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What October has in store for Pacific Division

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In an age of parity, a slump or hot streak can often be explained – at least in part – by a team’s schedule.

That’s not meant to discount strong play or wobbly goaltending, or any other factors that go into winning and losing. Even so, the answer to the question “What’s wrong with Team X?” can sometimes be “they’re tired and on a long road trip.”

With that in mind, let’s look at what October has in store for NHL teams. Since the Pacific Division features Anaheim and Arizona, we’ll start here. The goal is to cover all four divisions by the end of this weekend.

For a deep dive on PHT’s Pacific Division materials, check out this preview.

Anaheim Ducks (Beat Coyotes 5-4)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Oct 9 vs Calgary
Wed, Oct 11 vs NY Islanders
Fri, Oct 13 @ Colorado
Sun, Oct 15 vs Buffalo
Fri, Oct 20 vs Montreal
Tue, Oct 24 @ Philadelphia
Thu, Oct 26 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 28 @ Tampa Bay
Sun, Oct 29 @ Carolina

The Anaheim Ducks are dealing with a blistering array of injuries, making the start of their schedule a good news/bad news situation.

Beginning 2017-18 with four straight games at home (not to mention six of seven in Anaheim) makes for a more comfortable situation, even if few of their key players come back during this stand. (Ryan Kesler isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.)

On the flip side, if the Ducks stumble, they’ll also be losing home games. So far, they managed to beat the Coyotes, so at least there’s that.

Even when the road games start to pile up, the Ducks only face one back-to-back set in October.

Arizona Coyotes (lost to Ducks)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Vegas
Tue, Oct 10 @ Vegas
Thu, Oct 12 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 14 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Chicago
Tue, Oct 24 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

After a narrow loss to begin the season against the Ducks, the Coyotes embrace a fairly Ducks-like schedule, right down to finishing October with a back-to-back set that’s part of at least four road games against East teams. (The Coyotes face a five-game trip, as you can see; they begin November back at home.)

The Coyotes face two home-and-home sets with teams that carry some mystery in the Golden Knights and Stars. Will Vegas be as vulnerable as expected? Could Dallas live up to the hype? The Coyotes will serve as an early barometer for both teams.

Overall, this is a friendly schedule for the upstarts.

Calgary Flames (lost to Oilers 3-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Winnipeg
Mon, Oct 9 @ Anaheim
Wed, Oct 11 @ Los Angeles
Fri, Oct 13 vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 14 @ Vancouver
Thu, Oct 19 vs Carolina
Sat, Oct 21 vs Minnesota
Tue, Oct 24 @ Nashville
Wed, Oct 25 @ St. Louis
Fri, Oct 27 vs Dallas
Sun, Oct 29 vs Washington

This is not exactly a friendly start, especially if the Jets’ 7-2 loss to Toronto was a mere hiccup for a dangerous team. The Flames face two back-to-back sets, with the first starting at home against the Senators and then transitioning to Vancouver the following day. Back-to-back sets stand as the most obvious opportunities to rest Jaromir Jagr, if Calgary goes down that route.

On the bright side, there aren’t any enormous road trips yet.

Calgary needs to get everything in order by the end of October; Oct. 27’s home date against the Stars begins a seven-game homestand.

Edmonton Oilers (beat Flames)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Vancouver
Mon, Oct 9 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Ottawa
Tue, Oct 17 vs Carolina
Thu, Oct 19 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 21 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 24 @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Oct 26 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 28 vs Washington

Connor McDavid and the Oilers get to ease into their roles as favorites with a light, low-impact October.

The Oilers get to play four of their first five games at home to start the season (counting the McDavid showcase to open 2017-18) and don’t face a back-to-back in October. Much like the Flames, they’ll want to finish the month on a high note; Oct. 26 begins a five-game homestand.

Los Angeles Kings (Shut out Flyers 2-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ San Jose
Wed, Oct 11 vs Calgary
Sat, Oct 14 vs Buffalo
Sun, Oct 15 vs NY Islanders
Wed, Oct 18 vs Montreal
Sat, Oct 21 @ Columbus
Mon, Oct 23 @ Toronto
Tue, Oct 24 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 26 @ Montreal
Sat, Oct 28 @ Boston
Mon, Oct 30 @ St. Louis

After one home game and one road contest to start the season, the Kings are slated for extremes of stands and trips.

At least there’s an opportunity to build early confidence, as Saturday’s road game isn’t exactly a cross-continent trek against the Sharks. Two back-to-back sets and that month-ending six-game road swing stand as big obstacles. That said, the Kings will enjoy a lot of home-cooking in early November, so they need to hang in there.

Another bright side is that the Kings aren’t expected to travel as rigorously as they have in the past.

San Jose Sharks (Lost 5-3 to Flyers)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 12 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 14 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 17 vs Montreal
Fri, Oct 20 @ New Jersey
Sat, Oct 21 @ NY Islanders
Mon, Oct 23 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Oct 26 @ Boston
Sat, Oct 28 @ Buffalo
Mon, Oct 30 vs Toronto

Much like their BFFs in Los Angeles, the Sharks see dramatic shifts in home and road runs. They didn’t begin their season-opening five-game homestand on a high note with a loss to Philly.

