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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
Nick Bjugstad
Panthers' Bjugstad In A Rough Patch
Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA
2/28/2015
News: Nick Bjugstad posted a minus-2 with one shot on goal in Thursday night's 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nick Bjugstad started February on fire with seven points in his first nine games of the month including a stretch with four goals in five games. However, the past five games have not been as kind to the 22-year-old. Bjugstad has only taken 11 shots on goal and has posted a minus-7 plus/minus, dragging his plus/minus for the season to minus-9. He still leads the team in points (36) and goals (21), but will need to regain his scoring form for the already light-scoring Panthers.

Jonas Gustavsson
Red Wings' Gustavsson To Start Saturday
Jonas Gustavsson, G, DET
2/28/2015
News: Jonas Gustavsson will start Saturday's game in Nashville, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: It's a bit surprising to see Jonas Gustavsson get the nod, as Detroit won't play again until Wednesday's game against the Rangers. The matchup is as tough as they come, with Nashville currently leading the race for the President's Trophy.

Bobby Ryan
Sens' Ryan Records Five SOG, Assist In Win
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
2/28/2015
News: Bobby Ryan assisted on the game's lone goal in Thursday's 1-0 win over the Kings.
Analysis: Bobby Ryan is working on a modest three-game point streak, which are starting to become ordinary for him in his second season in Ottawa. The Sens' leading scorer with 45 points, Ryan has been especially productive since the All-Star break. He's accumulated three goals and nine assists in his last 12 games.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets' Bobrovsky (Groin) May Start Saturday
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
2/28/2015
News: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) will skate on his own Saturday morning, and the Blue Jackets will then make a decision on their starter for Saturday's game against the Devils, Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The team will not skate until 5 PM, but Sergei Bobrovsky is going to work out on his own in the morning. If he doesn't make it back for Saturday's game, Bobrovsky could still start Sunday's contest in Pittsburgh.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Pots 20th In Loss
Craig Smith, C, NSH
2/28/2015
News: Craig Smith netted his 20th goal of the season in Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Wild.
Analysis: Craig Smith is on track to fall short of last year's career-high total of 52 points, but he's at least in the midst of his hottest run of production of the season. He's accumulated six goals and two assists in his last seven games, making him a trendy waiver wire addition in recent days.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott To Start Vs. Oilers On Saturday
Brian Elliott, G, STL
2/28/2015
News: Brian Elliott will start Saturday's game in Edmonton, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: With Brian Elliott starting Saturday night, there's a good chance Jake Allen will get the nod for Sunday's game in Vancouver. However, the Blues have yet to name a starter for that game. First, Elliott will try to make the most of a favorable matchup, facing an Edmonton team with just 46 points this season.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson (Lower Body) Out Friday
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
2/28/2015
News: Nate Thompson (lower body) remains day-to-day, but he will not play in Friday's game against the Kings, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Chris Wagner will center the Ducks' fourth line, working in between Tim Jackman and Patrick Maroon.

Kimmo Timonen
Flyers' Timonen Traded To Blackhawks For Picks
Kimmo Timonen, D, PHI
5:09 PM
News: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots in leg) was traded to the Blackhawks on Friday for a 2015 second-round draft pick and a 2016 conditional fourth-round draft pick, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: The Flyers made no secret of their desire to trade away Kimmo Timonen to a contending club in what will be his final NHL season, but it was thought that he'd receive at least a one-game sendoff Saturday in front of the Philadelphia fans before a team acquired him. Instead, the Blackhawks, who were apparently satisfied with the Flyers' reports regarding the blueliner's health despite the fact he has yet to play this season due to blood clots, decided to swoop in with the surprise acquisition. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has repeatedly tinkered with his defensive pairings for the last several games, and the addition of Timonen should add yet another interesting wrinkle to those plans. Even as he nears age 40, Timonen still offers plenty of offensive upside on the blue line, and makes for a strong speculative pickup in just about any format with the move to one of the Western Conference's top squads. Expect Timonen to make his season and Blackhawks debut Monday against the Hurricanes.

Bobby Sanguinetti
Canucks Reassign Sanguinetti
Bobby Sanguinetti, D, VAN
4:54 PM
News: Bobby Sanguinetti was reassigned to AHL Utica after Thursday's loss to the Sabres, Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Bobby Sanguinetti, who was recalled by the Canucks on Feb. 19, was a healthy scratch for the entirety of his four-game stint with the parent club.

Johnny Oduya
Blackhawks Place Oduya On IR
Johnny Oduya, D, CHI
4:35 PM
News: Johnny Oduya (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Johnny Oduya has missed nearly a week with the injury and is slated to miss at least another one, so the decision to place him on IR doesn't register as much of a surprise. The transaction will open up a spot on the 23-man roster for an extra player, should the Blackhawks choose to fill the vacancy.

 
 
 
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