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Right on Schedule: No holiday break on the ice

by | Rotowire.com
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Nearly halfway through the 2010-11 campaign, The Winter Classic will be the first NHL broadcast of the season for The National Broadcasting Company. With all due respect to said-network's coverage, does anyone remember the days when a major network cared about season-long loyalty? Versus is slowly becoming a respectable cable network and it's in large-part thanks to Hockey viewers. But let's get one thing straight ... Versus has helped earned some respect back for the NHL.

This past Tuesday night, Versus televised the coming out party for Andrew Gordon of the Washington Capitals. By the end of the game, it had an atmosphere much like that of Sunday Night Baseball, featuring a freshly called up pitching phenom who just threw seven strong. I must admit, it's going to be nice to watch Sunday afternoon hockey. Point being, instead of schedule algorithms this week, let's focus on the television network schedule most committed to the NHL in the long run.

Minnesota Wild (16-13-4) @ Columbus Blue Jackets (17-14-3)

December 27th -- Columbus is last-place in what is arguably the most balanced (Central) division in the league. The ice could be run amuck with deficiencies as both teams are struggling to light the lamp. Columbus is ranked 29th in Power Play Goals, while Minnesota are worst in the league with less than 900 shots-taken.The Blue Jackets are 9-9-1 at home this season and the Wild are a modest 8-6-2 on the road. Thus far the season series is tied at one, with each team having stolen a one-goal road victory.

Previous match-ups
Sat, Nov 6, @ Columbus - Minnesota 3-2
Sat, Oct 16, @ Minnesota - Columbus 3-2

End to End

MIN Niklas Backstrom, who had seemingly lost his job to Jose Theodore, is now on a 3-game winning streak. Having forfeited only a goal-a-game over that span, it should also be noted Backstrom has a 1.81 GAA in four career games at Nationwide Arena.

CLB Goalies, this portion of our week is brought to you by Ibuprofen. Both Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon have had their issues. Even though Garon has been getting most of the nods in December, both goalies have taken turns being pulled after allowing six goals. Your guess is as good as mine here, but I lean towards Garon.

Boston Bruins (18-11-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (20-10-5)

December 28th -- Much could be said about the Lightning, but mostly how they have shown spells of ambivalence. During an important month with only one Western Conference opponent, the Boston Bruins have been the Jekyll and Hyde of the NHL. The beginning days (4-0-1) of December were kind, but the Bruins went 2-3-1 in their last six heading into the Christmas break. Third in the league with a plus-105, the B's roster has merely five players with a minus-rating. However, these are two teams that have headed in different directions since their last meeting. The Lightning are 6-1-2 in since their embarrassing 8-1 road loss to the Bruins on the 1st of this month.

Boston left-winger, Milan Lucic was enjoying a point-per-game over the last eight games. Since then, Lucic has been a minus-two and 22 PIM thanks to a bit of a brawl in the Bruins 4-1 win over Atlanta. Lucic, who earned two minutes calling zebra Dan O'Rourke "a joke" and "embarrassing," had a feisty night. There have been no reports that Lucic suffered an injury after the cheap hit by Freddy Meyer in that game. Following Tampa, Boston heads to Hotlanta for the second time in seven days.

Previous match-ups
Thu, Dec 2, @Boston - Boston 8-1
Mon, Nov 22, @TB - Tampa 3-1

End to End

TB Dan Ellis has just about taken the reigns from Mike Smith since that aforementioned loss. Ellis, (10-5-5) is 4-1-2 in the month of December. This is a man looking to get his GAA (3.03) below three, and I think he will bring Tampa Bay to at least a semifinal playoff.

BOS Tim Thomas (16-4-3) is without a doubt a top MVP candidate as we flip the calendar. Despite fighting off a persistent Tuukka Rask, Thomas has been solid again in the month of December, sporting a 5-2-1 record. It's no surprise that the Bruins have been shutout in three of four of Thomas' losses.

Phoenix Coyotes (15-11-7) at St. Louis Blues (17-12-5)

December 31st -- Neither team has yet to dig in their heels, nor is this a juicy match up of exciting hockey towns. However, both organizations have righted the ship in recent years. What does this mean to us for New Years Eve hockey? Quite honestly, I'll be suite-side with family for the Stars and Canucks at the American Airlines Center.

Either way, I will not be surprised if this game has an edgy pace all-night. Alex Steen is leading the Blues with 11 goals (six in December) and slowly becoming a leader. Despite an over-zealous style and minus-9 rating for the season, point man Keith Yandle has been a huge lift to blue-line offense for Phoenix. The 'Yotes went 1-3-1 on this road trip heading into Sunday's action with Dallas.

Previous match-ups
Sat, Nov 13, @ Phoenix - Phoenix 5-3

End to End

PHO Ilya Bryzgalov (upper-body/flu) was rumored to be returning to action against the Stars. If I ruled the desert, I'd sit him one more game as a precaution. They could give a shot to former Dallas Stars prospect goalie Matt Climie. Only a week ago, Climie relieved Jason LaBarbera after giving up five goals in 22 shots. Barring any setbacks, I expect Bryzgalov between the pipes against the Blues offense.

