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Right on Schedule: Get ready for the stretch

by | Rotowire.com
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The next two weeks of hockey will be very busy. The most glaring trend could be 19 of the 30 NHL teams play on back-to-back nights this week. With 12 of the 15 Western Conference teams playing three games this week, we'll move most of this week's focus to the Eastern Conference where there's a bit more action.

NHL schedule

Six playing four

On the surface, you might assume Boston (vs. OTT, CAR, PIT, @WAS) has a generous schedule. Outside of their record against Ottawa (2-0) and Pittsburgh (1-0), the Bruins may have their work cut out for them. Boston is a combined 0-4 against Carolina and Washington this season, having been outscored 16-8 by the two teams. General Manager Peter Chiarelli says right-winger Nathan Horton's mild concussion symptoms leave him day-to-day. Rich Peverley replaced Horton on David Krejci line and showed an immediate impact last week. Boston is a combined 3-4 against this week's opponents.

No one expected Montreal (vs. BUF, @NJ, vs. WAS, WPG) to go into the break on the wings of a 7-2 win over Detroit. Helping create this explosion was rookie defenseman Alexei Emeli, scoring his first NHL goal, center David Desharnais (two goals, assist) and Max Pacioretty (goal, assist). With the win, the Canadiens are 3-0-2 over their last five games. Montreal is a combined 3-4-1 against this week's opponents.

Currently eighth in the East, New Jersey (vs. NYR, MON, @PHI, vs. PIT) is tied with Florida and Toronto at 55 points. The Devils are hoping to come out gunning and secure their spot inside the top eight of the East. They start with their red hot river rivals the Rangers, more on this later. After stumbling (three goals in three straight losses) into the AS break, Patrik Elias (26 points in last 23 games) and his Devils look to get things back on track. Adam Henrique, who recently came back from a groin injury, has been demoted off the first line. Henrique had this to say: "I feel good," he said. "It wasn't my best couple of games but I feel good," he said. "I obviously want to have a good second half when we get back." New Jersey is a combined 4-5 against this week's opponents.

After suffering an unforeseeable six-game losing streak Pittsburgh (vs. TOR, @TOR, BOS, NJ) earlier this season, Pittsburgh is now streaking in the right direction, having won seven in a row. Starting with a home-and-home against the Maple Leafs, the Pens will also visit the Bruins and Devils before the week is up. Games on back-to-back nights, twice this week, may prove to be an advantage. Perhaps it's noteworthy, after yielding three goals on eight shots, Brent Johnson (2-5-2) had to be pulled in his last start against Ottawa. Pittsburgh is a combined 1-4 against this week's opponents.

With so much emphasis on Philadelphia's (vs. WPG, NSH, NJ, @NYR) injured reserve right now, eight games over the next two weeks could prove detrimental to their potential playoff seeding. James van Riemsdyk (concussion) Danny Briere (concussion), Zac Rinaldo (upper-body injury) and Jaromir Jagr (groin) are all key players battling injuries. One of the few bright spots of the Breakaway Challenge this past weekend, Sean Couturier (five goals, four assists, plus-3 in 12 January games), has one more game to pad the stats of what has been a break out January. Philly's goalie tandem on Sergei Bobrovsky (3-2, 2.20 GAA in January) and Ilya Bryzgalov (4-2-1, 2.93 GAA in January) will be relied upon to help the team float while they get healthy. Philadelphia is a combined 2-6-1 against this week's opponents.

One of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Capitals (@TB, FLA, MON, vs. BOS) head into the second half 10-2 over their last twelve games. Washington not only plays two division rivals, but will play on back-to-back nights, twice this week as well. With that being said, neither Caps goalie has been overwhelmingly great in January. Tomas Vokoun (5-4, 2.67 GAA, SHO) has taken most of the starts, while Michal Neuvirth (1-0-1, 2.30 GAA, SHO) has been fairly dependable in just three appearances. Mathieu Perreault has almost doubled his season points total (four goals, two assists) in the last four games. Will it last? Deuces are wild for Caps Hockey, which is featured on NBCSports network twice this week. Washington is a combined 5-1 against this week's opponents.

