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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
Rich Peverley
Stars' Peverley Decides To Retire
Rich Peverley, C, DAL
12:07 AM
News: Rich Peverley has decided to hang up his skates and call it a career.
Analysis: It's an unfortunate end to the 33-year-old center's career, as he suffered a cardiac incident March 10, and hasn't been able to play since. He spent time with four different teams throughout his career, and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning 2011 Boston Bruins. He finishes his playing career with 241 points (84 goals, 157 assists) in 442 games, but isn't finished with hockey altogether. He will now join the Stars' staff as the Player Development Coordinator.

Niklas Backstrom
Wild's Backstrom Waiting For Clearance
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
9/4/2015
News: Niklas Backstrom (elbow) was scheduled to visit team doctors this week with the hope of receiving clearance for the start of training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Niklas Backstrom required surgery over the summer to address a lingering elbow injury, and there remains some concern that he may not have healed enough to this point to take the ice when the season begins in October. In reality, it would probably be in the Wild's best interest for Backstrom to open the season on long-term injured reserve, as he's currently the No. 3 goalie on the depth chart behind Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper and carries a $3.4 million cap hit for 2015-16. Stashing Backstrom on long-term IR would allow the Wild to save a roster spot and avoid the financial hit of waiving him, as he would then be unavailable for at least the team's first 10 games.

Anton Zlobin
Pens' Zlobin Healthy Entering Camp
Anton Zlobin, RW, PIT
9/4/2015
News: Anton Zlobin (shoulder) is looking forward to entering training camp healthy after undergoing two shoulder surgeries in three years, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Anton Zlobin, a sixth-round pick in 2012, scored 40 goals in the QMJHL but has played just 61 games since turning pro due to injury. While his speed and size (5-11, 205 pounds) don't stand out, he has reputation for scoring big goals -- he scored six goals (three game-winners) in 15 AHL playoff contests. The 22-year-old Russian will be looking to make an impression this fall, most likely in the AHL, as he's playing for a new contract.

Daniel Cleary
Wings Ink Cleary To One-Year Contract
Daniel Cleary, RW, DET
9/4/2015
News: Daniel Cleary signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings on Friday, Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: The veteran Daniel Cleary didn't see a ton of action with the Red Wings last season, playing just 17 games due to some knee issues. He'll give it another go in 2015-16, however, with perhaps another offseason helping with the knee problem.

Kristers Gudlevskis
Bolts' Gudlevskis In Line To Open Season As Backup
Kristers Gudlevskis, G, TB
9/4/2015
News: With Andrei Vasilevskiy slated to remain off the ice for the next two-to-three months while recovering from a blood clot near his collarbone, Kristers Gudlevskis is expected to serve as the backup goalie behind Ben Bishop.
Analysis: Vasilevskiy's recovery timetable has him on track to sit out until early November at the earliest, paving the way for Kristers Gudlevskis to stick with the Bolts for at least the first month of the season. Coach Jon Cooper showed a willingness to give Bishop more frequent nights off than some of the league's top netminders last season, but that was due in some part to the reliability Vasilevskiy showed in a part-time role. Though Gudlevskis is a quality prospect, it might take a while before he earns the same amount of trust from the coaching staff, which could result in Bishop bearing a heavier workload to open the campaign, at least until Vasilevskiy is healthy enough to return. That said, because of the overall strength of the Bolts' roster, Gudlevskis should be well positioned to come away with the win nearly anytime he's called upon to make a spot start.

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Bolts' Vasilevskiy Undergoes Vascular Surgery
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, TB
9/4/2015
News: Andrei Vasilevskiy had surgery Thursday to remove a blood clot from near his left collarbone and treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and is expected to remain out for two-to-three months.
Analysis: With that timetable, Andrei Vasilevskiy figures to sit out through at least early- or mid-November, and quite possibly longer if his recovery trends toward the longer end of that period of time. Though Ben Bishop is the clear No. 1 goalie between the pipes for Tampa, Vasilevskiy looked to be one of the league's top backup options entering the season, due to both his strong team context and the skills he displayed when he received spots starts in 2014-15. With the 21-year-old sidelined, the Lightning will likely turn to Kristers Gudlevskis when they need to spell Bishop.

Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, CGY
9/3/2015
News: Ryan Wilson signed a professional tryout offer with the Flames on Thursday, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Wilson was limited to just three games as a member of the Avalanche last season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in late October that would ultimately require surgery. Prior to the injury, the 28-year-old wasn't expected to be a major part of the Avs' plans on the blue line, and he'll have an even more difficult time trying to carve out a role in Calgary's defensive corps, which may be the deepest in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom (Hip) "Not In A Rush" To Play
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
9/3/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skated during informal workouts Thursday morning, but is "not in a rush" to return to action, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom began skating in August following hip surgery during the offseason, and while he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he doesn't appear to have a specific target date in mind for his return. "I'm not going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing," the 27-year-old pivot remarked, "I'm not going to play on 90 percent. We'll see how it goes. We don't know yet." The uncertainty surrounding Backstrom's return has lowered his standing somewhat in fantasy rankings. While the situation should be monitored closely, Backstrom should provide some serious value if he can get up to speed quickly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and newcomer T.J. Oshie, as he has been one of the more productive playmakers and power-play performers over the last several seasons. Don't sleep on him too long in your draft if he continues to progress according to plan.

Joe Pavelski
Pavelski Expected To Be Named Sharks' Next Captain
Joe Pavelski, C, SJ
9/3/2015
News: Joe Pavelski is expected to be named the Sharks' next captain, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Captaincy has been a delicate issue in San Jose over the last year, as former coach Todd McLellan stripped longtime leader Joe Thornton of those honors heading into 2014-15, straining the relationship between the star center and team brass. While Thornton is still around, it's clear that the 31-year-old Joe Pavelski is now the face of the franchise, after ranking fourth in the NHL in goals over the last four seasons with 161. Pavelski figures to pace the Sharks in scoring once again during the upcoming campaign, while taking on more of a leadership role in the locker room.

Keith Ballard
Ex-Wild D-Man Ballard Leaning Toward Retirement
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9/3/2015
News: Keith Ballard (concussion) confirmed last week that he's leaning toward retirement, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard is still experiencing concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered Dec. 9 of last season, and it sounds like he's leaning toward hanging up his skates rather than risking permanent health issues. The 32-year-old had previously experienced several concussions during his NHL career, likely leaving many teams disinterested in Ballard's services even if he opts to keep playing.

 
 
 
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