STL Jaroslav Halak -- remove a three-day, two-game total of 13 GA allowed in mid-November, and Halak has been irreplaceable. Even heading into the Christmas break (1-3-1), Halak can make or break this team while we wait for raw talent getting to know one another.

Out of Broadcast Area

Brian "The Hair" Engblom was right last week. New Jersey is in serious trouble. I don't think anyone noticed, but this organization has leaned on Marty Brodeur like the U.S. leaned on foreign oil in 1990's. Could we see a fire sale in Jersey?

NJ this week: vs. NYR, ATL, @ CAR

I hate to sound like the rest of the NHL world, but can we actually count Buffalo out after the loss of leading goal-scorer Derek Roy? Roy, who had 10 goals (25 points) tore his left quadriceps tendon and is expected to take four to six months to recover.

BUF this week: @ EDM, CAL vs. BOS

Sleeper Alert

CLB Jakub Voracek, recently broke a goal-scoring drought. Voracek, who has six goals (20 points), has now been combined with Derick Brassard and R.J. Umberger to make up Columbus' second line. Available in 40% of CBS leagues, you may want to keep an eye on this young former first-rounder.

This week: vs.MIN @TOR vs. OTT @NSH

NYR Derek Stepan, really not as much a sleeper as he is underdeveloped talent, Stepan has kept step with the NHL. After a brilliant hat-trick in his NHL debut on Rangers opening night, Stepan has spent most of the season QUIETLY adapting. Nonetheless, the 20-year-old has three goals in his last three games.

This week: vs. NYI, @ NJ, TB, FLA

As for the mid-season Super Bowl-like event, weather.com reports a 30% chance of flurries for Saturday. Sid and the Great Alexander's ... sounds like a Glam/Rock outfit. Just as you're shaking away the fog of a New Year and/or hangover, tell your family and friends the game at Heinz Field just started. Even if they complain at first, after the show (see Cooke flop) these two teams put on last Thursday, you WILL BE thanked later.

The Full Schedule Grid

Team Away Home Total
Atlanta 3 1 4
Boston 4 0 4
Columbus 2 2 4
Colorado 2 2 4
Dallas 2 2 4
Detroit 2 2 4
Los Angeles 2 2 4
Minnesota 1 3 4
Montreal 3 1 4
N.Y. Rangers 3 1 4
Philadelphia 4 0 4
Phoenix 2 2 4
San Jose 3 1 4
Anaheim 1 2 3
Buffalo 2 1 3
Carolina 2 1 3
Calgary 1 2 3
Chicago 2 1 3
Edmonton 0 3 3
Florida 0 3 3
New Jersey 1 2 3
Nashville 1 2 3
N.Y. Islanders 2 1 3
Ottawa 1 2 3
Pittsburgh 2 1 3
St. Louis 0 3 3
Tampa Bay 0 3 3
Toronto 2 1 3
Vancouver 2 1 3
Washington 1 1 2

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Player News
Jeff Deslauriers
Deslauriers Heads To Kings Camp On Tryout Basis
Jeff Deslauriers, G, ANA
9/2/2014
News: Jeff Deslauriers will take part in training camp with the Kings on a tryout basis, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: Jeff Deslauriers has little hope of claiming the backup gig for the NHL squad behind Jonathan Quick, but he does figure to merit consideration for the AHL affiliate in Manchester. The 30-year-old appeared in 40 games for AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, going 20-15-3 with a 2.58 GAA and .895 save percentage.

Zac Rinaldo
Flyers, Rinaldo Agree To Two-Year Extension
Zac Rinaldo, C, PHI
9/2/2014
News: Zac Rinaldo agreed to a two-year, $1.7 million extension with the Flyers on Tuesday.
Analysis: Because Zac Rinaldo previously agreed to a two-year deal with the Flyers last April, the extension will keep him on the books through the next three seasons. He proved to be a key cog on the Flyers' checking line in 2013-14, totaling 231 hits and 153 penalty minutes while averaging just 7:41 per ice time. He's shown little scoring acumen during his time in Philadelphia, but few players in the NHL offer more physicality at the forward spot.

Sheldon Souray
Ducks' Souray Might Not Be Able To Keep Playing
Sheldon Souray, D, ANA
9/1/2014
News: GM Bob Murray said Sheldon Souray's career remains in jeopardy as a result of his season-ending wrist procedure in January, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: With the beginning of training camp closing in on the Ducks, it sounds like the team is preparing for the possibility of life without Sheldon Souray for a second consecutive season. Souray hasn't received clearance to begin practicing in full, and his advancing age (he's 38 years old) certainly doesn't work to his advantage. Even if Souray is able to return to some semblance of health at some point this season, expect him to play much less than the 20:56 minutes per game he averaged in 44 contests during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

