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NHL Schedule Analysis: Predatory Pairs of Games

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 four day hockey schedule is behind us and it's time to get to work. With just one light night (Thursday) ahead of us this week, it's time to stretch those hammies and get ready for one of the busiest weekly schedules of the NHL season thus far.

Back-to-Back Jacks

Thirteen teams will go without a b2b occurrence, so backup goalies will have to be chosen carefully. Of the remaining 17 teams playing a b2b occurrence, here are two teams that give you a distinct advantage.

Despite their obvious inefficiencies on the road (9-7-1), we think it's fair to say it's Christmas come late for a Montreal squad who finish their five game road trip with just one quality opponent (Pittsburgh on Sunday). Dustin Tokarski is a ripe for the picking.

Nashville also plays two b2b occurrences, and although they only play three of four from the road, just like the Canadiens, they have a bit less confidence (10-7-1) away from their home crowd. While we're huge fans of picking up a busy backup goalie, we're just not sure Carter Hutton provides a confidence against what is clearly the NHL's toughest strength of schedule.

Other goalies backup goalies worthy of a look might be James Reimer, Martin Jones, Nicklas Backstrom and Thomas Greiss if he can make it back in time for Friday or Saturday.

Two Small Pair

Every team in the league will play at least three games and 18 will play four. Here are just a few to keep in mind. Boston, Carolina, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Pittsburgh play three of four from home while the rest of the 18 teams playing four tilts are playing two or more from the road, including the following two of the three remaining (Montreal above) organizations who have all road games.

After falling (4-1) to Nashville out of the break, it should be interesting to see how Philadelphia responds and finishes out their eight game road trip.

Toronto has a progressively easier schedule as the week develops. James Reimer should pick up a start against Minnie or Winnie and could be a solid play. Leo Komarov (concussion) has been cleared to resume non-contact practices.

Four Aces

The Islanders may provide an advantage from the FA pool. After hosting the Caps on Monday, they will have a very easy schedule out of the break with tilts against Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton on the docket. Ryan Strome and maybe Frans Nielsen could be useful out of the pool. Jaroslav Halak skated on Saturday and could return as early as Monday. Kevin Poulin got the start over Chad Johnson in Saturday's loss. Expect Johnson in goal on Monday if Halak remains out.

Three of a Kind

Every week we focus on three teams playing a tilted schedule in either direction:

Hold 'Em

After a shootout win over Anaheim, Arizona has two wins in a row and they're task with the Flyers, Stars and Jackets. Devan Dubnyk picked up the win against the Ducks. Lauri Kropikoski returned and played 11-plus minutes in the win as well.

As long as Detroit can play their style of hockey without fault, they can seemingly pick up easy wins against under-achieving teams (Boston, New Jersey, Vancouver) this week, but it could get disastrous as well. Niklas Kronwall (upper body) logged two assists in Saturday's OT win.

Rangers have given out a Broadway hat (best player in a win) for eight games in a row. While it's possible they could falter in Dallas, it's very possible this bubble does not burst this week with a very balanced schedule against highly overmatched Florida and Buffalo. J.T. Miller found himself as the healthy scratch on Saturday, but Lee Stempniak and Tanner Glass had a quiet game on Saturday and that could change on Monday.

Fold 'Em

This is very likely Anaheim's first appearance in the Fold'em section. Although they can change direction quick and they're 7-2-1 over their last 10 tilts, something about their schedule this week (SJS, STL, NSH) is a bit unsettling. A rehabbing John Gibson (AHL) could sneak back into the fold if Anaheim goalies have a bad week. Francois Beauchemin (finger) returned in Saturday's loss to the tune of 22-plus minutes.

While Washington does play two of three at home, demoralizing loses to the Isles and Blackhawks could leave the Panthers in perfect position for a pouncing. Brooks Orpik had a nice fantasy night in Saturday's shutout of Pittsburgh.

Winnipeg has been much better on the road, so you'll have to excuse us if we fail to see an advantage in their four game homestand, much less against Minnesota, the Islanders and a streaky Toronto team. Michael Hutchinson continues to steal starts from Ondrej Pavelec.

TABLE TALK (WITH PHIL NAESSENS)

Every week, I hop on with Phil Naessens (http://phillipnaessens.wordpress.com/) and here's what we spoke about this week.

1). A listener wanted to know about trading Marian Gaborik for Loui Eriksson?

Tempting trade, especially with Eriksson picking up the slack as of late. I think the problem I'll have with the trade is picking up one sporadic point-collector on two teams both under-achieving. Overall, they will both have decent, but still less than a point per game in January and likely a very slumpy February. That said, March is a good month for both. If I'm you, I'm sticking with an older first line Gaborik over the younger, but second line Eriksson. So no…

2). A listener wanted to know if Craig Smith is worth picking up this week? Well, four games in a week is a good start.

With Smith, I'm still left feeling the stagnancy from an irrelevant Nashville offense and the 25-year-old streaky Smith is a huge part of that legacy. Now, I think there are two key variables to Smith's potential this week. First and foremost, three of four on the road, though, the type of jersey doesn't seem to impact his production as nine of his season's 19 points have come on the road. The other variable that concerns me is two of his four tilts come on a b2b occurrence, and as Preds fans found out before the holiday break, that might not be a good thing. After posting two goals against Columbus, the next night he put up goose eggs and a minus-1.Another side note is quality of the Preds schedule - the Hawks, Blues, Ducks and Kings. All four teams are in the top half of the league in goals allowed. Smith has just one assist and is a minus-4 in four combined games against Chicago and St. Louis, while he does have a goal and an assist in a previous contest against Los Angeles. Career wise, Smith does have decent numbers (four goals, six points) in 10 games against Anaheim. While he might make for a good daily value when they head west, personally, I would not lock him into a weekly lineup.

3). A listener wanted to know if Nick Bonino is a good pickup this week?

Since Vancouver is playing just three tilts, he's automatically at a disadvantage than guys from 18 other teams you could choose that are playing a full four game slate. However, His career numbers suggest good value against both the Kings and Sharks. If you can handle a very likely quiet game against the Red Wings (1 point in 7 career games), I would suggest he wouldn't be a bad pick up among guys with three game schedules, otherwise, choose a good player with more bang for your buck.

All-In (FanDuel Value Picks)

Based on split stat trends, here's a few off the hip individual player suggestions for your week at FanDuel. Generally speaking, old veterans who the Christmas break may have done some good should be considered targets, so check out the career numbers on matchups for guys like Alex Tanguay.

Monday: We're definitely liking Derick Brassard's production on Mondays, look him for to grab a few points against the Stars.
Tuesday: Jori Lehtera against Nashville and Aaron Ekblad against the Habs.
Wednesday: Tommy Wingels versus Anaheim.
Saturday: Mike Ribeiro against Anaheim and Tyler Ennis against the Rangers.