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Right on Schedule: Familiar foes in Week 14

by | Rotowire.com
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It's difficult not to head straight for the schedule of the NHL's hottest team, the Vancouver Canucks. As one of the greatest writers of the 20th century once said, 'only a fool would dip into that pot just yet'. Aside from a busy week for the Canucks, the NHL has a bit of a rivalry week going on for five of the original six NHL teams. This week's schedule features a plethora of new school rivalries as well, including Calgary heading to Eastern Canada and Edmonton on the road for a sweeping tour of the South and Western United States. More inviting to your DVR will be the four home-and-home series. Let's focus on two traditional and two not-so-traditional match-ups going on this week.

Traditional

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit leads this series 2-0 so far this year, but they are hurting. The losses of Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Brad Stuart has certainly taken their toll. Even Chris Osgood (groin) is having problems backing up solidifying-sophomore Jimmy Howard. As for Columbus, since their expansion year in 2000, Columbus has yet to beat big-brother Detroit three times in one season. If the Jackets are to avoid yet another season series loss to the Red Wings, it starts in this week. Though 13th place in a compact Western Conference, if Columbus can somehow scratch together a win or two against Detroit this week, they're only five points from fourth place. Then again, this is the same Blue Jackets team that got slammed by a lackluster Ducks team 6-0. Detroit won the 2009-10 season series 5-0-1.

Keys to the series: For Detroit, it's simple, get healthy. Both Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon have taken turns giving back the starting-goalie grind. Aside from signing Michael Leighton, if Columbus is going to stay tough in this important back-to-back with Detroit they are in desperate need of solid goaltending. Additionally, Mike Commodore has demanded a trade out of town. Commodore has been a healthy scratch 11 times this season, so considering his hefty contract, a trade may not be likely. After that 6-0 loss to Anaheim, both GM Scott Howson and Commodore - who are said to have a pending meeting - may have to come to terms for now. If traded, this would be Commodore's sixth team in 10 seasons.

DET this week: @COL, CLB, vs. CLB

CLB this week: vs. PHO, DET @ DET

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

With the series knotted up (1-1-1) this season, Chicago holds the momentum. Two goals by RW Jack Skille and a near perfect show by rookie goalie Corey Crawford helped the 'Hawks handily beat the Preds at United Center 4-1 on December 22nd. Chicago won the 2009-10 season series 4-2.

Keys to the series: Both teams are very strong fundamentally, ranking in the bottom five of the league for penalty minutes. While fantasy-wise this is of no use to me or you, it will certainly make for a fluid game and quite possibly the difference in the series. The variation may be when-and-if a penalty is called, as its Nashville that holds a firm grip and Chicago that folds. Nashville is ranked fifth in NHL penalty kill percentage, while Chicago's PK% ranks 29th in the league. Ironically enough, Chicago's power-play is second (24.8%) in the NHL, and Nashville is 25th at 15 percent.

NSH this week: vs. MIN, @ FLA, vs. CHI, @CHI

CHI this week: vs. COL @NSH, vs. NSH

Not-so-traditional

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

With this being the first meeting of the season, and both teams having shown a propensity for mediocrity, with top-notch goaltending to lean on, it should be interesting to see where either team goes following this week. Neither team has been shy about call-ups from the AHL, as both Max Pacioretty and Mats Zuccarello have made quick strides in their short NHL time. Owners of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist should certainly enjoy the GAA accrual. Montreal won the 2009-10 season series 3-1

Keys to the series: Marian Gaborik is as cold as can be, not having registered goals on back-to-back nights since the 2nd of December. The Rangers have found a spark elsewhere for now. Mats Zuccarello has three points in last three games and led the Rangers to a shootout win in Dallas last week. Montreal on the other hand, learned to stop counting on their veteran talent for scoring months ago. Despite a few poor decisions that have cost the Canadiens a game or two, Max Pacioretty scored an overtime goal against Boston, and is starting to infuse the Canadiens with a bit of old fashioned determination.

NYR this week: vs. MON, VAN, @MON, vs. PHI

MON this week: @ NYR, vs. PIT, NYR

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins

One thing is for sure, Jesse Boulerice won't be expecting a call-up to the big club after his actions in Charlotte last week. Way back in the second week of November, when Pittsburgh had yet to get all gears going, Boston won their first meeting 7-4. Neither team has been all that impressive since flipping the calendar, and Pittsburgh has been outscored 6-1 since Sidney Crosby began his scratch time with concussion-like symptoms. I believe you can expect both Tim Thomas and Marc-Andre Fleury to take the helm of this series. Pittsburgh won the 2009-10 season series 3-1

Keys to the series: For Boston, Patrice Bergeron (10 goals, 17 assists) has 12 points in the last 11 games. Redundant as it may sound, with Crosby's activity in question, the very streaky Evgeni Malkin becomes the most important Pittsburgh Athlete not named Roethlisberger.