One nice thing for San Jose is that there aren’t any back-to-backs in October. That’s especially nice for an aging core, although those achy legs might have appreciated such a friendly schedule deeper into the season.

Oct. 30 begins a home-heavy run: five in a row and eight of nine at home stretching into November.

Vancouver Canucks (open season on Saturday)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Edmonton
Tue, Oct 10 vs Ottawa
Thu, Oct 12 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Calgary
Tue, Oct 17 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 19 @ Boston
Fri, Oct 20 @ Buffalo
Sun, Oct 22 @ Detroit
Tue, Oct 24 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 26 vs Washington
Mon, Oct 30 vs Dallas

The Canucks are another team, like the Kings and Sharks, who rotate home and road runs. They face a road back-to-back wedged into that five-game swing in mid-October.

If the goal is to tank, you almost wonder if Vancouver would’ve welcomed an especially grueling start to the season.

Vegas Golden Knights (first-ever game tonight)

Schedule

Fri, Oct 6 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 7 @ Arizona
Tue, Oct 10 vs Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 vs Detroit
Sun, Oct 15 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 21 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado
Mon, Oct 30 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 31 @ NY Rangers

The Golden Knights play their first game that “counts” against the Stars tonight, but must wait until Tuesday for their first-ever home game. Their patience is rewarded with a seven-game homestand, though.

Vegas will began as a franchise with a back-to-back set, one of two in October. Things go pretty road-heavy to end October and begin November.

If some early wins help draw in extra fans, this could work out nicely for the Golden Knights.

Bruins turn to Khudobin after Rask diagnosed with concussion

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A bad start to the season officially got worse on Thursday as the Boston Bruins announced that Tuukka Rask has been diagnosed with a concussion.

The 30-year-old netminder collided with Anders Bjork during practice on Wednesday and needed to be helped off the ice. Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night against the Canucks and Zane MacIntyre will serve as his backup.

The Bruins are 2-3-0 on the season with a minus-4 goal differential. Rask has struggled as well with an ugly .887 even strength save percentage in four starts. With four games over the next 11 days, the hope is that either Khudobin or MacIntyre can right the ship as Rask heals.

“I feel good. Camp was good and everything is fine, and I’ve started better than last year,” said Khudobin via NBC Sports Boston. “My role is just day-to-day. Today is a game day and hopefully, you get a good result, and then tomorrow is another new day.”

As the Bruins get David Backes and possibly Patrice Bergeron back, they’ve watched as Rask and Ryan Spooner (4-6 weeks) leave the lineup with injury. Having a roster in flux while you’re trying to find some consistency will be a tough ask for head coach Bruce Cassidy and his players.

The 31-year-old Khudobin has played well in two appearances this season, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced and posting a .970 ESSV%.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ric Flair replica robe awarded to Flyers game MVPs (Photo)

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NHL teams love handing out a player of the game awards to someone who played an important role in a victory. The tradition has been going on for years and the items have ranged from football helmets to camouflage jackets to championship belts to wolf heads to weenie hats.

The Philadelphia Flyers are one of those teams taking part in the post-game tradition and have chosen a very unique item to honor game MVPs this season.

In honor of one of wrestling’s greats, game MVPs will receive a Ric Flair replica robe.

Spend time inside Wells Fargo Center for a Flyers game and you’ll hear fans unleashing plenty of Flair’s famous “woo’s” — something that kind of pissed off the players as recent as last season..

“I hope it’s a short-lived fad,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol last November.

“The first period they are [expletive] woo’ing. What are you, [expletive] 10-years old?,” opined Jakub Voracek.

Maybe the players had a change of heart and have embraced the “woo’s?” Now that the robe, which was designed by the daughter of equipment manager Derek Settlemyre, will be a regular thing, one can imagine an uptick in the “Nature Boy’s” famous call done by fans during games.

Flair, 68, was hospitalized in August as he entered the early stages of kidney failure and congestive heart failure. He was released last month after doctors removed part of his bowel and inserted a pacemaker. An ESPN documentary about his life and wrestling career will premier in November.

Stick-tap NBC Philadelphia

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

The most important question to ask yourself in any fantasy hockey league

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In many cases, the most pressing questions you’ll ask yourself as a young fantasy hockey manager – when you have all that glorious time – is “How do I finally win this league?”

(Sometimes, you’ll be more specific, asking “How do I beat my best friend/colleague/frenemy/potential romantic partner/all of the above?”)

Time can change a lot of things, and sometimes life foists different priorities upon your mind. You might find yourself more interested in less glorious things like taking care of debts or aiming for promotions. This pivots, then, to what I believe is the most important question a potential fantasy GM must ask: “How much work do I really want to do in this league?”

Every week, PHT plans on running at least two fantasy-focused columns, and the beauty of these is that they can appeal to fantasy owners of all types. Joey Alfieri’s add/drops can be helpful to those who crunch spreadsheets like potato chips, but it can also be a one-stop guide for those who don’t have time to go deep on every Rotoworld column.

