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NHL Schedule Analysis: Two For Toronto

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"

With the holiday break behind us and the Winter Classic just ahead, it's time we welcome in 2014 and face some truths. The Olympics are nearing and its arrival is surely to result in a fantasy sweat over NHL-action withdrawals (as experienced last week) and stretch strategies. So we thought this would be a good time to shine the light (see addition to grid) on the month of January as a whole. With the knowledge that most NHL teams will have a three or four-game schedule before the league breaks for international action, it will be important to get the most bang for your buck in the second to last full month of action.

(JAN. H|A) = January Home|Away Game Ratio)
*B2B occurrences in Bold


Four Aces

Carolina (MTL, at WAS, at NYI, NSH) has a fairly favorable schedule. We had another Jiri Tlusty (appendix) sighting, this time on the IR. As a result Zach Boychuck has been called back to Raleigh. Boychuck is currently engaged in a five-game point streak (five goals, three assists) at AHL Charlotte. Anton Khudobin probably passed Boychuck on the way to Charlotte for his conditioning assignment.

Chicago (LOS, at NYI, at NJD, SJS) will likely have dog fights at home against the opening and closing opponents of the week teams and make mincemeat of their in between opponents on the road. All reports have head coach Joel Quennville expecting Corey Crawford (leg) back in time for one of their two road games. Good thing, because Antti Raanta showed some holes against St. Louis on Saturday, albeit on the back half of b2b appearances. Duncan Keith has 33 assists for the season, wow! Niklas Hjarmarsson was a plus-3 with two assists and five shots on goal during this weekend's b2b occurrence.

Edmonton (at PHX, at SJS, at ANA, TBL) has a tough trip out west, then head home to host the Lightning. Mark Arcobello (ribs) was placed on IR, retroactive to December 17. Same story, different day for Devan Dubnyk, who only seems to play tough when he has competition. And the enigmatic Ilya Bryzgalov seems to be the perfect mate for Dubnyk. Could someone please get Richard Bachman directions to Edmonton?

After Los Angeles (at CHI, at DAL, at STL, VAN) begins 2014 in St. Louis, they don't play on the road again until January 16 when they visit, you guessed it, the Blues. But first they've got to get through road games in Chicago and Dallas on b2b nights to start the week. Dustin Brown (illness) was a minus-2 in his return to the lineup on Saturday. As promised, Santa Claus brought Jonathan Quick (groin) back to practice this week. Hold tight Martin Jones/Ben Scrivens owners.

While Nashville (DET, at BOS, at FLA, at CAR) - tied for an NHL-high 16 games this month - will trek up and down the eastern seaboard this week, they certainly earn their spoils, playing seven of their next eight games at home starting next week. Perhaps Mr. Underwood, whoops, Mike Fisher stopped reading the tabloids about a possible divorce and got back to work on Saturday night. Fisher was a plus-2 with two hits, two goals and an assist. All joking aside, if a divorce is in the works, it could spell a change of ways (for good-or-ill) for the veteran center in the new year. Mark Mazanec holds the upper hand in the marriage of Nashville goalies, but Carter Hutton will likely be needed at some point.

Only the Preds and Philadelphia (at VAN, at CGY, at COL, at PHX) can be counted on for eight games over the next 14 days. Steve Downie quietly returned to the Flyers lineup with two shots on goal in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Oilers. While Steve Mason is the man, Ray Emery will be needed and will likely draw the lesser Flames squad.

Looks can be deceiving for San Jose (at ANA, EDM, at COL, at CHI), who play a fairly balanced schedule this month (6 home, 8 away) and six of their first nine from the road. Brent Burns is a plus-3 with two goals, three assists, two PIM and six hits over his last two games but Logan Couture is as ice cold as any Sharks player. Martin Havlat's (lower body) injury opened the door for Bracken Kearns (18 points in 27 AHL games), who was recalled from Worcester on Saturday.