BOS this week: @PIT, vs. OTT, PHI, PIT

PIT this week: vs. BOS, @MON, BOS

Needing a heat wave in Denver

With the way the Canucks are playing, the Colorado Avalanche (21-15-6) are already fading in the Vancouver's rear-view. Even scarier for the mile-high club is the thought of a few consecutive losses. There is nothing cozy about 47 points (seventh place) in the Western conference, as a few losses, coupled with a few strategic conference rival wins, and Colorado could find themselves in 12th place quick.

After being ousted by the New York Islanders in a 4-3 shootout loss, the Avs are one of the most underachieving teams in the young year of 2011. Colorado, 2-5-3, since having their six-game winning streak snapped by the Los Angeles Kings (5-0) on December 19th, has been outscored 29-18 in that span. There is of course hope on the horizon as the Avs will soon look to defenseman Kyle Cumiskey (concussion), who has been cleared to resume practice. While six of their remaining eight games this month are at Pepsi Center, they first must get past this week's schedule.

COL vs. DET, @CHI, MIN

Other interesting schedules

VAN @ NYI, NYR, WAS, MIN - The Canucks are 11-1 against their division, 17-1-3 in last 20 games. Seeing that three of their four games this week will be in Eastern Conference arenas, it's only fair to note Vancouver's dominance this season has not been limited to the Western Conference. Having outscored opponents in the Eastern Conference 39-24, their 7-2-2 record against the East should be taken lightly. Of the 11 games played, only one (Philadelphia) has been against a team currently holds a playoff position in the standings.

SJ vs. TOR, EDM, STL - Despite Toronto's recent explosion (see below), with a schedule like this, an explosive Sharks offense is licking their chops this week.

ANH vs. STL @ PHO vs. EDM - As noted before the Ducks chased the Blue Jackets out of town last Friday. This week they will host a still blooming, Blues team before heading out to Phoenix and Edmonton. Could Anaheim be heating up?

TOR @LA, SJ, PHO vs. CAL - Similar to Anaheim, Toronto routed (9-3) their opponent (Atlanta) last Friday, and a little swagger could be just what the doctor ordered in Toronto. Center Mikhail Grabovski now has 12 goals in his past 14 games, and goalie James Reimer's performance (2-1) is perhaps even more intriguing. Averaging 2.00 goals-against per-game in January, you'll want to consider him for now in deep leagues.

LA vs. TOR, STL, EDM - The Kings are looking to get things going. Taking into account how tight the West is, the Kings hope a few additions from the IR can help. Defenseman Willie Mitchell and RW Alexei Ponikarovsky both will go active active within the next couple of weeks. Not exactly as offensive as San Jose, Los Angeles certainly looks to beat up the same three teams.

CGY @CAR, OTT, TOR – Okay, first a stop in Raleigh, NC, then off to Ottawa and Toronto. Though, eventually losing 5-4 in a shootout-loss, Calgary stuck it to Detroit nicely last week. This team has more staying power than quite realized yet. Question is whether or not they can summon that talent on this trip to three pedestrian playing teams.

Nationally televised action - Last week's results 1-1, -8

VERSUS January 10th - Boston at Pittsburgh / Prediction: 4-3 F/SO Pittsburgh

VERSUS January 11th - Philadelphia at Buffalo / Prediction 5-3 Philadelphia

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

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Player News
David Warsofsky
Bruins' Warsofsky Starting To Skate
David Warsofsky, D, BOS
7:55 AM
News: David Warsofsky (groin) skated prior to Thursday's practice.
Analysis: While both David Warsofsky and Zdeno Chara (ankle) worked out on their own rather than with the team's healthy skaters, their presence on the ice could allow them to join the rest of the team for practice perhaps at some point next week. Warsofsky is about at the midway point of the two-to-four week recovery timetable he was given back on Nov. 9.

