With the holidays just a few days away and a three-night rest in sight for all teams, you might be surprised to find out nearly 85-percent of the NHL will play a three-game schedule on four nights this week, leveling the playing field.
*All B2B (Back-to-Back occurrences) in bold
Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators (Ottawa leads this series, 1-0-0)
Boston (at NSH, OTT, at OTT), who took one of two against Buffalo in last week's regional rival matchup, is back at it again. This time the Bruins will spread the Holiday cheer against their Ontario rivals, Ottawa (PIT, at BOS, BOS). Dougie Hamilton (lower body) seems to be at the halfway point of his recovery. After registering no shots in his first game back with Marc Methot, Erik Karlsson was a minus-1 with six shots against Phoenix. Meanwhile, Methot has a goal and two assists in his last two games. Four different Sens (Jason Spezza, Jared Cowen, Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil) scored in the 4-2 win back in November. Loui Eriksson had a goal and an assist in the loss. Brad Marchand did not practice on Sunday, but Daniel Paille did. Adam McQuaid could be nearing a return however. David Krejci has 10 points in his last eight games. Reilly Smith has certainly leveled the Tyler Seguin deal. Very likely you'll see both back-up goalies, but as always, get your most definitive information on masked men by monitoring our grids.
Three of a Kind
Six teams play three games this week and also have a four game schedule (GNW) out of the break. Let's break down the teams with the most action as we wane through the final days of 2013.
While they lost to the Lightning, Carolina (CBJ, PIT, at TOR) had a Jiri Tlusty sighting on Saturday. Once the holiday roster freeze is lifted (12/28/13), we should find out Anton Khudobin's fate. However, with no b2b occurrences and Justin Peters standing on his head lately, Khudobin will remain on the IR until notified about an AHL conditioning stint or the beginning of a three-man fight for two spots as the 'Canes begin the new year. Jay Harrison (lower body) left Saturday's game.
Chicago's (NJD, COL, at STL) schedule on the surface may seem winnable, but the Blackhawks are not as strong as they seem. Two of their seven regulation losses have come against this week's opponents, including St. Louis who boasts a shootout win over Chicago as well. Patrick Kane needs no update, but considering his six goals and 14 assists over his current 11-game point streak, he's deserving of it. Corey Crawford resumed skating but won't return to practice until after the holidays. Appearing in relief for Crawford earlier this season Antti Raanta allowed two goals in 47 minutes versus Colorado. Perhaps Jason LaBarbera in St. Louis, but don't be surprised if you see Raanta again.
Edmonton (WIN, at CGY, PHI) has lost six in a row, including Saturday's 6-0 loss to Boston. Despite playing some sketchy offenses this week, Ilya Bryzgalov could end up yielding to Richard Bachman. While Bachman had a terrible outing (five goals allowed) against the Texas Stars on Saturday, it's worth noting he shut them out the night prior. Anything to get the juices going in Edmonton's crease is likely to help this team and maybe your lineup.
After hosting the Bruins, Nashville (BOS, at DAL, LOS) will take on two offensive juggernauts. But the Preds currently hold a combined 2-0-1 record against the Stars and Kings this season. Considering Seth Jones (head) left Saturday's game early, Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec have been unreliable lately, all of that trending is suspect. Mike Fisher notched his first point in seven games this weekend.
Unlike Chicago, for the most part San Jose (COL, at PHX, ANA) has taken care of business against the strongest teams. However, the goal differential (3) in their 2-0-1 record against this week's opponents is minimal. Alex Stalock was solid against the Stars, but won't likely draw a start this week. Joe Pavelski has five goals in his last six games.
Winnipeg (at EDM, MIN, at COL) will host the Oilers in what is likely to be a high scoring game. From there, the Jets have their hands full, taking on two teams that have a combined record of 3-0-2 against the Jets. Mark Scheifele is busting out of his shell. Dustin Byfuglien has four points in four games, while Michael Frolik has five points in as many games. Ondrej Pavelec bounced back from a few poor outings in Saturday's win over Florida and will get at least two starts this week, if not all three.
With just two games in three nights, some teams will have a grueling schedule after the holiday.
Anaheim (at WAS, PHX, at SJS) has won eight straight games. Ryan Getzlaf (six goals, six assists in nine December games) broke out of his mini-slump in their most recent win over the Isles. Dustin Penner served as a healthy scratch on Saturday. Is that the reasoning behind the Kyle Palmieri (two goals, two assists in last two games) experiment once again building in your mind? We decided we won't fall for his streaky ways again, maybe. Don't worry too much about Frederik Andersen's subpar (18-of-21) effort against the Isles. While Jonas Hiller has a stronger won-loss record against the Coyotes, very likely we'll see Andersen take on the ‘Yotes and Jonas Hiller (2.29 career GAA versus San Jose) against the Sharks. Hampus Lindholm (plus-20) was healthy scratched on Saturday as well, no word if it's just rest or an actual issue for the rookie blueliner.