Speaking of Rotoworld, it’s a fantastic resource for fantasy hockey and other sports. Check out Gus Katsaros’ bit on struggling forwards such as Joe Thornton as just one great example.

This Thursday space is going to serve as an open-ended discussion of fantasy hockey: the narrow triumphs, crushing and seemingly arbitrary defeats, and tactics that may lie a little outside of the box.

In this specific case, here are a few suggestions if you possess the rare (but valuable) self-awareness to realize that you might not always be able to give your team(s) your maximum attention.

Lean on workhorse goalies

In many cases, it’s wise to fight the urge to take big name goalies in fantasy. Instead, you are often better off loading up on true difference-makers, whether they be the true high-scoring defensemen like Brent Burns or game-breaking forwards who still might be around in, say, rounds 3-5.

It’s a little different if you know you’re not going to monitor every goalie battle, or merely want to keep things simple.

A workhorse such as Braden Holtby shoots up your rankings in this case. On the other hand, someone facing a backup threat (say Steve Mason vs. Connor Hellebuyck) might not be worth the hassle.

Old over new

It’s exciting to identify the next breakthrough stars. Young players can be exciting because they have the chance to make those quantum leaps. The lockout that knocked out the 2004-05 season was memorable in that way:

Eric Staal in 2003-04: 31 points in 81 games

Eric Staal in 2005-06: 100 points in 81 games

Being able to forecast those leaps provides one of the most precious sensations in fantasy: feeling smart.

On the other hand, that takes its fair share of research, aside from instances where you’ve specifically keyed on prospects that interest you. Rookies can be big risks in fantasy drafts because of the threat of them only getting a “nine-game audition” before their teams avoid burning years off entry-level deals.

(Note: this might not apply to the Edmonton Oilers.)

If you know you don’t have time to make contingency plans and/or don’t want to study points per minute to try to find the next Viktor Arvidsson, you might just want to stick with more stable, established veterans.

Rotoworld Podcast: Can’t Stop Kucherov

Avoid the Gaboriks

Injuries can be random in sports, hockey included. Just ask Steven Stamkos, whose poor luck seems borderline freakish. Hockey history is dotted with painful “What if?” questions about icons like Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux down to nice scorers such as Ales Hemsky and Marian Gaborik.

(Sami Salo, meanwhile, likely often asked “Why me?”)

Injuries can be especially deflating for less-hands-on types, so maybe shy away from, say, Kris Letang.

Find some quick references

Following PHT is a good start to stay abreast of some of the largest developments in the NHL.

If you’re trying to make quick decisions, Rotoworld’s injury page can provide a quick reference so you know if someone might come back soon versus a case that might be murkier.

There’s a solid chance of a future column discussing some resources that might help those in a bind in drafts or even setting lineups. Stay tuned.

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It’s possible to win your league even if you’re not making weekly tweaks like some of your more obsessive competitors.

The key is to be practical … and lucky. Yeah, luck is a pretty nice thing to have in fantasy, and life. Here’s to a fun 2017-18 from a fantasy perspective, regardless of your level of commitment.

(Although, don’t be that person who totally abandons a team, leaving a bunch of players with season-ending injuries in your starting lineup. That’s bad form.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Deutschland Cup roster provides early look at U.S. men’s Olympic hopefuls

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The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 111 days away and we got our first look at some of the names who will compete to be on the ice on the men’s side vs. Slovenia for USA Hockey’s opening game.

There were 29 players named to the U.S. roster for next month’s Deutschland Cup where the Americans will take on Slovakia, Russia and Germany. Tony Granato will serve as head coach and Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Keith Allain will serve as assistants. Of the 29 players, 21 have played in the NHL and are names you probably recognize.

FORWARDS
Ryan Stoa
Mark Arcobello
Chad Kolarik
Andy Miele
Brian O’Neill
Brian Gionta
Jim Slater
Dan Sexton
Broc Little
Sean Backman
Drew Shore
Ryan Malone
Ryan Lasch
Robbie Earl
Garrett Roe

DEFENSEMEN
Chad Billins
Bobby Sanguinetti
Tom Gilber
Ryan Gunderson
Noah Welch
Matt Gilroy
Jonathan Blum
Matt Donovan
Mark Stuart
Dylan Reese
Mike Lundin

GOALTENDERS
Ryan Zapolski
Brandon Maxwell
David Leggio

The biggest names on the roster are 38-year-old Gionta and 37-year-old Malone, who have 1,653 games of NHL experience between them. It’s a veteran list, with an average age of 31.

“There’s a lot of guys here that know how to play and have been successful players and have found a niche for themselves in their career at various stages,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson told Stephen Whyno of the The Associated Press. “The Deutschland Cup for us is a little bit to find some separation of these guys, whether that’s pure pace of play or performance.”

USA Hockey submitted a list of 81 eligible players to the IIHF and there is the possibility of seeing a handful of NCAA and AHL players not playing in the Deutschland Cup skating in Pyeongchang. A final 25-man roster is expected to be announced around Jan. 1.

Canada previously announced two pre-Olympic rosters over the summer and participated in the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.