Vancouver (PHI, TBL, at LOS, at ANA) returns from the useless pit of the one game week. Much like the Sharks, the Canucks rack up the mileage as six of their first 10 tilts in 2014 will be in whites. Roberto Luongo (lower body) was placed on IR and is expected to miss 7-to-10 days. This is terrible news for a Canucks team that will take two goalies with less than 15 games of NHL experience to Los Angeles and Anaheim. While Edddie Lack is expected to draw most of the four games this week, formerly a back-up in juniors to Jacob Markstrom, Joacim Eriksson will be inducted properly if this b2b occurrence goes as expected.

Winnipeg's (BUF, at OTT, at BOS, at PIT) week gets progressively worse. The Jets are expecting Zach Bogosian (flu) back on Sunday, but not Grant Clitsome. Jacob Trouba has seven points in 12 games this month. While Evander Kane has four goals and two assists and 32 shots on goal since returning six games ago, his career numbers suggest a descent in January, but monitor closely. As for between the pipes, looks like Al Montoya is gaining steam over Ondrej Pavelec, but let's see if he can keep it against a flustered Avs team before suggesting any kind of supplanting -temporary or otherwise- of Pavelec.

One Pair

Quiet for this week, but soon to blow up Calgary (PHI, TBL) plays six games in 8 nights after hosting the Lightning on Jan 3. Reto Berra has a .939 save percentage over his last five starts and could be earning the number one spot on the depth chart. Dennis Wideman (hand) practiced in a non-contact jersey on Saturday. Matt Stajan (knee) played 18-plus minutes in Friday's loss.

With Florida's (NYR, NSH) Tim Thomas returning against Montreal, you've got to believe Scott Clemmensen has a shot at retaining number one duties. But it will take more than a poor showing against the Canadiens for Thomas to yield to Clemmensen consistently. Sean Bergenheim has five (four goals) of his 10 points this season in the last five contests. He's also contributing to the hits and PIM columns fairly consistently. Nick Bjugstad has not gone more than two games without a point since early November. Scott Gomez returned with a minus-1 and has just one point in his last 14 games played. However, it will be a while before Scottie Upshall (upper body) returns.

Aside from the buzz around the Winter Classic, Toronto (at DET, NYR) has a quiet week. Tyler Bozak (upper body) is expected to lineup with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk again for Sunday's game, resulting in the devaluing of Peter Holland.

Three of a Kind

Anaheim (SJS, EDM, VAN) hasn't seen the loss column since December 3.  Making things worse for the rest of the NHL, starting with the back end of a home-and-home with fellow Pacific division powerhouse the Sharks, Anaheim has one of the coziest schedules, playing 10 of their 14 games this month from home. Francois Beauchemin snapped a three-game pointless streak and Andrew Cogliano has nine points in his last 10 games. Saku Koivu has three goals and two assists in his last two games and Ben Lovejoy has an assist in five consecutive games. Sure we would love to get Daniel Winnik back out of the FA pool, but will the consistency really continue?

After hosting the Islanders on New Year's Eve, two of Boston's (NYI, NSH, WIN) five home games (13 total games played) this month will occur this week. With Dennis Seidenberg's season over and Dougie Hamilton still at least a week away from returning, could things get worse on Boston's blue line? How about an undisclosed injury to Zdeno Chara keeping him out of action on Saturday, would that suffice as worse? David Warsofsky (16 points in 27 AHL games) and Zach Trotman (goal, six assists in 22 AHL games) were recalled for blue line depth. At least the injuries aren't impacting Jarome Iginla (six goals, three assists in his last eight games), but his January numbers suggest a drop in production before his usual point-per-game pace in February is wiped out by the Sochi games. If you don't dangle him for trade bait, you can expect huge dividends in March where Iginla has 215 points in 227 career games. Reilly Smith continues his what about me cries in examining this summer's trade from Dallas. With Carl Soderberg (concussion) considered day-to-day, Nick Johnson (20 points in 23 games with Providence) has been called up to create forward depth.

