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Schedule Analysis: Four Aces

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 half of the league playing a four-game schedule, you're hard-pressed to find a day off this week, much less an advantage. So let's pick apart some trends.

*B2B (Back-to-Back) occurrences in bold

Four Aces

It's important to note, not all 15 teams playing a four-game slate will play on b2b nights.  In this week's Four Aces, we focus on 11 organizations that will endure games on b2b nights, including the five that begin the week under such circumstances, so weekly owners will need to make a quick decision.
Boston (MTL, CHI, at WAS, at PHI) plays from TD Garden before hitting the road for two rival games. Johnny Boychuk (ankle) logged 22-minutes of ice time on Saturday, while Torey Krug served as the healthy scratch. The Bruins have a combined record of 3-3-1 against this week's opponents
Chicago (DAL, at BOS, at OTT, at PIT) hosts Dallas then heads East. Brent Seabrook snapped a six-game point-scoring drought on Friday. The Blackhawks have a combined record of 6-1 against this week's opponents.
Detroit (at CBJ, MTL, at TOR, TBL) plays three of four on the road. Darren Helm (concussion) played 12-minutes in his return on Saturday while Jakub Kindl has been getting power-play time. Detroit has a combined 5-3-3 record against this week's opponents.
After hosting five straight in Los Angeles (at PHI, at WAS, at PIT, WIN), the Kings also travel East. Head coach Darryl Sutter expects Dustin Brown (upper body) to travel with the team. Five of Trevor Lewis' 10 points on the season have come in the last 10 games. The Kings have a combined record of 2-3 against this week's opponents.
Montreal (at BOS, BUF, at DET, at FLA) plays three of four from the road. Brandon Prust (upper body) is done for the year. Rene Bourque returned to the lineup with a goal and an assist after being a healthy scratch for five straight tilts. Lars Eller did not return to Saturday's game after leaving with a lower-body injury. The Canadiens have a combined record of 6-4-1 against this week's opponents.
While it's not likely a trending issue, Nashville (COL, BUF, at DAL, WAS) head coach Barry Trotz actually pulled Pekka Rinne on Friday in favor of Carter Hutton and Preds came away with the win in Calgary. The Predators have a combined record of 4-4 against this week's opponents.
Ottawa (at TBL, at FLA, CHI, CGY) starts out the week on a b2b Florida swing. Craig Anderson could be the backup against the Panthers, but Craig Anderson (undisclosed) is expected to miss the Sens next two games at least. Andrew Hammond has been back-up to Robin Lehner. Bobby Ryan left Saturday's game after crashing into the boards but isn't expected to miss any action. The Senators have a combined record of 3-5-1 against this week's opponents.
Phoenix (at NYR, at PIT, at NJD, MIN) plays in three tough Eastern Conference arenas. The Coyotes have a combined record of 4-1 against this week's opponents.

Pittsburgh (PHX, LOS, at CBJ, CHI) hosts three of four this week, but none of them are considered easy wins. The slumber of Olli Maatta continued in Saturday's win. The Penguins have a combined record of 5-2 against this week's opponent, including a 4-0 record against Columbus.
San Jose (at CGY, at EDM, WIN, at COL) plays three of four on the road. Brad Stuart (upper body) did not return to the lineup as expected on Saturday and Raffi Torres' (general soreness) status is still up in the air. The Sharks have a combined record of 7-3-1 against this week's opponent.
Tampa Bay (OTT, NYI, at BUF, at DET) will play two at home then head out for a b2b occurrence on the road. Valtteri Filppula, Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan are working well together. The Lightning have a combined 10-2-1 against this week's opponents, including a 4-0 record against Detroit.
One Pair

Sure New Jersey (PHX, at NYI) has four power-play goals while outscoring the Islanders 11-6 in the season series. Sure their only game against Phoenix was a 3-2 loss. But are two games enough to wet your whistle?
Back-to-Back Jacks

It's happened often during this frenzied and compacted Olympic-year schedule, the two b2b occurrence team is here again.
There may be hope for Dallas (WIN@CHI / NSH, at STL) as Kari Lehtonen returned and shined bright in Saturday's 3-1 win. However, even as a former proponent of the movement in Florida, Tim Thomas has not been sharp this season regardless of what team jersey he has worn. That said, with Nashville at home and St. Louis on the road in b2b nights, Thomas is likely to draw the Preds' mostly hapless offense with Lehtonen getting the Blues. Spot start or not, we're just not sure we trust the aging Thomas anymore.

