas (@LA, @PHX) will not be one of the 21 teams playing at least four games this week. With just two games on the docket for the Sens and Stars, find other options than their players. With that out of the way, let's examine the schedule of some of the teams playing four games and at least one back-to-back occurrence this week.

Starting with those who likely to have a good week:

Phoenix (ANH, @ANH, STL, DAL) won the first of three straight with Anaheim (home/road/home) to start the month. Lauri Korpikoski had two goals against Anaheim and Steve Sullivan even awakened ( Saturday. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - six assists and plus-11 in his last six games- is paying dividends as well. Forwards Chris Brown and Rob Klinkhammer have been called up as reserves with Martin Hanzal (upper body) and Radim Vrbata (lower body) out currently. Unlike Anaheim, the 'Yotes will play in back-to-back games when they leave Anaheim Wednesday to head home and host St. Louis on Thursday. GOALIE IDEAS: Mike Smith is probably the most overworked number one in the league, but he may get two games off this week, starting with one of the Ducks games. Based on career numbers, expect Jason LaBarbera to start against Anaheim Wednesday and Smith back in net against the Blues.

Things are looking good for the slow start Kings who have won six of their last 8 games. Los Angeles (NAS, STL, DAL, CAL), who has 17 games in the month of March play every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next three weeks. Defenseman Alec Martinez (upper body) should be back up and running this week. GOALIE IDEAS: Your decision comes quick (intended pun) as L.A. plays their back-to-back occurrence starting Monday. Jonathan Bernier (4-1-0, 1.64 GAA) is heating up this goalie situation while Jonathan Quick has found himself in head coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse lately. Regardless, Bernier was terrific in his February 11th start against the Blues, so look for Quick to start against Nashville. From there, it's anybody's guess and both the Stars and Flames should be easy wins with the Kings who are seemingly clicking.

Something has got to get Tampa Bay (@PIT, @NJ, WPG, MON) going. The woes certainly begin with their play on the road (3-7-1) and on Saturday they took steps towards resolving that issue with a quick two goal lead on Conference leader Boston. But their penalty kill took a hit and the Bruins scored three unanswered goals to win. The road trip continues and doesn't get any easier with games in white against Pittsburgh and New Jersey. GOALIE IDEAS: Mathieu Garon has been much better than his 2-7 record suggests. Meanwhile Anders Lindback (7-4-1) has been pulled from two of his last six starts, including the Lightning's 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh last week. Though Lindback didn't fare much better against the Devils in a previous February match up, it's more likely he gets a shot at redemption against them than the Penguins.

Although Blake Wheeler's (leg) status is in question, winners in five of their last seven games, Winnipeg's (@FLA, @TB, @ FLA, @NJ) offense is starting to take shape. Though they are a combined 1-2 versus their divisional opponents this week and all four games are on the road (6-4-1), the Panthers are seemingly everyone's prey these days and Tampa Bay failed to stop the Jets' power-play (2-for-4) in their 8-3 rout of the Winnipeg early in the season. Their early staying power and consistently will truly be gauged in Sunday's match up with the Devils. GOALIE IDEAS: Look for Ondrej Pavelec to start three games this week, including Wednesday's big match-up with the Lightning. Al Montoya has been activated off the IR and will most likely play Friday in Miami.

Pittsburgh (TB, @PHI, @TOR, NYI)'s Kris Letang got off to a great start for March with four assists in the Pens 7-6 win over Montreal Saturday. Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter each had two goals with Tomas Vokoun in goal. GOALIE IDEAS: Problem is Voukon let up six goals of his own, though we're not so sure the Islanders are even capable of such a feat. The Pens will most likely roll with Vokoun in Saturday's matchup with Toronto as Marc-Andre Fleury didn't perform well against the Buds earlier this season, leaving Fleury for the game against the Islanders at home on Sunday.

With Raphael Diaz (concussion) out, Montreal (@NYI, @CAR, @TB, @FLA)'s Tomas Kaberle had two assists in the loss to Pittsburgh. Montreal is certainly looking good (13-4-4) this season but gets lost in the pack due to an almost impeccable Bruins squad in the way. Today (Sunday March 3rd), the two square off as the Canadiens begin a five-game road trip. GOALIE IDEAS: Carey Price gave up seven goals to the Pens, luckily they won't be visiting Pittsburgh this week. Instead their back-to-back occurrence falls on their second Florida swing in a month. Look for Montreal to start Peter Budaj likely against Florida on Sunday.

AlthoughEdmonton (@CLS, @DET, @NAS, @CHI) is currently ranked 12th in the conference standings, the mediocre Oilers are a mere three wins away from being at the top of the pack. With two of their four games in Columbus and Nashville, we think Edmonton's rostered talent alone should get them at least two of those wins. GOALIE IDEAS: With Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) out, the team has recalled Yann Danis to be back up. We're usually the last ones to support Devan Dubnyk, but March is typically his best career month. Look for Dubnyk against the Red Wings and Dannis against the Predators in their back-to-back occurrence.

