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Right on Schedule: Marching into the stretch run

by | Rotowire.com
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The rollercoaster ride known that is the NHL schedule throttles on into March. This week we have 55 total games on tap before drumming back down to 47 next week. Obviously Bettman and company were rushed when creating this season's three month schedule. With a minimum of four games on every night this week, there's a ton of room for creating a trend and gaming these weird matchups to your advantage.

Let's Play Back-To-Back, Twice

New Jersey (@TOR,TB, BUF,@CAR,WPG) who is the second team in three weeks to have a five-game slate in seven days lost 4-3 in a shootout to listless Buffalo on Saturday. However, Adam Henrique snapped a nine-game goalless streak to end February in the process. Andrei Loktionov has three goals and two assists during his current five game point streak. GOALIE IDEAS: With Martin Brodeur's (back) injury issues, despite losing to the aforementioned Sabres, Johan Hedberg is ripe for the taking this week. Also, Keith Kinkaid has been called up from Albany of the AHL. Kinkaid is 17-11-1-5 with a 2.69 GAA at the AHL level. 

As we've mentioned in previous weeks, not even Henrique is happier than San Jose (@ VAN, @CAL, STL, @COL) is to see February (2-6-4) come to an end. For Logan Couture, he didn't wait till the end of the month. Couture has two goals and two assists in the Sharks last three games, in which they've gone 2-0-1. GOALIE IDEAS: Thomas Greiss owners everywhere are rejoicing as he is likely to get two starts this week.  However, Niemi has been great against of all of this week's opponents, so this will have to be closely monitored with two back-to-back occurrences this week. Perhaps it's noteworthy that Niemi is 4-1-1 (2.10 GAA) on Tuesday's, but has yet to play on a Wednesday this season. Also, the Fin backstop is 0-1-2 (1.27 GAA) on Saturday's and 2-0 on Sunday's.

Between The Back-To-Back Twines

Ottawa (@TOR, @NYR) and Dallas (@LA, @PHX) will not be one of the 21 teams playing at least four games this week. With just two games on the docket for the Sens and Stars, find other options than their players. With that out of the way, let's examine the schedule of some of the teams playing four games and at least one back-to-back occurrence this week.

Starting with those who likely to have a good week

Phoenix (ANH, @ANH, STL, DAL) won the first of three straight with Anaheim (home/road/home) to start the month. Lauri Korpikoski had two goals against Anaheim and Steve Sullivan even awakened Saturday. Oliver Ekman-Larsson - six assists and plus-11 in his last six games- is paying dividends as well. Forwards Chris Brown and Rob Klinkhammer have been called up as reserves with Martin Hanzal (upper body) and Radim Vrbata (lower body) out currently. Unlike Anaheim, the 'Yotes will play in back-to-back games when they leave Anaheim Wednesday to head home and host St. Louis on Thursday. GOALIE IDEAS: Mike Smith is probably the most overworked number one in the league, but he may get two games off this week, starting with one of the Ducks games. Based on career numbers, expect Jason LaBarbera to start against Anaheim Wednesday and Smith back in net against the Blues.

Things are looking good for the slow start Kings who have won six of their last 8 games. Los Angeles (NAS, STL, DAL, CAL), who has 17 games in the month of March play every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next three weeks. Defenseman Alec Martinez (upper body) should be back up and running this week. GOALIE IDEAS: Your decision comes quick (intended pun) as L.A. plays their back-to-back occurrence starting Monday. Jonathan Bernier (4-1-0, 1.64 GAA) is heating up this goalie situation while Jonathan Quick has found himself in head coach Darryl Sutter's doghouse lately. Regardless, Bernier was terrific in his February 11th start against the Blues, so look for Quick to start against Nashville. From there, it's anybody's guess and both the Stars and Flames should be easy wins with the Kings who are seemingly clicking.