Losers in 7 of their last 10, someone tell Colorado (CBJ, PHI, SJS) they are in the midst of a seven-game homestand. It appears Gabriel Landeskog is getting out of his funk. The Avs need a whole cast of members to pick up the pace, including their defense and goalies, who have been outscored 15-8 in their last three contests. Matt Duchene had a five-game point streak come to an end in an embarrassing 7-2 loss to Chicago on Saturday. Prior to the loss, Duchene had logged four goals, nine assists in his last eight games. Ryan Wilson (back) returned to the lineup for the first time in almost two months.

Aside from a three-game trip out east and a two-game road trip to Minnesota and Nashville later this month, Dallas (LOS, MTL, DET) begins the new year on a five-game homestand and will eventually head into February fresh off a homestand of the same length. Alex Chiasson (flu) has reportedly lost 15 pounds, so when he does come back, it's likely he's going to take some time to get back up to speed. Nonetheless, Colton Sceviour has been sent back to AHL Texas for top-line minutes, so it's likely you'll see Chiasson back at some point this week. Sergei Gonchar (concussion) worked out off the ice on Saturday.

Detroit (at NSH, TOR, at DAL) will not be so fortunate as they embark on a five-game road trip - mostly out west - after technically hosting the Maple Leafs at the Winter Classic. While Johan Franzen (concussion) and Darren Helm (shoulder) seem very unlikely for the Winter Classic, Jimmy Howard (knee) could be back for the game against Nashville. Pavel Datsyuk (31 points in 33 games) added two more assists and Daniel Alfredsson had a goal in Saturday's win over Florida. Alfredsson has three goals and two assists in his last four games.

Although the Islanders (at BOS, CHI, CAR) host two of three from home after the Stars visit on Monday, the Isles play seven of their next eight on the road, including the first of two against the Rangers. Casey Cizikas (personal) returned to the lineup on Saturday, helping fill in the void of John Tavares (lower body) who missed his first game in over three years. While Brock Nelson started as the team's top line center, he was replaced by Frans Nielsen.

Don't overrate the Rangers' (at FLA, at PIT, at TOR) expected schedule this month. Despite having nine of 15 games as the home team, two of those will be against heated rivals, the Isles and Devils in the NHL's Stadium Series. In the same breath, don't underrate Benoit Pouliot's role with the team as of late. Pouliot has been picking up power play minutes (and points). Derek Stepan (flu) is expected to play through his symptoms against Tampa Bay on Sunday for a second straight game, but did he pass the symptoms to Mats Zuccarello first? Although Marc Staal (concussion) practiced at full speed with the team on Saturday, in light of Anton Stralman's (undisclosed) injury, undrafted 23-year-old blueliner Connor Allen (seven points over his last seven AHL games) has been called up and could make his NHL debut against Tampa Bay. As result, John Moore (career-high 7 SOG in Friday's loss) could start logging consistent top-4 ice time as well. Sunday's game should speak volumes as to how head coach Alain Vigneault will handle this week's goalie duties. As for the b2b occurrence, Lundqvist is always up for b2b games, but keep up with our goalie grid just in case.

Currently enjoying a six-game homestand, Phoenix (EDM, CBJ, PHI) gets off to a comfortable start in 2014. While Keith Yandle is certainly picking up the pace, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is slumping his way to the new year, but hang tight as OEL is likely snap out of this at any given time. Thomas Greiss performed admirably in Saturday's shootout loss to San Jose, but Mike Smith is still your man. Martin Hanzal has four points in his last five games.

If Steven Stamkos is going to do any practicing with the team as he recovers from leg surgery, it will have to be on the road as Tampa Bay (at VAN, at CGY, at EDM) will host just five of their 15 games this month. Tyler Johnson has a goal and an assist in the last pair of tilts.

Back-to-Back Jacks

Literally a new jersey, but same time-share issues for New Jersey (PIT, CHI, at BUF) goalie Cory Schneider. Schneider, who has statistically outplayed Martin Brodeur, doesn't have the record to reflect of his work. Fresh off his activation from IR for a concussion, Ryane Clowe played 13-plus minutes and logged a good ole fashioned five for fighting in Saturday's game. Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac both got off the schneid on Saturday as well. Bryce Salvador's (foot) return spelled demotion for Tim Sestito.