Winnipeg (@PHI, TB, FLA, MON) is another Southeast team spending the first week after the break on the road and in very important divisional games. Center Eric Gagnon (eight goals, 12 assists in 35 games with St. John's IceCaps) made his Jets debut last week. Since Winnipeg is yet another team marred by injuries, he may stick around. Left-wingers Alex Burmistrov (upper body) and Evander Kane (concussion-like symptoms), center Tim Stapleton (lower body) and of course, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (knee) are all still M.I.A. Winnipeg is a combined 5-4-1 against this week's opponents.

A trio of three

After the break, Chicago (@VAN, EDM, CAL) hits the road for nine straight road games to start the second half. Of the nine, only the last game (Columbus) is considered an "easy win". The road trip starts off with three against the Northwest division. Despite anchoring a line with two other rookie forwards, Marian Hossa is currently on a nine-game (three goals, eight assists) point streak. Jonathan Toews (wrist) will travel with the Blackhawks to Vancouver, no word yet as to whether he'll dress. Chicago has acquired veteran center Brendan Morrison (four goals, seven assists) from Calgary for minor league defenseman Brian Connelly. The NHL veteran of 15 seasons has spent time in Illinois with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs. Chicago is a combined 4-4 against this week's opponents.

Dallas (@ANH, SJ, vs. MIN), who has one of the busiest February's in the NHL, will play four games a week, three times next month. Totaling 16 games, the Stars will need Jamie Benn to build on his return to action. Starting off fresh, the Stars visit Anaheim, of whom they enjoy a 3-0 season series lead. From there, Dallas has their hands full, they'll travel to San Jose, who has outscored them 9-3 this season and Minnesota, who took the only game this season 5-2 over the Stars. Even with young gun Jamie Benn coming back, after going just 4-6-1 in January, the Stars are fizzling fast. Speculation has general manager Joe Nieuwendyk considering trades that will make them better beyond the second half of the season. This includes long-time Stars captain, 33-year old Brenden Morrow. Dallas is a combined 3-4 against this week's opponents.

Nine points out of the final playoff spot in the East, Tampa Bay (vs. WAS, WPG, FLA), currently riding a four-game winning streak, enjoys their next three from home. Albeit, against fellow Southeast teams, the Lightning have been bitten by the injury bug to some key role players this year. Good news is Vincent Lecavalier seems to be coming around, going into the second half riding a six-game (three goals, 10 assists) point scoring streak of his own. With nine players on the Lightning IR, sooner or later someone could come back. Both defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body) and left-winger Ryan Malone (upper body) could possibly see action this week. Tampa Bay is a combined 4-3-2 against this week's opponents.

Three take two

All three teams playing two games this week will bounce back with four next week. For now, you may want to look the other way on players from St. Louis (vs. LA, @NSH), Calgary (vs. DET, CHI) and Phoenix (vs. ANH, SJ). However, let it be known, St. Louis plays both of its games on back-to-back nights.

Game of the week: Devils and Rangers. What better way to start the second half of the season than with a rivalry renewal? In the first two months of the season, many writers and fans alike had given up on the Devils. Lo and behold here come Brodeur's boys, geared up and ready to avenge their 4-1 loss to New York earlier this season.

TV TIME (all games EST/NBCSports Network)

Jan. 31: Capitals at Lightning, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: Rangers at Sabres, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 5: Bruins at Capitals, 12:30 p.m.

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Player News
Vincent Lecavalier
Flyers Transfer Lecavalier To IR
Vincent Lecavalier, C, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Vincent Lecavalier (foot) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: Vincent Lecavalier returned to practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Oct. 11. Because he's already missed over a week of action, the Flyers will be able to stash Lecavalier on injured reserve retroactively. Lecavalier looks on track to play at some point next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday against the Kings.