Something has got to get Tampa Bay (@PIT, @NJ, WPG, MON) going. The woes certainly begin with their play on the road (3-7-1) and on Saturday they took steps towards resolving that issue with a quick two goal lead on Conference leader Boston. But their penalty kill took a hit and the Bruins scored three unanswered goals to win. The road trip continues and doesn't get any easier with games in white against Pittsburgh and New Jersey. GOALIE IDEAS: Mathieu Garon has been much better than his 2-7 record suggests. Meanwhile Anders Lindback (7-4-1) has been pulled from two of his last six starts, including the Lightning's 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh last week. Though Lindback didn't fare much better against the Devils in a previous February match up, it's more likely he gets a shot at redemption against them than the Penguins.

Although Blake Wheeler's (leg) status is in question, winners in five of their last seven games, Winnipeg's (@FLA, @TB, @ FLA, @NJ) offense is starting to take shape. Though they are a combined 1-2 versus their divisional opponents this week and all four games are on the road (6-4-1), the Panthers are seemingly everyone's prey these days and Tampa Bay failed to stop the Jets' power-play (2-for-4) in their 8-3 rout of the Winnipeg early in the season. Their early staying power and consistently will truly be gauged in Sunday's match up with the Devils. GOALIE IDEAS: Look for Ondrej Pavelec to start three games this week, including Wednesday's big match-up with the Lightning. Al Montoya has been activated off the IR and will most likely play Friday in Miami.

Pittsburgh (TB, @PHI, @TOR, NYI)'s Kris Letang got off to a great start for March with four assists in the Pens 7-6 win over Montreal Saturday. Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz and Brandon Sutter each had two goals with Tomas Vokoun in goal. GOALIE IDEAS: Problem is Voukon let up six goals of his own, though we're not so sure the Islanders are even capable of such a feat. The Pens will most likely roll with Vokoun in Saturday's matchup with Toronto as Marc-Andre Fleury didn't perform well against the Buds earlier this season, leaving Fleury for the game against the Islanders at home on Sunday.

With Raphael Diaz (concussion) out, Montreal (@NYI, @CAR, @TB, @FLA)'s Tomas Kaberle had two assists in the loss to Pittsburgh. Montreal is certainly looking good (13-4-4) this season but gets lost in the pack due to an almost impeccable Bruins squad in the way. Today (Sunday March 3rd), the two square off as the Canadiens begin a five-game road trip. GOALIE IDEAS: Carey Price gave up seven goals to the Pens, luckily they won't be visiting Pittsburgh this week. Instead their back-to-back occurrence falls on their second Florida swing in a month. Look for Montreal to start Peter Budaj likely against Florida on Sunday.

AlthoughEdmonton (@CLS, @DET, @NAS, @CHI) is currently ranked 12th in the conference standings, the mediocre Oilers are a mere three wins away from being at the top of the pack. With two of their four games in Columbus and Nashville, we think Edmonton's rostered talent alone should get them at least two of those wins. GOALIE IDEAS: With Nikolai Khabibulin (groin) out, the team has recalled Yann Danis to be back up. We're usually the last ones to support Devan Dubnyk, but March is typically his best career month. Look for Dubnyk against the Red Wings and Dannis against the Predators in their back-to-back occurrence.

After a February where Florida's (WPG, @WAS, WPG, MON) Drew Shore had 10 points in 13 games, he was pointless in Saturday 6-2 loss to Carolina. Don't expect Shore to remain cold for too long, he appears to have the every other game trend down pat already. Especially since the 10th ranked Panthers' power play face Winnipeg (30th) and Washington's (27th) penalty killing teams. GOALIE IDEAS: Most valuable to fantasy owners is the goalie situation as Jose Theodore went down in the first period of the loss to the 'Canes with another leg issue. Looks like Scott Clemmensen will go for most of the week, and look for Jacob Markstrom to be recalled, possibly starting in Washington or at home against the Jets. Has the beginning of the Markstrom era finally begun?