Despite Saturday's loss to Winnipeg, Florida (TBL, DET, MTL) has won seven of their last 10 games. Scott Clemmensen has been ultra-stingy in Tim Thomas' absence, so look for Clemmensen to get the starts against the Lightning and Red Wings. It's possible you could see the return of Thomas against Montreal considering Jacob Markstrom's struggles in his last three NHL starts, albeit over a 45-day span.
Montreal (at TBL, at FLA), who started the month 4-0, has been feast or famine since losing 6-0 to the Kings earlier this month. Now 3-2 over their last five games, the Canadiens head for Florida after the holidays, where they are 0-1-1 this season. David Desharnais is building momentum again. Daniel Briere quietly returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving as a healthy scratch on Thursday.
After starting the month 0-2-1, New Jersey (at CHI, CBJ, at NYI) is staying in games. Jaromir Jag is feeling it and the Devils have won three of their last four as a result. Hell, even Andy Greene is getting in on the action. Most importantly to the long-term, Travis Zajac is starting to come around consistently. Martin Brodeur wasn't exactly fantastic on Saturday and Andrei Loktionov sat out with the flu. While Damien Brunner (knee) will be out at least four weeks, Ryan Carter and Adam Larsson have resumed skating and Ryane Clowe could play as soon as Monday.
Although the Islanders (at DET, NJD, at MIN) have yet to reach the level of wretched that the Sabres currently hold, their goal differential isn't all that far off. Thomas Vanek has been sugar coating it in the past two games while John Tavares (one point) has as many points as Ryan Strome in the last four games. Despite allowing four goals to Anaheim, Evgeni Nabaokov gives them a solid chance to get out of this funk.
While most might look to the streaky Antoine Vermette for a continuance of his hat trick for Phoenix (at BUF, SJS, at ANA) on Saturday versus the Senators, Mikkel Boedker has been the constant, posting nine points (four goals) in as many games this month. Derek Morris is back again, posting 25 minutes of TOI regularly and has 11 shots on goal since returning from a personal issue two games ago. Only question is, how long will he hang around? That goes double for Lauri Korpikoski.
After a loss to Ottawa last week, St. Louis (at CGY, CHI, at DAL) is back to their winning ways. While their schedule suggests some bumpy roads, posting the best goal diff in the NHL can certainly bolster your confidence in starting your Blues players. Hopefully that will include the recently extended Alexander Steen (unknown). Chris Stewart is really on a tear as of late, posting a plus-9 with eight goals two assists over his last six games. David Backes (upper body) returned on Saturday night, with no points and six penalty minutes, but you tell us if you consider that a quiet return. Despite the pecking order, Brian Elliott is outplaying Jaroslav Halak as of late. Roman Polak (ankle) will miss at least two weeks. Derek Roy remains consistent.
Winners of four straight, Tampa Bay (at FLA, MTL, NYR) has snuck their way back to the top of the Atlantic division. It's likely to continue as Tampa has a combined 4-0 record (17-6 GF/GA) against this week's opponents. Valtteri Filppula and Victor Hedman have had a little to do with their recent resurgence. On Saturday night in particular, Radko Gudas logged the game-winning overtime goal, five hits, three blocked shots and two minor penalties. Ben Bishop is likely to head into the break with a five-game winning streak, if the Lightning can continue their success (2-0, 11/5 GF/GA) against a more consistent Panthers squad. Eric Brewer (upper body) was warming up and Ryan Malone (foot) is looking at a return early next month. Tom Pyatt (collarbone) returned to action on Saturday.
Hold or Fold
Aside from Montreal, the following four teams will play just two-or-less games this week. While two games is always a red flag to fantasy owners, it almost exclusively suggests a bounce back schedule or three or more games the following week. So let's give you an idea if you should drop/retain a questionable or injured player from their roster.
Detroit (NYI, at FLA) plays three games next week. While the Islanders are seemingly cupcake games to most NHL teams lately, the Panthers have the Red Wings number this season. Stephen Weiss is done until after the Olympics. Pavel Datsyuk is getting his rhythm back. Danny DeKeyser (shoulder) returned with an assist on Saturday. Justin Abdelkader is "aiming" to play on Monday at the Isles and could be available in your league. Tomas Tatar broke his silence with a goal against Toronto on Saturday. But it's another Tomas, former second-round pick (2011) Tomas Jurco (11 goals, 16 assists in 26 games with Grand Rapids this season) that has us intrigued. Jimmy Howard is eyeing (75-percent chance) the Winter Classic for his return, so the one constant is Jonas Gustavsson and Petr Mrazek are the tandem to close out the year in Detroit.
Los Angeles (DAL, at NSH) has two games this week, but four next week. Jeff Carter has continued his assault on December after posting goose eggs last Sunday. Martin Jones is the new Frederik Andersen.
Philadelphia (MIN, at EDM) has two winnable games, IF they can get solid goaltending. While Vincent Lecavalier returned to the lineup to the tune of an assist and 16-plus TOI, Steve Downie (upper body) is out for at least a week. Steven Mason is still the man, especially after Ray Emery's 6-3 loss to Columbus. Wayne Simmonds has been contributing and not just penalty minutes.
Vancouver (at CGY) has just one game this week, but will bounce back with four next week. Jason Garrison snapped a three-game point scoring drought on Friday.