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Schedule Analysis: Targeting the Caps

Brian Rutherford

A freelance writer of all things but mostly sports, music and politics, Brian Rutherford was raised on Long Island, NY and currently resides in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. His favorite teams are the New York Rangers, Texas Rangers, New York Giants and New York Knicks. "So the difference I think, boils down to this: you can either impose yourself on reality and then write about it, or you can impose yourself on reality by writing it." -Hunter S. Thompson "The Proud Highway"

Returning from a slow week is always interesting. Especially a holiday week where personal schedules may have interfered with your performance last week. Luckily, there's quite a few eye-popping trends to gamble on this week.

10 x 4
While you'll want avoid four teams (Boston, Columbus, Philadelphia, Vancouver) with two tilts, 10 of the remaining 26 teams will have a four-game schedule. From worst to first, here's our rankings for the week:

10. Buffalo Sabres
If you break down the total goals for and against this week's opponents, you don't get too concerned about their 0-2-1 season record against the Caps, Isles and Red Wings. That doesn't mean the young and re-loading Sabres will come out knives slicing this week. Jack Eichel snapped a seven-game goal drought with his first career four-point night Saturday against Boston. Chad Johnson also had a big part of their win on Saturday. Matt Moulson did not serve as a healthy scratch, but logged just over 11 minutes. Jamie McGinn took advantage, collecting a goal and an assist while playing on the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart.

9. Minnesota Wild
The Wild are still considered in the better half of the league, and it will remain that way if they could just get their act together on the road (5-5-5)

8. Nashville Predators
Buried by the strongest division in recent NHL history, the Predators could easily be fighting for first place in at least two other division. While long-term view in the Music City is encouraging, their 1-3 record against this week's opponents shows signs of distress ahead. Filip Forsberg is riding a four-game point streak, and line mate Mike Ribeiro is enjoying that streak as well.

7. New York Islanders
The Isles' weakness this year has been on the road, so it will be interesting to see how they perform against this week's opponents (0-1-0). Jaroslav Halak did not practice Saturday and yielded to Thomas Greiss; this could be a break in the FA pool for those starved for goalie personnel.

6. Dallas Stars
Headed into Christmas weekend, the Stars have more regulation losses at home than they do on the road. They hit the east coast for the second time this season. Although they lost their first of two tilts with St. Louis on Saturday and Kari Lehtonen will likely start Sunday, Antti Niemi continues to provide the Stars with dependable goaltending and should remain the main man.

5. Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg plays three of four this week for the first time, but did manage a 10-8-3 record against the Pacific division last season. Mark Scheifele needed a few stitches after colliding with teammate Andrew Ladd during Saturday's practice and should be considered day-to-day.

4. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit plays three of four in road gear, and while they're just 1-1 against the Sabres, they'll also have their first meetings of the season with three of four this week. Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) missed Saturday's win. Brendan Smith has a goal and three assists in his last four games.

3. Los Angeles Kings
While the scoring doesn't exactly favor the Kings (12:11 GF:GA), who are currently first place in the Pacific division, they are enjoying a 4-1 record against this week's opponents. Jeff Carter (upper body) is being sent back to Los Angeles for examination, while Kyle Clifford (upper body) still has no timetable for return.

2. Anaheim Ducks
Coming out of the break, starting with the Flyers, the Ducks have enough sub.-500 clubs in their path leading up to their eight-game, 14-day home stand. Anaheim may be one of the most disappointing teams of the first half of the season, but they're never guaranteed to stay there, much less when a long stretch at home (8-5-4) is in their sights.

1. Washington Capitals
The Caps play the Sabres (2-1, 11:6 GF:GA last season) in a home-and-home twice in three nights, Carolina (2-0, 6:2 GF:GA) and Columbus (1-0). If you're investing in DFS and not salivating at this week, you're doing it wrong. Yeah, three of four will be on the road (12-3-3), but that doesn't seem to matter against Braden Holtby and company. Brooks Orpik (lower body) continues off-ice therapy, but is not expected back this week.

Three of a Kind
Of the teams playing three games, let's focus on the three easiest and three toughest schedules:

1. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are 2-0 against this week's opponents. Brent Burns has 29 points in 46 career games (including two goals versus Colorado earlier this season) against the Avalanche, Monday's opponent.

2. Arizona Coyotes
The Yotes' record (1-1) isn't exactly awe-inspiring, but their young legs may hit the ice quicker in the first full week back. Martin Hanzal (lower body) missed Saturday's loss to L.A. but Zbynek Michalek (lower body) did play 12 minutes. Mikkel Boedker not only played but logged a trio of assists.

3. Calgary Flames
What was said about Arizona goes double for Calgary. They're 0-2 against this week's opponents, but two at home, where they are much more in command (11-5), suggesting that record should improve this week.

28. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have been barely above .500 no matter where they play, so three this week at Amalie Arena doesn't exactly guarantee dominance, especially against the Canadiens, Rangers and Wild. J.T. Brown (undisclosed) returned Saturday and registered a plus-1 and a shot on goal through 17-plus minutes. Jonathan Marchessault registered a pair of assists in Saturday's win, and he is really clicking with three goals and four assists during his current six-game point streak. Jonathan Drouin (lower body) could return this week, which could affect Marchessault's minutes, but there's no stability on the Lightning depth chart right now.

29. Florida Panthers
That also goes DOUBLE for the Panthers, who are 0-0-1 against the exact same three opponents.

30. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have been outscored 14-7 in five games. and are 1-4 against this week's opponents. Of course, none of this means you should ever bench Justin Faulk, who is on pace to set an NHL record for percentage of team power play goals scored.