After a yawning rise on Sunday, right about - perhaps exactly - after the result of Caps/Pens rematch, it seems like a nice jumping point. With 10 weeks left in the regular season, let's hear those seat-belts click as it's going to be a hectic week. It's one of the busiest weeks of the second half NHL schedule until March 28, as 27 of the 30 NHL teams will play at least three games this week, including 11 teams playing four games over the next seven days. It's time to for a few NHL teams to develop a grip for their playoff hopes. More daunting, is the majority of these games will be in their opponents arena, so here's some road tunes for the way.
Should I stay or should I go?
Carolina Hurricanes - Still hungover from last week's All-Star festivities, the Canes went 1-2 this past week. The young and restless Carolina (26-21-6) team will take to the road, where their 12-12-4 will get them little respect. Look for Zach Boychuck (just under seven minutes of TOI) to get more ice time this week. If Carolina is to make the playoffs, it's going to take a lot more than just a consistent Eric Staal or a productive Joni Pitkanen. Surviving with a GF at 2.89, this will take a stranglehold defense, and a post-break consistency from goalie Cam Ward. Carolina finds out what they're made of, facing three of four teams playing strong hockey and another rematch with division rival Atlanta.
- Combined record (5-3) against this week: @NJ, PHI, TB, ATL
Chicago Blackhawks - It's clear now that Corey Crawford (16-10-2) is the goalie to lead the way, but after giving away a lead in the third period to the Canucks last week, Chicago's staying power for the rest of the season is currently in question. Facing ninth place in the Western Conference and four road games (11-8-4), this road trip is more important than most Blackhawks fans realize.
- Combined record (3-5) against this week: @CAL EDM, DAL, PHO
Colorado Avalanche - It seems like lately postponements are the only result saving the Avs from a check-mark in the loss column. After a sharp start to the season, conditioning may have cost Craig Anderson (12-7-3) another Venzina-numbers like year. In fact, the most exciting news in Denver is Peter Forsberg's impending return. Shuuush, tell no one, LW Peter Mueller (concussion) is skating again and soon will join in for non-contact practice. John-Michael Liles (-7 in last five games) is the key to the Avs' success at this point. It seems like he is the variation missing right now, and if Colorado (56 points) is to make a move from 12th place, it also starts where the Avalanche are a respectable 11-8-3 on the road. They were 2-for-2 against Columbus, but 0-2 against Phoenix. Peter or not, Colorado has a twisting week ahead. Two forwards to look out for: T.J. Galiardi has been quiet for far too long, and Brandon Yip should be moved up in the depth charts. In the end, it will be David Jones who moves ahead of Chris Stewart soon, which could cause an actual Avalanche.
- Combined record (4-5) this week: @ PHX, MIN, CLB, NSH
Columbus Blue Jackets - Before anyone starts spouting off their position (14th) in the Western Conference, let's consider they are fresh off a solid 2-0 defeat of Detroit. Steve Mason was brilliant, shutting down Johan Franzen (five goals the previous night) and the rest of the Motor City Wings. Columbus is 2-2-1 against one of the NHL's best, a team Columbus has yet in franchise history to beat in a season-series. Antoine Vermette is heating up, registering three goals in his last four, and six points in last seven games. One only needs to look at their schedule this week to say redundantly, it's do-or-die time in Columbus.
- Combined record (3-5) this week: @ PIT, vs. SJ, COL, @DAL
On the road again
Los Angeles Kings - The Kings have a few season firsts on the way. In the midst of a 10-game road trip to start February, it's time to forget about wins and losses. Los Angeles (last in the Pacific) MUST have an offensive break out in the next three games, or 10th place can be 14th real quick. The Kings (28-22-2) will have to improve their 11-13-1 road record against three of the Eastern Conference's best. In their only meeting against any of these teams, Philly took a commanding 7-4 win. I dont even know where to start on their offense, but the truth is it's the defense. Jack Johnson has four points in the last nine games, while Drew Doughty (four points in last five games) may be awakening. Yes indeed, offense begins with defense. The battle of Jonathan's got a little-warmer when Jonathan Bernier went toe-to-toe with Niklas Backstrom in the 1-0 shootout loss to Minnesota. Then again, Jonathan Quick has been the Jaroslav Halak of Hollywood, and has nothing to worry about.
