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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
Danny Kristo
Kristo Re-Signs With Rangers
Danny Kristo, RW, NYR
8/21/2014
News: Danny Kristo re-signed with the Rangers on Thursday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old Danny Kristo tallied 25 goals and 18 assists in 65 games with AHL Hartford last season. Another season at the AHL level likely awaits.

Patrick Marleau
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Patrick Marleau, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks announced Wednesday that they would enter camp without a captain, which includes taking the "A" off Patrick Marleau's sweater, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It had been rumored and hinted at all summer that Patrick Marleau and captain Joe Thornton would have their leadership roles passed to younger players. It has also been rumored that both were asked to waive their no trade clause. Neither did. The team wants the younger generation to take the torch, but as far as fantasy is concerned, you can't reduce the playing time of a player like Marleau, who scored 33 goals and 37 assists last season.

Joe Thornton
Sharks Strip Thornton Of Captaincy
Joe Thornton, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks officially announce Wednesday that Joe Thornton would not be the team captain entering training camp, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Coach Todd McLellan said that he doesn't consider it to be stripping Joe Thornton of anything, since he'll be given the opportunity to earn the "C" back. The team has talked frequently this offseason of passing the torch to the next generation and that's what this appears to be. Thornton was not only rumored to be losing his "C," but was involved in trade rumors as well. However, he has a no trade clause and doesn't seem interested in leaving San Jose.

Raffi Torres
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8/20/2014
News: Raffi Torres suffered an infection in his surgically-repaired right knee and is expected to miss the first few months of the season while he undergoes another operation on the knee, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Raffi Torres was limited to just five regular-season contests in 2013-14 after undergoing knee surgery and suffering a subsequent setback shortly after returning after the Olympics. He would ultimately rejoin the Sharks during the postseason and looked to be healthy heading into the upcoming campaign, but it seems the infection surfaced at some point over the summer. For the second straight season, he'll open on injured reserve as a result, with no concrete date for his return. Torres has been a useful player for the Sharks when he's been on the ice, but with two years still remaining on his contract, his durability concerns might dampen the remainder of his tenure with his team.

Dennis Seidenberg
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Dennis Seidenberg, D, BOS
8/20/2014
News: Dennis Seidenberg (knee) expects to be ready for training camp, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Dennis Seidenberg, who last suited up on Dec. 27, had surgery in early January to repair an ACL/MCL injury in his right knee in. At the time, the estimated timetable for a return was in the 6-8 month range. With no reported setbacks since then, and given that the sturdy blueliner indicated that he probably could have returned to action had the Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, things appear to be on track for him to be at, or near, 100 percent in advance of the upcoming regular season.

Henrik Zetterberg
Wings' Zetterberg: Healthy Heading Into Camp
Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Henrik Zetterberg (foot) said he was "feeling the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be a full participant in training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: With both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk missing 37 games apiece last season, the Red Wings were forced to get by with a patchwork forward ranks to so-so results. Now that both players are feeling healthy, the depth chart should enjoy more stability in 2014-15, but don't be surprised if Zetterberg notices a drop in ice time for maintenance purposes as he enters his age-34 season. Still, Zetterberg hasn't had many health issues prior to last season, and managed to supply 48 points over the 45 contests in which he suited up. There's plenty of value to be had in Zetterberg, even as he takes on a more deferential role to emerging wings Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in the years to come.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Feeling Good Heaing Into Camp
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Pavel Datsyuk (knee) said he was feeling "the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be ready to go for training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Considering Pavel Datsyuk hasn't played since late April, it's no surprise he's feeling spry, but there's serious questions he'll hold up for 82 games as he enters his age-34 campaign. He's missed a total of 76 games over his last four seasons, muting the impact of the nearly point-per-game production he provides when healthy. Considering his injury history, Datsyuk might not be worth the markup price his name will cost fantasy players on draft day.

Stephen Weiss
Red Wings' Weiss (Hernia) Feeling Healthy
Stephen Weiss, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Stephen Weiss indicated he's feeling healthy following his April 21 surgery to repair his sports hernia, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Stephen Weiss was a disaster in his first season with the Red Wings after inking a five-year, $24.5 million deal last summer, appearing in only 26 games and totaling four points. He ultimately required a pair of sports hernia surgeries that prevented a second-half return, but after spending the last four months recovering, he appears ready to go for 2014-15. Weiss will be given the opportunity to win back his job as the Wings' No. 2 center, but it seems dubious that he'll be able to return to the 50-point form he showed during his prime years with the Panthers.

Mike Mottau
NHLer Mottau Calls It A Career
Mike Mottau, D, FLA
8/19/2014
News: Mike Mottau announced his retirement from professional hockey Tuesday, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com reports.
Analysis: The Massachusetts native was exploring the option of playing with AHL Providence to stick with his hometown Bruins organization, but decided he was content to spend more time with his family. Mike Mottau, 36, appeared in 321 career NHL games with the Rangers, Flames, Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Panthers, with his most productive seasons coming in the late-2000s with New Jersey.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Cleared For Training Camp
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8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Josh Harding is "a go" for training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season are feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we're not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals."
Analysis: With an 18-7-3 record, 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage, Josh Harding was playing as well as any goal in hockey before a setback in his treatment for multiple sclerosis sidelined him after the end of December. Because he's missed large chunks of both of the last two seasons while dealing with the effects of the illness, fantasy players shouldn't look to invest heavily in Harding. Even if healthy, he's no lock to open the season as the regular starter in goal for the Wild with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper still around.

 
 
 
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