One Eyed Jacks

It's certainly one of the strangest trends of this week's schedule,  three teams playing four games spread out over seven nights WITHOUT a back-to-back occurrence. Number one on the depth charts could mean a four start week for your goalie, or does it?
The battle for Calgary (SJS, ANA, NYR, at OTT) netminder supremacy is likely to go on for another week or so. But consider this your red flag as the Flames will have just one b2b occurrence for the rest of the season. Who will lead this budding bunch down to the finish line of another disappointing campaign? Joni Ortio or Joey MacDonald? How about Karri Ramo (knee) who returned victorious last night? Ok, it was an 8-1 win over Edmonton, but can you afford to be picky at this time of the season? Ramo should take over the reigns from here on out, just as long as he stays healthy and don't expect a ton of defensive help. For now, Ortio has been returned to the AHL and it appears Joey MacDonald is your back-up. Sorry dynasty league Olivier Roy owners, with a 3.31 GAA through 12 games in the AHL, it doesn't appear he'll go past Abbotsford this season.
Rangers (PHX, PHI, at CGY, at EDM)
Cam Talbot owners may want look elsewhere for spot starts, no really. This pastSaturday was the last b2b occurrence of the season for the blueshirts. So if Talbot gets a start, it will likely be because Henrik Lundqvist has continued his post-Olympic struggles. However, between Saturday's shutout win over rival New Jersey and head coach Alain Vigneault's quote to Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record, it's King Henrik for the foreseeable future or until the playoff-race loosens up.
There's nary a hesitation when it comes to Philadelphia's (LOS, at NYR, TOR, BOS) number one goaltender. Steve Mason has been a rock lately, allowing just eight goals over his last five starts.  However, there's a kink in his four-start chances. While Mason is 3-0 (1 SO) against the Kings and Rangers, he's an unsightly combined 0-2-1 (5.35 GAA) in three starts against Boston and Toronto this season. Looking through his career stats, Mason is ordinarily much better against the Bruins (3-1-1, 2.16) than the Leafs (2-3-1, 3.96 GAA). If career numbers have any say in head coach Craig Berube's decision, Ray Emery will get the tilt against Toronto and Mason will start the other three.
Three of a Kind

With the schedule at a crazy pace, you will notice this week's grid denotes all teams without a b2b occurrence.
While Buffalo (at MTL, at NSH, TBL) has two possible number one men in town, as ofSunday, neither one (Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth) is healthy enough to compete. Nathan Lieuwen is scheduled to get the start today (3/23/14) and Matt Hackett on Tuesday to start the week against an inconsistent Canadiens offense. The SA always puts their money on the pedigree so we're betting Lieuwen gets sent back down when either Neuvirth or Enroth return.
Carolina (NYI, at FLA, CBJ) is a gaudy 7-2 versus this week's opponents. Regardless of Cam Ward's win over Winnipeg, Anton Khudobin (4-1, combined 1.83 GAA against this week's opponents) owners must commence the salivation.
In a decision without drama, Colorado's (at NSH, VAN, SJS) head coach Patrick Roy announced newly acquired Reto Berra will not dress for the playoffs. With no b2b occurrences, this week doesn't look good either. While Semyon Varlamov hasn't exactly been sharp in his starts against Nashville (2-1, 3.36 GAA) and San Jose (1-0-1, 3.37 GAA), here's his chance to tune-up. While it's possible to see Jean-Sebastien Giguere, we wouldn't go betting the farm. Roy was also quoted saying John Mitchell (back) could be out any length of time up to 10 days.
After Saturday night's 8-1 loss to Calgary, we're not sure who's more embarrassed, Edmonton (SJS, ANA, NYR) or the SA for its suggestion that Viktor Fasth brings a reason for optimism between the Edmonton pipes. Ben Scrivens will take on three tough opponents this week.
Florida (OTT, CAR, MTL) has a plausible schedule, so perhaps Roberto Luongo can bring you a win or two this week. Sean Bergenheim (lower body) returned to action on Saturday.
The Islanders (at CAR, at TBL, NJD) have given up four goals or more in six of their nine games in the month of March. Anders Nilsson or Evgeni Nabokov? It's almost like giving a man sentenced to death his option of injection or firing squad. As for Kevin Poulin, he's only given up four goals twice in eight starts since being re-assigned to AHL Bridgeport, but that likely doesn't equate into the Isles situation this week. Kyle Okposo (lower body) did not practice on Saturday.
St. Louis (at TOR, MIN, DAL) head coach Ken Hitchcock seems to be riding Ryan Miller and why not? Brian Elliott has not started a game since March 9 (3-2 win over Minnesota) and while we might suggest his absence continues, sooner-or-later, Hitch has got to be thinking about giving his netminder a rest here and there.  Miller's split stats on the season are afflicted by his time with Buffalo, so we're staying out of this one.
Winnipeg (at DAL, at SJS, at LOS) has three tough opponents, including the Stars who they trail for the Wild Card spot. Subtract Al Montoya's four goals allowed to the Avs last week and he's been very good in the month of March. While Ondre Pavelec is with the team and could return, Montoya will have to perform hideously against one of these teams to hand the job back over. Dustin Byfuglien, Jim Slater and Zach Bogosian all returned in Saturday's 3-2 loss to Carolina.
OTHER ROTOWIRE REPORTS: Mikael Backlund has a plus-7 rating with four goals and three assists in his last five games. Jay Beagle did not register a point while centering for Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson on Saturday. Matt Beleskey (illness) and Nick Bonino (lower body) practiced on Saturday. Jonathan Bernier should be set to return this week while his teammate Dave Bolland (ankle) played on Saturdayfor the first time since early-November forcing Peter Holland to be returned to AHL Toronto. Alexandre Burrows (hand) is expected to miss Sunday's (3/23/14) tilt and should be considered a questionable start for weekly owners. Daniel Carcillo played for Derek Dorsett (illness) on Saturday. Steve Downie left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. Jiri Hudler (upper body) returned in Saturday night's win. Ryan Kesler (knee) was expected to be re-examined by the team's medical staff on Sunday. John Moore was diagnosed with a concussion. Daniel Sedin (hamstring) is expected to returnon Sunday, but weekly owners should monitor the game against the Sabres to ensure he doesn't re-aggravate the injury. Sami Vatanen (lower body) practiced on Saturday. Nail Yakupov (ankle) did not play on Saturday.
Is this thing on? Please, feel free to sound-off in the comments section. For good-or-ill, let us know what you else you need to prepare for the upcoming week in the NHL.
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