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Right on Schedule: Use your time wisely

by | Rotowire.com
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Efficient defense and goaltending is leading the way in the NHL this season. More interesting, each of the 10 teams in the Southeast and Pacific divisions are still in the playoff hunt. It's going to be an interesting final month to see which teams are the spoilers, contenders and pretenders. So let's see how the playoff bubble(s) could factor into your Fantasy lineups.

NHL schedule

Thick of the race (all points headed into Sunday's action)

Western Conference

7. Phoenix, 78 points Coming from a very tight Pacific division race both the Phoenix Coyotes (vs. NSH @VAN @CAL @EDM) and San Jose Sharks have a bit of an advantage playing four games this week. The strangest part of Phoenix's success as of late has been their ability to call-up youngsters and have them immediately impact the team scoring. With Martin Hanzal's status (upper-body) still day-to-day, the ‘Yotes brought up center Marc-Antoine Pouliot, who just like David Runblad last week, paid immediate dividends. In his first game back in the NHL, Pouliot had two assists in a big 3-0 win over San Jose this past Saturday, giving him four assists in 10 NHL games this season. The shutout over San Jose is a big momentum builder for Mike Smith as well, after starting out 0-3 (79 saves against 90 shots) in the month of March. Runblad and Pouliot are not the only fresh faces from Portland-AHL helping out. Defenseman Michael Stone has a goal and two assists (plus-3) in three games since being called up again. Left-winger Raffi Torres has a goal in consecutive games for the first time since October. Typically over the span of his career, Torres gets going in the month of March (21 career goals). Phoenix is a combined 8-3-1 against this week's opponents.

8. Colorado, 76 points: It's going to be a strange week for the Colorado Avalanche (vs. ANH @BUF @NJ @NYR), who are desperately trying to hang onto a playoff spot. Set aside the blitzing (9-1) of the lackluster Wild in a home-and-home series last week, the Avs lost 4-2 to the Preds and barely scathed by the Oilers 3-2 at home. That's after losing 2-0 and 5-1 to the Jackets and Penguins respectively to begin the month. Now Colorado will try to balance themselves inside the bubble while playing two teams for the first time this season. Bad news: Matt Duchene is out again after injuring his ankle against Minnesota. Good news: Steve Downie did return to the lineup in Saturday's 3-2 win over Edmonton, registering one hit. Semyon Varlamov (6-2, .957, 2 SHO since February 22nd) is finally starting to take command of this number one job. Do you have some Avs players? They can be seen on NBCSports network twice this week. Colorado is a combined 3-1 against this week's opponents.

9. San Jose, 75 points: Of all the teams still floundering around, the San Jose Sharks (@EDM @CAL vs. NSH vs. DET) are playing most like they just want to go home. For the Sharks, 2-8-3 over their last 13 games, the real challenge begins this week for the busy men in teal. Regardless of their record over the last few weeks, the Sharks have the most opportunity of any NHL team to turn things around, playing 15 games over final four weeks of the season. The problems begin with their power-play (six games without a goal) and end with the uncertainty of their goalies. Antti Niemi is 0-3-2 (.917) in his five starts this month. Meanwhile Thomas Greiss (15-12, 2.55 GAA) hasn't started since giving up four goals to Minnesota on Feb. 26. Having a hard time scoring (outscored 14-6 in March), right-winger Martin Havlat (hamstring) has begun skating with the team again. With a schedule that gets progressively harder, the Sharks will look to lean on Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski for some offensive punch. The two have combined for 27 points this season against this week's opponents, including six from each against a very stingy Nashville team. San Jose is a combined 6-3-2 against this week's opponents

Eastern Conference

8. Washington, 74 points: On paper, of the three teams currently in the thick of the Eastern's eighth and final playoff seed, the Washington Capitals (@NYI @WPG @CHI) seem to have the most talent. But with Mike Green suspended, both Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin having been quieted after a February revival, things are looking more and more bleak. Brooks Laich has certainly chimed in with two important goals this month, but is it enough? Playing for the first time since Feb. 20, defenseman Roman Hamrlik (plus-1) returned to the lineup last Saturday. Hamrlik immediately soaked up 18 shifts for 13:29 of ice time in Green's absence. Obviously Coach Hunter is going to run with the "What have you done for me lately" goalie factor. With the Caps headed to the road, let it be known Tomas Voukon is 8-11-1 while Michal Neuvirth is 4-7-2 on the road. Washington is a combined 3-3-1 against this week's opponents.