And some not lined up for a good week

Ryan Callahan has been a jack of all trades lately invigorating the Rangers (PHI, @NYI, OTT @WAS). With the exception of Henrik Lundqvist's usual standing on his head, Cally has single-handedly held the offensively-slumping Rangers out of the Eastern Conference cellar these past few games. The way the Rangers have been playing lately, they could easily go winless or unbeaten this week, but neither is likely. Three of the Rangers' four opponents this week have a top-10 ranked penalty kill. That won't help an already struggling NHL ranked 29th power play unit for the Rangers. GOALIE IDEAS: Though you can never tell with coach John Tortorella, Martin Biron is likely to the start when the Rangers visit the Long Island Thursday, yielding back to Lundqvist for their home game with Ottawa on Friday.

It's the perfect fresh start for all considered. Ryan O'Reilly signs with the team as they get back to .500 (8-8-3) hockey. O'Reilly will also wear a new jersey number (#90) and be inserted as a third line center with Milan Hejduk and John Mitchell immediately. From the looks of Colorado's (@DET, @CHI, CHI, SJ) schedule, they're going to need a fast return. After back-to-back road games in Detroit and Chicago, the Avs head home for two, including the second half of their back-to-back with the 'Hawks. GOALIE IDEAS: Neither goalie has a favorable record against Detroit, but back-up Jean-Sebastien Giguere's (6-13-1, 2.68 GAA) career record against the Red Wings is a bit more concerning. So look for Semyon Varlamov to start in the Motor City and Giguere in Chicago.

An improving Washington (BOS, FLA, @NYI, NYR) squad will begin a very busy March (16 games) with two at home. Under the radar, John Erskine is a plus-4 with a goal and an assist in his last two games while Mike Green (groin) missed Saturday's game against the Jets. After visiting the Islanders Saturday, the Caps head back home for NBC's 12:30 game of the week Sunday against the Rangers. GOALIE IDEAS: Head coach Adam Oates will most likely save Braden Holtby for the Rangers game as Michal Neuvirth has a favorable career record (5-0,1.83 GAA) against the Isles.

It might not always show in the standings, but The Islanders (MON, NYR, WAS, @PIT) have some young talent budding. Casey Cizikas and David Ullstrom have produced at times this season, but its players like Kyle Okposo (goal, two assists vs. TOR) who need to get going for the New York string together some wins. The Isles begin the week in midst of a four-game homestand. The end of the homestand comes with the Capitals before traveling to Pittsburgh on Sunday. GOALIE IDEAS: We highly doubt Kevin Poulin gets fed to a pack of Pens, so look for him to play against the Capitals Saturday and Evgeni Nabakov Sunday.

Everybody's talking about Nazem Kadri's natural hat trick. Additionally, Matt Frattin has been officially cleared for contact will practice Sunday. Toronto's (NJ, OTT, @BOS, PIT) strength of schedule resembles that of the Avalanche, with just a bit more promise. Toronto will play three of those four from home and they may have resolved - won three of last four at home - those pesky home woes,so the Leafs should actually hold up pretty tough. Just don't expect a momentum building perfect week. GOALIE IDEAS: James Reimer didn't exactly look sharp against the Islanders, but it was his first game in 17 days and he's now won his last four starts. Too little too late however, as we think Ben Scrivens is the new man in town. As long as Reimer stays healthy though, looks like Jussi Rynas will head back to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

Due to injuries to Andy McDonald (knee) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion), after a sub-par February, St. Louis (@LA, @PHX @SJ, @ANH) -is 2-2-1 in their last five games- is barely hanging on in a very tight Western Conference playoff hunt. However, add in Alexander Steen (shoulder) to the IR list and our once great small market hope appears to be folding. And with this week's schedule, is it already time for Ken Hitchcock to either explode or implode himself onto the situation? Luckily for the Blues, who play all four this week in white, they play very well (6-2-1) on the road, so there's still room for hope. Worth noting, Jaden Schwartz had a goal and an assist while skating with the team's top line Friday. Vladimir Sobotka also had a goal and assist in the win. GOALIE IDEAS: Brian Elliott is due to get his first start in 21 days this Sunday, how well he does could determine how many starts he gets this week. In the meantime, while Jaroslav Halak has better career numbers versus San Jose than Anaheim, Elliott gave up five goals to the Ducks in an OT-loss on the ninth of February.

