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Schedule Analysis: Staying Blue

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"

In the grid, you'll notice some extra columns, showing you the remaining games for each of the 30 NHL teams. Welcome to the final month of the season fantasy owners.

GRTS = Games Remaining This Season

Four Aces
In contrast to avoiding players on the four teams (Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, Islanders) playing two contests this week, five teams will give you players with four tilts.

Arizona has been out of the hunt for a while, but this week they play their last four-game slate. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (upper body) did not end up missing any time. Perhaps Louis Domingue will get a start or two this week.

Boston also plays it's last four-game week over the next seven days. After hosting Buffalo, the Bruins will have their hands full with Ottawa on the road and a two-game Florida swing over the course of a four-night span.

Montreal has 11 tilts over the next 21 days, then a two-game final week. Lars Eller had himself a good Saturday night.

St. Louis has four this week, two next week and four again the following week, so don't go dropping any slumpers yet. Zbynek Michalek finally made his Blues debut, in quiet fashion.

Vancouver is one of eight organizations with just about (14 games over the next 29 days) a game every other night. With 5-0 and 4-0 wins over Columbus and Philadelphia, respectively, it may be a good bet to double down on the Canucks as the Jackets and Flyers visit this week. But walk away from the table when the Canucks travel to play their Pacific foes (combined 1-4-1 against the Kings and 'Yotes). Kevin Bieksa (hand) and Brad Richardson (ankle) each logged an assist in their return to the lineup on Saturday, but Alex Burrows sat out with an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, Chris Higgins (lower body) returned to the lineup and extended his point streak. Eddie Lack has been decent while Ryan Miller (knee) has been out.

Three of a Kind
As always, we focus on three teams with a favorable three-game docket and three teams with not such a favorable week.

Hold 'Em
While none of their previous wins against this week's opponents have been convincing, there's something to be said about history repeating itself. Whether the Rangers falter now or later, it's bound to happen before the playoffs start. No team can keep up at this pace: 32-7-3 over the last 41 games heading into Sunday. Still, the Rangers are trying to win just their third President's Trophy and first since their Stanley Cup championship in 1994, so there's no reason to let up. Kevin Klein (upper body) won't be able to help with that goal. Henrik Lundqvist isn't likely to help much this week. MH2 (J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes) is easily one of the most underestimated lines in the NHL, but are any of these players worthy of a pick up in anything other than deep formats? Martin St. Louis broke his silence last week and seems to be ramping up for another clump of points. Combined 6-0 against this week's opponents.

Pittsburgh has three on the road (18-8-7) but should manhandle (outscoring 12-7) the Devils and have no reason to lose to the flailing Stars and Yotes. Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) returned on Saturday to the tune of 21+ minutes of ice time. Sidney Crosby (illness) was a late scratch in Saturday's loss, but should be considered day-to-day. Evgeni Malkin (undisclosed) should also be considered questionable for Sunday's game against Detroit. Andrew Ebbett was recalled from the AHL. Combined 3-2 against this week's opponents

Washington isn't all that bad on the road, and only Minnesota is vying for the postseason like the Caps. Brooks Orpik (lower body) and Jay Beagle (upper body) are not expected to play Sunday against the Bruins. Justin Peters suffered a lower-body injury on Friday, so we could see Philipp Grubauer or Phoenix Copley recalled. Combined 2-2 against this week's opponents.

Fold 'Em
Minnesota has a trio of high-scoring teams on their schedule. Good thing Minnesota (tied for the league-lead with Colorado in starting the same goaltender on back-to-back nights) does not have a back-to-back occurrence, not like you would see anyone but Devan Dubnyk in goal. Combined 2-1-2 against this week's opponents.

Sure, Philadelphia has Edmonton, but they're on the road where their record is unbearable (9-18-8) and their playoff hopes are fading quickly. The Flyers also have a very light schedule (11 games remaining, see other Three Card Poker below) as the season comes to an end. Center Nick Cousins has blown up the AHL with 38 points in his last 29 games. Michael Del Zotto (upper body) was expected to sit out Sunday against the Senators. Combined 1-1-1 against this week's opponents.

Despite a season of uncertainty inside and outside the locker room, Winnipeg has shown some grit. Although they're in a fight for the final wild-card spot, their experience and this week's schedule could put the kibosh on that. Tyler Myers (upper body) did not play on Saturday. Combined 0-5-1 against this week's opponents.

Three Card Poker
In a new sub-section, we highlight a few teams (except Philadelphia) that will have the lightest schedule as the regular season draws to a close over the next four weeks. Averaging fewer than three games per week to close things out should make you second guess that free-agent pick up or retaining a slumping forward

How much longer will Anaheim's little problem in the crease last? Despite a six-goal showing last week, John Gibson is increasingly showing more dependability than Frederik Andersen. Jakob Silfverberg has really turned things up lately.

Nashville got two third-period goals to sneak out a much-needed win against Los Angeles on Saturday.

The Islanders have slipped up lately, but Josh Bailey has kept up the production. While Michal Neuvirth won't likely be needed this week, the team has two back-to-back occurrences left this season and may look to rest Jaroslav Halak for the playoffs. Nick Leddy (upper body) skated on Saturday. Ryan Strome was a healthy scratch Saturday against the Canadiens. Don't stress, very likely a move by Jack Capuano to get the young forward producing again.

Here's two more teams that are looking beyond this season and will average just three games per week:

Dallas is already planning their off-season. John Klingberg (upper body) is listed as probable on Sunday.

Toronto will relatively soon be put out of their misery. At least David Booth has finally come around. Tim Erixon (illness) did not play on Saturday. Nazem Kadri was decent in his return from suspension.

Back-to-Back Jacks
One team will play two back-to-back occurrences this week, allowing for rogue points on a back-up goaltender spot start. If you dare.

Buffalo has one of the busiest schedules over the next four weeks, playing 14 games, including two back-to-back sets. Zach Bogosian did not play in Saturday's loss to the Rangers.

Other RotoWire Reports: Brandon Dubinsky (illness) looks to be in line for a return this Sunday against Carolina, making Luke Adam (assigned to AHL Springfield) expendable, especially with Boone Jenner (back) traveling with the team. But Sergei Bobrovsky (illness) will likely be a game-time decision. Matt Carle (hip) had an assist in his first game back. Patrik Elias (back) is considered day-to-day. Dan Ellis has done quite well, but Roberto Luongo is expected to return any day now. Alec Martinez (concussion) skated with the team on Saturday.