After soaking up this week's developments, the biggest trend I found to be complicating your upcoming weekly schedule will be the coming and going of injured players. So far, the NHLPA's health benefits department has been the busiest organization. So without any ado, let us count the groin pains of the NHL.
HSA (Health Savings Plan)
Preparing to host this year's All-Star game is proving to be more taxing than the Carolina Hurricanes (9-9-1) expected. Since the beginning of this campaign, the Hurricanes have been a perpetual win one/lose one team. Though he has a tendency to lose focus, Cam Ward (9-7) is certainly looking more stable this year, having letting up three goals or less in 12 of 16 starts. Eric Staal, nine goals (23 points), and Jussi Jokinen (13 points) are keeping things stable while the value talent comes around. Though first-year RW Jeff Skinner has been on just about every blogger page the past few weeks, he's pointless (-5) in his last four games. Jim Rutherford (GM) seems to have gotten the better end of the stick, picking up D Ian White and LW Brett Sutter from Calgary. This may be the shakeup Raleigh needs, just in the nick of time. As you can see below, their upcoming schedule requires a bit of a wake-up call.
This week: vs. WAS, @BOS, WAS
How about some quick word association? When I say Columbus Blue Jackets (11-6-0), you say ... Yeah, Rick Nash is quite the face of a franchise, but what happens when he falls (groin) prey to an injury? After missing the 5-1 loss to Colorado, and a four day rest, Nash netted three goals in the Jackets next two wins against Los Angeles and Anaheim. Despite Columbus' record, it's been a slow start for Nash (nine goals, -2) and some guys are necessary to a franchise's survival.
Regardless of what I say, Rick Nash is not the be-all of the Blue Jackets. While Steve Mason (6-5) has gotten nearly 70 percent of the crease time, Mathieu Garon seems more in control of himself, posting a 4-1 record and .950 save percentage. Derick Brassard who leads the team with 13 points, has been an underused center (started by less than 50 percent CBS of owners) this year. Another Jackets C, Antoine Vermette, who is a +4 (3 points) in his last three games, seems to have broken out of his five game pointless streak. Columbus will look to lean on D Mike Commodore, who recently returned to game action from a sprained thumb. Keep an eye on yet another C, Andrew Murray, who should also break the lineup soon.
This week: vs. NSH, @NYI, vs. DET, @DET
All season I've been avoiding summarizing the Washington Capitals (14-5-1) schedule. How much could I possibly clue you in on? Trade for the Alexander's (Alexander Semin, Alexander Ovechkin), hold on tight to any goalie favored by head coach Bruce Boudreau and enjoy the ride. After what Caps fans may consider a mediocre (6-3) start, DC's only prolific professional sports team has been a commanding 10-2-1 since October 23rd. Though their road record (4-4-1) leaves room for concern, there's nothing misleading about an overall 10-1 record at home.
Michal Neuvirth, who was supposed to have played second fiddle to Semyon Varlamov this season, has been nothing short of phenomenal. Posting a 12-3 record (2.56 GAA), Neuvirth is the fiddler, and Varlamov (1-0 with Hershey) is still rehabbing his groin. For now, Braden Holtby (2-1) has been solid backing up Neuvirth, but should be shipped back to Hershey once Varlamov gets his groove. Speaking of the Hershey Bears team, RW, Andrew Gordon has 10 goals (22 points) and 68 shots on goals this year.
This week: @ NJ, CAR vs. TB, CAR
Deservingly, most of Montreal's (12-5-1) press this year has been on goalie Carey Price. With a 2.11 GAA, 3 shutouts and an 11-6 record, no one can downplay his importance to the Habs. The best goaltending in the world can only get you so far, hence the five team losses. Aside from Tomas Plekanec (20 points) and LW Andrei Kostitsyn's surprising quick start (14 points, 42 hits), it's who's not producing that may leave the Canadiens searching for a new provider (trade). Namely but not suprising, Scott Gomez, who in 19 games has a mere two goals and four assists. Although Michael Cammalleri has managed 13 points (five goals), yours truly is one of those fantasy owners who has already shipped off the talented 40-goal scorer Cammalleri for a dependable goalie. Looking strong for now, first place Montreal will play four games in six nights before taking three days off.
This week: @PHI vs. LA, @ATL, vs. BUF
Coaches of the following teams will also divvy up a minimum of 240 minutes this week: Boston, Calgary, Dallas, Florida, Nashville, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa.
Semyon Varlamov's groin is old news in a rash of goalie injuries. Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin is the latest NHL netminder to hit the IR with a groin issue. While Martin Gerber (career record) gets the call from Oklahoma City, expect to see Devan Debnyk get the majority of starts till he proves unworthy.
Early reports are stating, Jean-Sebastien Giguere (1-2 weeks) will join Khabibulin as he was pulled this past Thursday due to a groin strain as well. Jonas Gustavsson will become the primary goalie, so hands off the itchy blue-chip trigger. Jussi Rynnas will stay put in the AHL as James Reimer moves to backup on the depth charts in Toronto.
Avs goalie Craig Anderson stepped between the pipes for the first times in 15 games as Colorado hosted the New York Rangers. After a solid (25 of 26 shorts) performance, looks like it's back to the pine for Peter Budaj.
There's nothing to gain on Long Island, as the Islanders (4-11-3) and new head coach Jack Capuano use a two game schedule to get back to the basics.
Consider the price of your co-pay on those playing two games in Vancouver, Phoenix and Anaheim.
FSA (Flex Spending Account) - The following players are owned by less than 50% of CBS owners and may be on the rise or prove to be a good FA pickup.
Rostislav Klesla (d, CLM): +15 with nearly 20 TOI
Jonas Gustavsson (g, TOR): 2-3-1, 2.55 GAA, temporary starter
Logan Couture (C, SJ): eight goals, 66 shots on goal
David Jones (RW, COL): averaging 17 minutes of TOI, 12 points, +9
Chad LaRose (LW, CAR): six goals, 6 assists
R.I.P. to a respected coach of my youth, Pat Burns lost his fight with cancer 1952 – 2010
The Full Schedule Grid