TV TIME (all games in EST)

MON - MAR 4 - Lightning at Penguins 7:30 pm - NBCSports
MON - MAR 4 - Predators at Kings 10:30 pm - NHLNetwork
TUE - MAR 5 - Flyers at Rangers 7:30 pm - NBCSports
WED - MAR 6 - Avalanche at Blackhawks 8 pm - NBCSports
THU - MAR 7 - Penguins at Flyers 7 pm - NHLNetwork
FRI - MAR 8 - Blackhawks at Avalanche 9 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Flyers at Bruins 1 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Blues at Sharks 4 pm - NHLNetwork
SAT - MAR 9 - Penguins at Maple Leafs 7 pm - NHLNetwork
SUN - MAR 10 - Rangers at Capitals 12:30 pm - NBC
SUN - MAR  10 - Sabres at Flyers 7:30 pm - NBCSports

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Player News
Elias Lindholm
Lindholm Signs Two-Year Extension With Hurricanes
Elias Lindholm, C, CAR
8/27/2015
News: Elias Lindholm signed a two-year, $5.4 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Analysis: Elias Lindholm was a solid contributor in his first full NHL season in 2014-15, registering 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games with the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Carolina this season, and should have a great shot at improving upon his offensive numbers from a year ago as he continues his development as an NHL forward.

Patrik Berglund
Blues' Berglund To Require Shoulder Surgery
Patrik Berglund, C, STL
8/27/2015
News: Patrik Berglund aggravated a dislocated right shoulder while working out and is set to undergo surgery Friday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. He'll require at least four months of recovery time.
Analysis: Patrik Berglund first dislocated the shoulder in 2013-14, and required surgery last offseason to address the issue. The center was able to recover in time from that procedure to play on Opening Night last season, but given how late in the offseason calendar the setback occurred this time around, it looks like Berglund won't take the ice again until the calendar flips to 2016. His extended absence could allow prospect Robby Fabbri to claim third-line center duties out of training camp, with veteran Scott Gomez also in the mix if coach Ken Hitchcock prefers a more experienced option for that role.

Scott Gomez
Gomez Signs PTO With Blues
Scott Gomez, C, NJ
8/27/2015
News: Scott Gomez accepted a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Thursday, Andy Strickland of FOX Sports Midwest reports.
Analysis: After failing to garner a contract in free agency for the second straight offseason, Scott Gomez will again head to training camp on a PTO, as he did last season in New Jersey. Though he wasn't able to crack the Devils' Opening Night roster, he continued to work out with the team after the tryout period ended and was eventually signed to the team when injuries opened up an opportunity in late November. Gomez would end the season as one of the more productive contributors on the offensively challenged Devils, finishing third on the team with 34 points. The Blues boast a far deeper roster of forward talent, but with the news surfacing after Gomez's signing that Patrik Berglund would miss at least four months following shoulder surgery, an opening on the third line could exist for the 35-year-old.

Max Pacioretty
Habs' Pacioretty Still On Schedule With Rehab
Max Pacioretty, LW, MON
8/27/2015
News: Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said recently that Max Pacioretty (knee) remains on schedule in the rehabilitation process, Arpon Basu of LNH.com reports.
Analysis: Max Pacioretty sustained the knee injury while working out in Florida in early July, and was given a projected recovery timetable of 10-to-12 weeks. Given the length of the timetable, Pacioretty is expected to sit out all of training camp, and while his availability for the Oct. 7 regular-season opener in Toronto remains possible, he'd likely be subjected to limited minutes in the early going as he looks to build endurance. Once back to full health, Pacioretty should reemerge as the Habs' most dangerous offensive option after he potted 37 goals and a career-high 67 points in 2014-15.