- Combined record (0-1) this week: @PIT, WAS, PHI
San Jose Sharks - Also playing most of their games (nine of 12) on the road this month, the Sharks (28-19-6) are probably the scariest sleeping giant of the National Hockey League. With six potential 30-goal scorers on their team, this mediocre Northern Californian squad is a quiet fourth place in the conference. Logan Couture got the game-winner the other night against Boston, and San Jose even had a strong Antti Niemi (14-13-3) showing, shutting out the Bruins. However, they will need to depend on Niemi, as Antero Niittymaki (groin) is already on the IR, recent call-up Alex Stalock was sent back to Worcester with an unspecified injury and Carter Hutton will become Niemi's back-up.
- Combined record (2-1-1) this week: @WAS, CLB, NJ, FLA
Anaheim Ducks - With a 17-8-1 record in Orange County, it's clear I was dead wrong about the Anaheim Ducks. The fifth place (62 points) Ducks' real problem is on the road (12-13-3). On the other hand, lock your jaw for this - Anaheim is third in the league in Power Play percentage. Ryan Getzlaf is due to return in the first of their three games this week. Interestingly, LW, Joffrey Lupul hasn't gone pointless two games in a row in almost six weeks. Registering nine of his thirteen points on the season in the last 14 games may not seem like much, but for a team with little beyond super-freak Corey Perry (hat-trick on Saturday), Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan, the Ducks, would love to see Lupul (17% owned in CBS) become a big producer in the second half.
- Combined record (4-1-1) this week @VAN, CAL, EDM
Johnny I hardly knew ya
Boston Bruins - Having been a Rangers fan most of my life, I've always taken pleasure watching the Bruins bury themselves, year after year. Though they really need to pick up a second-line center and a stay at home defenseman before the deadline, this year looks to be different. They're a bit dirty at times (see highlights from last week against Dallas), but Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask provide all the consistency needed for the B's to go flying into the playoffs. First they must get past Montreal (0-2-1 in previous three tries) and a non-traditional home-and-home with Detroit. Perhaps another Boychuck, Johnny Boychuck (five shots in last two games), who played over 16 minutes in the 2-0 loss to San Jose, will finally get more involved offensively.
- Combined record (0-2-1) this week:vs. MON, DET @ DET
St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild (0-0 Season Series)
Here's an interesting match-up; St. Louis and Minnesota meeting for the first time this season in a traditional home-and-home series. Both teams are hard-working, low-budget teams in desperate need of a deep playoff chase. St. Louis may seem younger, but Niklas Backstrom is on the mend and warming. Two shutouts in his last four starts, albeitagainstCalgary and Los Angeles, the Fin goalie turns 33 next week and should be considered a target of buy-low while still available. Of course, Jaroslav Halak, has played 39 of the Blues' 51 games, with only a non-reflective (17-16-5) record of his reliability. It appears now the busy first-half schedule may have worn down the 25-year-old Halak,who sustained an upper-body injury and is now listed as day-to-day.
Streaking St. Blue: McDonald is back, how will Patrick Berglund, David Backes, Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie benefit?
Wild Week:, D, Jared Spurgeon, is a sleeper to look out for. After a mere 23 games (nine points) with the AHL's Houston Aeros, he registered his first NHL point against Chicago last week and is a plus-5 over the last seven games.
Nationally televised action in EST
VERSUS Feb. 7 - NY Rangers at Detroit, 7:30
VERSUS Feb. 8 - Buffalo at Tampa Bay, 7:30
VERSUS Feb. 9 - Montreal at Boston, 7:00
NBC Feb. 13 - Boston at Detroit 12:30
The Full Schedule Grid