Braydon Coburn
Flyers Place Coburn On IR
Braydon Coburn, D, PHI
10/25/2014
News: Braydon Coburn (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: With Braydon Coburn ruled out four weeks Friday due to the injury, he'll unsurprisingly move to IR to create some roster space. Coburn suffered the foot injury in the Flyers' first game of the season against the Bruins, but had taken pregame warmups as a recently as Tuesday before suffering a setback. Mark Alt will be recalled from AHL Adirondback in a corresponding move.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock To Start Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
10/25/2014
News: Alex Stalock will be between the pipes on Saturday against Buffalo, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: The Sharks started the year alternating games between Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi, but after two consecutive losses by Stalock, Niemi has started the past two. He struggled in those two games, taking 5-3 and 5-4 losses, so Stalock could continue to earn more starts with a solid performance against the struggling Sabres.

Zdeno Chara
Bruins Place Chara On IR
Zdeno Chara, D, BOS
10/25/2014
News: Zdeno Chara (knee) was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The move comes as little surprise after Zdeno Chara was ruled out four-to-six weeks after suffering a PCL tear in his left knee Thursday night. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow were recalled from AHL Providence in corresponding moves to give the Bruins some replacement options on the blue line.

Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny Skating, But Not Doing Much Else
Paul Stastny, C, STL
10/25/2014
News: Paul Stastny (upper body) has been able to skate the last two days, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: It seems as though Paul Stastny has returned to the ice strictly for conditioning purposes, as he hasn't attempted shots or taken any contact yet. The Blues remain steadfast in their belief that a lengthy absence isn't in store for Stastny, but it's looking increasingly unlikely that he'll be back before the end of the month.

John Gibson
Ducks Confirm Gibson For Friday
John Gibson, G, ANA
10/25/2014
News: John Gibson has been confirmed as the starter for Friday's game against the Blue Jackets, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: While John Gibson has been surpassed by Frederik Andersen on the team's depth chart, coach Bruce Boudreau stated that he still intends to give the 21-year-old semi-frequent action in order to build his confidence. Boudreau will instead save the red-hot Andersen for the more critical matchup of the weekend, when the division-rival Sharks come to Anaheim.

Mikhail Grabovski
Isles' Grabovski Could Return Saturday
Mikhail Grabovski, C, NYI
10/25/2014
News: Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) felt good while practicing Friday and could play Saturday against the Stars, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Mikhail Grabovski took part in Friday's session in a full capacity, joining Frans Nielsen and Cory Conacher on the Isles' second line. The team will reexamine him after Saturday's morning skate before reaching a determination on his status for the game later that evening, but if his concussion symptoms don't resurface, expect the team to activate him from IR.

Sonny Milano
Blue Jackets Activate Milano, Assign Him To OHL
Sonny Milano, LW, CLB
10/25/2014
News: Sonny Milano (face) was activated from the Blue Jackets' non-roster injury list and assigned to OHL Plymouth.
Analysis: Sonny Milano hasn't played since suffering two fractures in his face during the NHL Prospects Tournament in mid-September. The Blue Jackets' first-round selection in this past June's draft, Milano has elected to bypass a collegiate career with Boston College in favor of testing himself at the junior level. He's probably at least two years away from contributing for the Blue Jackets.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson: (Hip) Still Not Ready To Go
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
10/25/2014
News: Carl Gunnarsson (hip) still doesn't sound like he's ready to make his season debut, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: The Blues' medical staff has granted Carl Gunnarsson clearance to play and is simply waiting for the defenseman to alert them when he's good to go, but he's evidently not comfortable with his hip just yet. Jordan Leopold will continue to occupy a regular spot on defense for the Blues until Gunnarsson feels the pain in his hip has fully dissipated.

Karri Ramo
Flames Go With Ramo On Saturday
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
10/25/2014
News: Karri Ramo will be in the crease Saturday against the Capitals, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 The Fan reports.
Analysis: With both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller playing well, coach Bob Hartley seems content to alternate starts between the two goalies until one of the two netminders sees their productivity tail off. Ramo will carry a strong 2.20 GAA and .917 save percentage into Saturday's start, but it still seems likely that Hiller will ultimately take the reins of the No. 1 job.

 
 
 
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