Ladislav Smid
Flames Expecting Smid Back For Training Camp
Ladislav Smid, D, CGY
8/27/2015
News: The Flames' front office believes Ladislav Smid (neck) will be ready to skate during the team's first on-ice session at training camp in September, the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ladislav Smid's season came to an end last January when he required surgery on his neck, but his communication with the Flames to this point in the offseason suggests he has recovered well from the procedure. If healthy, Smid will compete in camp with Deryk Engelland for a spot as Calgary's sixth defenseman.

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Likely To Play Next To Kessel
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
8/27/2015
News: Coach Mike Johnston said earlier this week that Sidney Crosby is expected to play next to Phil Kessel to begin training camp, CBS Sports reports.
Analysis: The Penguins have cycled in a number of right wingers next to Sidney Crosby throughout his career, and while Patric Hornqvist proved capable in that capacity last season, he's not nearly as prolific at finding twine as Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer. With his health concerns beginning to fade away after missing only seven games over the last two seasons, Crosby once again looks like a reasonable choice at No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, even after scoring only 28 goals in 2014-15, his lowest total in any year he's suited up for at least 60 contests. Crosby probably won't come close to approaching the 51-goal peak he reached in 2009-10, but a slight uptick in his anomalous 11.8 shooting percentage coupled with the likely increase in assist opportunities with Kessel blitzing the net could make a return to 100 points conceivable.

Mike Richards
Charges Announced For Ex-King Richards
Mike Richards, C, LA
8/27/2015
News: Mike Richards was formally charged with possession of a controlled substance while entering Canada stemming from a June 17 border stop by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: The Kings determined the incident gave them just cause to release Mike Richards for a "material breach" of his 12-year contract, a decision that prompted the NHL Players Association to file a grievance. The nature of the border stop likely won't affect the outcome of that legal battle, as both the NHLPA and the Kings were aware of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Currently a free agent, Richards is able to sign with any team while the grievance remains underway, but his steep decline in performance over the last few seasons coupled with this ongoing dispute probably has few organizations interested in his services.

Kyle Okposo
Isles Begin Contract Talks With Okposo
Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI
8/26/2015
News: Kyle Okposo and the Islanders have begun talks on a new contract, according to Islanders Point Blank.
Analysis: Both sides are hoping to get an agreement done before the start of the season but the parameters on a new deal could be difficult to negotiate. Kyle Okposo will make $4.5 million this season and could command a deal north of $6 million per year on the open market, a figure the Islanders may not be willing to approach at this time. If the two sides can't come to an agreement before the start of the season then Okposo's name will be one we will hear quite often in trade rumors.

Sami Aittokallio
Avs Re-Sign Aittokallio
Sami Aittokallio, G, COL
8/26/2015
News: Sami Aittokallio has re-signed with the Avalanche on a one-year, two-way contract, General Fanager reports.
Analysis: Sami Aittokallio appears to be the clear No. 4 goalie in the Colorado organization behind Semyon Varlamov, Calvin Pickard, and Reto Berra, so it's somewhat surprising he elected to commit for another year rather than bolt for Europe. Even so, Aittokallio's contract does at least include a clause for him to play overseas if he isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the Avalanche, potentially opening the door for him to leave the club if he's assigned to the AHL out of training camp, as expected.

Adam Cracknell
Canucks Ink Cracknell To Two-Way Deal
Adam Cracknell, RW, VAN
8/26/2015
News: Adam Cracknell signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Mostly due to the Blue Jackets' array of injuries last season, Adam Cracknell saw 17 games at the NHL level, producing no goals and one assist. He'll function as an organizational depth piece for the Canucks, but will once again require several players to go down before skating in the NHL. Even if that materializes, he'd likely be limited to a bottom-six role with limited ice time.

 
 
 
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