9. Winnipeg, 72 points: It's do-or-die time for the Winnipeg Jets (vs. DAL vs. WAS vs. CAR). They're certainly glad to be back at home this week, as their 11-19-5 road record suggests they prefer to play hockey at the MTS Centre. Problem is, after three at home this week, Winnipeg will play seven of their last 10 games in white. After finally showing some life, grabbing 14 points in 14 February games, though Dustin Byfuglien has gone quiet (one assist) in March, he's still a plus-6. Blake Wheeler on the other hand is riding a four-game goal scoring streak and has been a offensive leader (eight goals, 15 asissts) by example. As for Ondrej Pavelec (17-9-3 at home), you're free to roll with him one last week. But consider ditching the weight headed into next week as his 8-14-4 and 3.38 GAA suggest a downturn. For now, two games against divisional opponents could make or break Jets' divisional title chances. Winnipeg is a combined 5-2-1 against this week's opponents.

10. Buffalo, 72 points: Someone smack me in the face, because somehow Lindy Ruff has the Buffalo Sabres (vs. MON vs. COL @FLA) still in this race. After all their injuries, it seems as if the Sabres may have enough momentum to beat out Winnipeg and Washington. The Sabres, 7-2-1 since late February, have seven of their remaining 13 games at home. Tyler Ennis has been playing center more as of late and it appears his production is running upward. The key will be getting fully healthy and staying there. Wingers Thomas Vanek (upper-body) and Patrick Kaleta (neck) as well as defenseman Andrej Sekera may come back this week. Cody Hodgson (-1) has yet to nab a point in a Sabres jersey. If Buffalo is going to leap into the playoffs, it's going to take more consistent production from Ennis (two goals, one assist), Ville Leino (two goals, one assist), Tyler Myers (one goal, one assist) and Jason Pominville (one goal, two assists) in March. On a positive note, Christian Ehrhoff is awakening, having registered four points (one goal, three assists) in six March games. Buffalo is a combined 5-1-1 against this week's opponents.

Four-Game Week

Last in their conference, the Montreal Canadiens (@BUF vs. OTT @OTT vs. NYI) have very little left to play for. After going 2-0-1 last week, defeating both division rivals Washington and Tampa Bay, the Carolina Hurricanes (@NYR vs. STL @MIN @WPG) are still hanging on, just seven points out of a playoff spot and eight points out of a division title. The Philadelphia Flyers (vs. NJ @NYI @BOS vs. PIT) have a fairly difficult schedule this week, taking on several conference favorites, including state-rival Pittsburgh on NBC Sunday action. Eight points out of the final playoff spot, the Anaheim Ducks (@COL vs. DET vs. LA vs. NSH) play four strong or determined teams, but three at home. The Calgary Flames (vs. SJ vs. PHO @EDM vs. CLS) are 3-1-1 this month and 7-3-4 against this week's opponents. Whose playoff chances will be spoiled by the Edmonton Oilers (vs. SJ vs. CLS vs. CAL vs. PHO)? Top ten in the NHL for least goals allowed, the Nashville Predators (@PHO @SJ @LA @ANH) are dying to get their hands on Alex Radulov, but what if they don't, can they make it to the conference finals anyway?

Back-to-back alert and short schedules

Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix and San Jose will all play on back-to-back nights, so stay alert if you own a goalie from any of the aforementioned teams. Meanwhile, both Vancouver and Minnesota will have light, two-game schedules.

TV Time (all games EST)

March 12: Ducks at Avalanche, 9 p.m., NBC Sports

March 13: Hurricanes at Rangers, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports

March 14: Avs at Sabres, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports

March 18: Penguins at Flyers, 12:30 p.m., NBC

March 18: Capitals at Blackhawks, 7 p.m., NBC Sports

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Player News
Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line with Bobby Ryan to have another strong showing in Game 6 Sunday in Ottawa. With linemate Bobby Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase as a result.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman got right back to the offense Friday. The 25-year-old has turned it up in these last two games, firing seven shots on goal and recording three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. With Ottawa now trailing Montreal 3-2 in the first round, look for Hoffman to have another strong outing in Game 6 Sunday at the Canadian Tire Center.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Sets Up Goal In Game 5 Loss
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
7:46 AM
News: Sidney Crosby registered an assist in Friday's series-ending Game 5 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Sidney Crosby finished the postseason with two goals and two assists in five games; a fine total, but not nearly enough for a Penguins' attack that struggled all series to generate high-quality scoring opportunities against world-class netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The center will turn 28 in August, and while it might be premature to say that he's on the decline, there's a fair argument to make that he may no longer be the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick heading into the 2015-16 campaign. Though he's seemed to assuage some concern about his ability to stay healthy by missing only seven games over the last two years, he saw his goal total decline to 28 in 2014-15, the lowest output for his career during a season in which he suited up for 60-plus games.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Held Off Score Sheet In Round 1
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
7:40 AM
News: Evgeni Malkin put a team-high six shots on goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Rangers, but failed to come away with a single point.
Analysis: Evgeni Malkin was held off the score sheet in all five games of the series, which effectively thwarted any shot the Penguins had of upsetting the Presidents' Trophy winners. The star center had actually gone without a point in the final five games of the regular season as well, so he'll finish off the 2014-15 campaign in a 10-game scoring drought, an extremely rare occurrence for one of the NHL's premier offensive talents. Prior to Game 5, reports came out that Malkin had been playing through an unspecified injury of late, so that would certainly seem to explain the steep drop in his production. Don't be surprised if news surfaces in the coming days that Malkin will require some sort of offseason procedure to address the injury.

Nick Spaling
Spaling Lone Scorer For Pens In Series-Ending Loss
Nick Spaling, C, PIT
7:34 AM
News: Nick Spaling tallied the Penguins' lone goal of the evening in Friday's Game 5 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Nick Spaling's offensive output Friday (one goal, three shots on net) essentially exceeded the whole of his production from the prior four games of the series (no goals, one assist, two shots). Of course, the Penguins probably weren't expecting Spaling to post any crooked scoring numbers in his third-line role, and few poolies likely rolled the dice with the winger either, after he generated only eight goals and 27 points over 82 regular-season contests.

Mikko Koivu
Wild's Koivu Picks Up Power-Play Tally
Mikko Koivu, C, MIN
7:25 AM
News: Mikko Koivu netted a power-play goal in Friday's Game 5 triumph over the Blues.
Analysis: Mikko Koivu earned credit for his first career postseason goal with the man advantage when his shot attempt in the second period ricocheted off the foot of the Blues' Jay Bouwmeester's skate and into the net, vaulting the Wild to a 3-1 lead in the game and ultimately, a 3-2 edge in the series. The tally also ended an eight-game goal drought for the Finnish center.

Jared Spurgeon
Wild's Spurgeon Picks Up Third Point Of Series
Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN
7:17 AM
News: Jared Spurgeon collected an assist in Friday's Game 5 victory over the Blues.
Analysis: With three points (one goal, two assists) in the five games, Jared Spurgeon ranks as the Wild's most productive defenseman in the early stages of the postseason. In addition, Spurgeon has put 10 shots on net while supplying nine hits and eight blocks during the series, providing the sort of all-around production that should give him a decent floor in daily formats even if he fails to record a point on a given night.

Ryan Suter
Wild's Suter Gets PP Assist
Ryan Suter, D, MIN
7:12 AM
News: Ryan Suter captured a power-play assist in Friday's Game 5 victory over the Blues.
Analysis: Ryan Suter's first point of the postseason came when he set up Mikko Koivu, whose shot attempt deflected off the skate of the Blues' Jay Bouwmeester and into the net. The blueliner logged 27:19 of action Friday and is still viewed as the team's top defenseman, but his offensive production has slid this season. In the 82 games he's played (including the postseason), Suter has generated just two goals on 154 shots, resulting in a 1.2 percent shooting rate.

Thomas Vanek
Wild's Vanek Assists In Win
Thomas Vanek, LW, MIN
6:59 AM
News: Thomas Vanek gathered an assist and put three shots on goal in Friday's Game 5 win over the Blues.
Analysis: It's the second assist of the first round for Thomas Vanek, who seems to have lost some momentum since cobbling together an eight-game point streak from March 8 through March 23 during the regular season. He's managed only two goals and three assists over his last 13 games, putting up just 24 shots during that span. Since he doesn't provide much usefulness in the hits or PIM categories, Vanek's value is largely nullified if he's not producing with much consistency.

 
 
 
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