John Gibson
Ducks' Gibson, Andersen To Battle For No. 1 Duties
John Gibson, G, ANA
9/1/2014
News: John Gibson will battle Frederik Andersen for duties as the Ducks' No. 1 netminder in training camp, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: While Andersen, a fellow second-year goalie, probably has the advantage heading into camp since he played well in a larger sample of games than John Gibson, the 21-year-old certainly proved his mettle for the Ducks in the postseason. Thrust into action for the final four games of the team's second-round series with the Kings, Gibson saved 102 of 111 shots (.919 save%) and turned in a shutout in Game 4, convincing the Ducks to let veteran Jonas Hiller walk in free agency. With an outstanding showing in camp, Gibson could very well beat out Andersen, but there's an equally real possibility he could start the season in the minors. Both young goalies are best off playing regularly somewhere while they're still developing, so it wouldn't be surprise if veteran Jason LaBarbera ended up opening the campaign as the backup to the victor of the starting competition.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen (Knee) Likely No. 1 to Open Camp
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
9/1/2014
News: Frederik Andersen (knee) will likely be the Ducks' No. 1 goalie when training camp opens, NHL.com's Curtis Zupke reports.
Analysis: Both Frederik Andersen and fellow competitor for No. 1 duties John Gibson ended up surpassing incumbent Jonas Hiller on the depth chart for the Ducks during the postseason, but it was Andersen's MCL sprain in Round 2 against the Kings that allowed Gibson to leave the last impression. However, Andersen was nearly as good as Gibson over a much larger sample of starts last season, going 20-5-0 with a 2.29 GAA and .923 save percentage. The greater amount of experience confers an early advantage to Andersen in the job battle, but whomever opens the season as the No. 1 goalie will largely earn the gig based on training camp performance.

Shawn Horcoff
Stars' Horcoff Primed For Bottom-Six Duty
Shawn Horcoff, C, DAL
9/1/2014
News: Shawn Horcoff is expected to see most of his action as a bottom-six forward for the Stars this season, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Shawn Horcoff, 35, is entering the final campaign of a six-year deal and seems to have accepted his role as a depth player at this stage of his career. A former top scorer for the Oilers during his prime, Horcoff averaged just 12:51 of ice time over 77 games with the Stars in 2013-14, totaling seven goals and 13 assists. He'd do well to eclipse the 20-point mark again during the upcoming season.

Jordin Tootoo
Free Agent Tootoo Still Looking For Work
Jordin Tootoo, RW, DET
9/1/2014
News: Jordin Tootoo is unlikely to re-sign with the Predators, Joshua Cooper of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Jordin Tootoo, who became an unrestricted free agent in June when the Red Wings bought out his contract, is likely not a good fit to re-join the Preds, as the team has already made several free-agent pickups this summer to bolster depth. Tootoo recorded just a single assist in 11 games for Detroit last season, and spent most of his time in the AHL. His best days as an NHL forward - and viable fantasy option - are likely behind him at this point.

Nazem Kadri
Leafs' Kadri: Working To Improve Shot Release
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR
8/31/2014
News: Nazem Kadri has been working on his shot over the summer and is looking to put up a lot more points this season, reports Sportsnet.ca. "Every single year I like my production to go up and up, so I want to get better [in terms of] goals, points, assists, plus/minus, time on ice," he said. "These are all things I think about and can improve on."
Analysis: He's been in the gym working on wrist curls and strengthening his forearms and shoulders to improve his shot. "I've really been working on my shot and my release, knowing a lot of NHL goalies can't be beat without a quick release," said Nazem Kadri. "The power doesn't necessarily have to be there, but the release definitely does. I'm trying to score a few more goals and get more pucks on net." The center once potted 35 goals in 56 OHL games with the London Knights, but he will be hard pressed to replicate that scoring rate in the NHL. Still, he could certainly be in line for an improvement over his 20 goals from last season and 60 points could be in the offing.

Sheldon Brookbank
Flames Invite Brookbank To Training Camp
Sheldon Brookbank, D, CHI
8/31/2014
News: The Flames have extended a tryout to Sheldon Brookbank at their training camp in the fall, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Sheldon Brookbank spent the past two seasons with the Blackhawks, and collected two goals and five assists in 48 games last season. He will get a shot at the sixth or seventh defenseman spot, and his experience may give him an early edge.

Eric Staal
Canes' E. Staal (Abdomen) Back On Ice
Eric Staal, C, CAR
8/30/2014
News: Eric Staal (abdominal surgery) was back on the ice Friday at an informal skate with the Hurricanes, reports the Raleigh News Observer
Analysis: He had surgery in late July for a core-muscle issue that was described more as an abdominal wall injury rather than a sports hernia. He had changed his offseason training approach after delivering his lowest offensive numbers in a full season since his rookie year. The injury was characterized as a training injury, but it's behind him now and he's been on the ice for 10 days. "It was frustrating," he said. "At the time of the injury I thought I was in the best shape I've ever been in." If that's the case and if he can get out of the blocks strong, Eric Staal could be in line for a fantasy rebound. But he's going to turn 30 in October, so don't expect his output to recover to his previous best.

 
 
 
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