After a February where Florida's (WPG, @WAS, WPG, MON) Drew Shore had 10 points in 13 games, he was pointless in Saturday 6-2 loss to Carolina. Don't expect Shore to remain cold for too long, he appears to have the every other game trend down pat already. Especially since the 10th ranked Panthers' power play face Winnipeg (30th) and Washington's (27th) penalty killing teams. GOALIE IDEAS: Most valuable to fantasy owners is the goalie situation as Jose Theodore went down in the first period of the loss to the 'Canes with another leg issue. Looks like Scott Clemmensen will go for most of the week, and look for Jacob Markstrom to be recalled, possibly starting in Washington or at home against the Jets. Has the beginning of the Markstrom era finally begun?

and some not lined up for a good week:

Ryan Callahan has been a jack of all trades lately invigorating the Rangers (PHI, @NYI, OTT @WAS). With the exception of Henrik Lundqvist's usual standing on his head, Cally has single-handedly held the offensively-slumping Rangers out of the Eastern Conference cellar these past few games. The way the Rangers have been playing lately, they could easily go winless or unbeaten this week, but neither is likely. Three of the Rangers' four opponents this week have a top-10 ranked penalty kill. That won't help an already struggling NHL ranked 29th power play unit for the Rangers. GOALIE IDEAS: Though you can never tell with coach John Tortorella, Martin Biron is likely to the start when the Rangers visit the Long Island Thursday, yielding back to Lundqvist for their home game with Ottawa on Friday.

It's the perfect fresh start for all considered. Ryan O'Reilly signs with the team as they get back to .500 (8-8-3) hockey. O'Reilly will also wear a new jersey number (#90) and be inserted as a third line center with Milan Hejduk and John Mitchell immediately. From the looks of Colorado's (@DET, @CHI, CHI, SJ) schedule, they're going to need a fast return. After back-to-back road games in Detroit and Chicago, the Avs head home for two, including the second half of their back-to-back with the 'Hawks. GOALIE IDEAS: Neither goalie has a favorable record against Detroit, but back-up Jean-Sebastien Giguere's (6-13-1, 2.68 GAA) career record against the Red Wings is a bit more concerning. So look for Semyon Varlamov to start in the Motor City and Giguere in Chicago.

An improving Washington (BOS, FLA, @NYI, NYR) squad will begin a very busy March (16 games) with two at home. Under the radar, John Erskine is a plus-4 with a goal and an assist in his last two games while Mike Green (groin) missed Saturday's game against the Jets. After visiting the Islanders Saturday, the Caps head back home for NBC's 12:30 game of the week Sunday against the Rangers. GOALIE IDEAS: Head coach Adam Oates will most likely save Braden Holtby for the Rangers game as Michal Neuvirth has a favorable career record (5-0,1.83 GAA) against the Isles.

It might not always show in the standings, but The Islanders (MON, NYR, WAS, @PIT) have some young talent budding. Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom have produced at times this season, but its players like Kyle Okposo (goal, two assists vs. TOR) who need to get going for the New York string together some wins. The Isles begin the week in midst of a four-game homestand. The end of the homestand comes with the Capitals before traveling to Pittsburgh on Sunday. GOALIE IDEAS: We highly doubt Kevin Poulin gets fed to a pack of Pens, so look for him to play against the Capitals Saturday and Evgeni Nabakov Sunday.

Everybody's talking about Nazem Kadri's natural hat trick. Additionally, Matt Frattin has been officially cleared for contact will practice Sunday. Toronto's (NJ, OTT, @BOS, PIT) strength of schedule resembles that of the Avalanche, with just a bit more promise. Toronto will play three of those four from home and they may have resolved - won three of last four at home - those pesky home woes,so the Leafs should actually hold up pretty tough. Just don't expect a momentum building perfect week. GOALIE IDEAS: James Reimer didn't exactly look sharp against the Islanders, but it was his first game in 17 days and he's now won his last four starts. Too little too late however, as we think Ben Scrivens is the new man in town. As long as Reimer stays healthy though, looks like Jussi Rynas will head back to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Due to injuries to Andy McDonald (knee) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion), after a sub-par February, St. Louis (@LA, @PHX @SJ, @ANH) -is 2-2-1 in their last five games- is barely hanging on in a very tight Western Conference playoff hunt. However, add in Alexander Steen (shoulder) to the IR list and our once great small market hope appears to be folding. And with this week's schedule, is it already time for Ken Hitchcock to either explode or implode himself onto the situation? Luckily for the Blues, who play all four this week in white, they play very well (6-2-1) on the road, so there's still room for hope. Worth noting, Jaden Schwartz had a goal and an assist while skating with the team's top line Friday. Vladimir Sobotka also had a goal and assist in the win. GOALIE IDEAS: Brian Elliott is due to get his first start in 21 days this Sunday, how well he does could determine how many starts he gets this week. In the meantime, while Jaroslav Halak has better career numbers versus San Jose than Anaheim, Elliott gave up five goals to the Ducks in an OT-loss on the ninth of February.

TV TIME (all games in EST)

MON - MAR 4 - Lightning at Penguins 7:30 pm - NBCSports
MON - MAR 4 - Predators at Kings 10:30 pm - NHLNetwork
TUE - MAR 5 - Flyers at Rangers 7:30 pm - NBCSports
WED - MAR 6 - Avalanche at Blackhawks 8:00 pm - NBCSports
THU - MAR 7 - Penguins at Flyers 7:00 pm - NHLNetwork
FRI - MAR 8 - Blackhawks at Avalanche 9:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Flyers at Bruins 1:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Blues at Sharks 4:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Penguins at Maple Leafs 7:00 pm - NHLNetwork
SUN - MAR 10 - Rangers at Capitals 12:30 pm - NBC
SUN - MAR  10 - Sabres at Flyers 7:30 pm - NBCSports