Antti Niemi
Sharks' Niemi Drops Fourth Straight
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
7:35 AM
News: Antti Niemi allowed one goal on 18 shots in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the visiting Flames. The second goal was an empty netter.
Analysis: That's four straight losses for the Finnish netminder, although this one can be chalked up to a lack of goal support from the Sharks offense. Despite traditionally being a workhorse who usually piles up his fair share of wins, Antti Niemi is just 7-7-3 on the season with a .917 save percentage and 2.49 GAA, making him one of the weaker options among the league's number one netminders.

Liam O'Brien
Caps' O'Brien Returns To Action
Liam O'Brien, LW, WAS
7:31 AM
News: Liam O'Brien (lower body) surprisingly returned to action Wednesday versus the Islanders, delivering three hits and one shot attempt over his 6:42 of ice time.
Analysis: It seemed implied during morning skate that Liam O'Brien would sit out after he worked as extra during line rushes, but coach Barry Trotz evidently felt he was ready to go. The fourth liner missed the Caps' previous five games while dealing with the lower-body injury.

Jiri Hudler
Flames' Hudler Provides All The Offense Wednesday
Jiri Hudler, LW, CGY
7:29 AM
News: Jiri Hudler scored the game's both goals in Wednesday's 2-0 road win over the Sharks.
Analysis: Jiri Hudler is sizzling, as the goals were his fifth and sixth points in the last five games. He's now quietly posted 20 points -- split equally between assists and goals (10 each) -- in 23 games this season.

Karri Ramo
Flames' Ramo Pitches Shutout Wednesday
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
7:25 AM
News: Karri Ramo turned aside all 32 shots in a 2-0 blanking on the Sharks on Wednesday.
Analysis: Karri Ramo weathered a constant storm of shots and together with Jiri Hudler's two goals led the Flames to victory at the Shark Tank. He's now 5-2-1 on the year with a .911 save percentage and 2.54 GAA and has been a dependable option when called upon in relief of Jonas Hiller.

Patrick Kane
Hawks' Kane Assists Thrice Wednesday
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
6:51 AM
News: Patrick Kane chipped in three assists in Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Avalanche.
Analysis: Patrick Kane continued to tear it up in this one, factoring into all of Chicago's goals and bringing his recent hot streak to 11 points over the last six games. Owners who were frustrated with Kane's lack of production early in the season have been rewarded for their patience of late, as No. 88 appears to be firing on all cylinders with linemates Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards.

Darren Helm
Wings' Helm Assists Twice In Victory
Darren Helm, C, DET
6:50 AM
News: Darren Helm collected two helpers in Wednesday's victory over the Flyers.
Analysis: The all-center line of Darren Helm, Pavel Datsyuk and Stephen Weiss powered the Detroit offense Wednesday, as all three players gathered at least two points. Those accomplishments should be enough for coach Mike Babcock to keep that trio together for at least one more game, which could prove quite fruitful for Helm. He's bounced back from a season marred by injury to produce two goals and eight assists over 22 games.

Jakub Kindl
Red Wings' Kindl Assists Twice In Win
Jakub Kindl, D, DET
6:47 AM
News: Jakub Kindl collected two assists in Wednesday's victory over the Flyers.
Analysis: Jakub Kindl had been scratched in many of the Red Wings' recent contests, but his two-point day might have given him some added job security on the team's third pairing. The offense certainly won't come in droves for Kindl, but he would seem to possess more upside in that regard than Brian Lashoff, who he's replaced in the lineup the past two games.

Calvin Pickard
Avs' Pickard Terrific In Loss
Calvin Pickard, G, COL
6:47 AM
News: Calvin Pickard made a whopping 42 saves Wednesday against Chicago but came away with the loss as the Avs fell 3-2.
Analysis: The impressive debut continues for the rookie, whose save percentage sits at .933 to go with a 2.24 GAA in limited action (three games) this season. With starter Semyon Varlamov (groin) shelved, look for coach Patrick Roy to keep rolling Calvin Pickard out as long as he's playing well, as fellow netminder Reto Berra has been anything but spectacular for the struggling Avs.

Corey Crawford
Hawks' Crawford Grabs Win In Denver
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
6:43 AM
News: Corey Crawford stopped 27 of 29 shots en route to a 3-2 win over the Avalanche on Wednesday.
Analysis: Corey Crawford just keeps rolling along, with four wins in his last five starts and 10 on the year. His tidy .926 save percentage and 1.98 GAA have remained steady throughout November, and he remarkably still hasn't allowed more than three goals in a single game through 16 starts this season. Indeed, this could be finally be the year that "Crow" becomes truly elite.

 
 
 
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