8 Bold Predictions for the NHL's Second Half
Since the All-Star festivities are over, this is where things become interesting in the NHL.
As the season commences, the playoff races heat up and we get a clearer picture of the playoff matchups that will ensue in mid-April. Some teams will get hot, while others will hit a downward spiral which will end in an epic collapse.
But it's not all about the playoff chase.
Will Sidney Crosby play again?
Who will win the scoring title?
Here are eight bold predictions regarding the second half of the NHL.
The Boston Bruins Will Win the President's Trophy
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The Boston Bruins currently have the fourth highest point total in the NHL with 64.
Although the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks present a great challenge to win the President's Trophy, the Bruins have a recipe of success that is hard to defeat.
They simply score more than others and don't let the puck in the net. They're first in goals for and third in goals against. Excelling in both of these categories generally guarantees long-term success.
With their depth in scoring and Tim Thomas being a brick wall in net, the Bruins should be able to edge the Red Wings for the President's Trophy.
The Florida Panthers Won't Make the Playoffs
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It was a cute story.
The team led the Southeast Division while the Washington Capitals tried to figure themselves out.
Now that the Capitals are back on track, the Panthers find themselves almost on the outside looking in.
The fact of the matter is that this team has numerous deficiencies. They not only have a negative goal differential, but it's also a pretty large minus-14 differential.
That's a tough hole to climb out of. And when Kris Versteeg is your leading goal scorer with 19, it doesn't seem like the Panthers will continue to hang around in a playoff spot.
The Montreal Canadiens Will Make the Playoffs
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After they spent the first half complaining that their coach didn't speak French, the Habs finally turned it around a bit. They've recorded points in seven of their last 10 games and they only have one set of back-to-back games until mid-March.
The Canadiens also have an elite goaltender in Carey Price who can get hot and steal many games. Their goal differential is just minus-4, and they're only eight points behind a playoff spot. Making up eight points in 30-plus games is a tenable task that the Canadiens can definitely accomplish if they can keep the distractions out of the way.
And let's face it. The seventh through ninth seeds in the Eastern Conference aren't the strongest teams. New Jersey, Toronto and Florida all have their limitations, and it won't be a surprise to see any of these teams collapse at the end of the season.
The Buffalo Sabres Will Make the Playoffs
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They currently sit at 14th in the Eastern Conference.
So how is this team going to make the playoffs?
They have a great head coach in Lindy Ruff who has seen all sorts of adversity in the NHL. They have a world-class goaltender in Ryan Miller who, with plenty of home games in February, can find his groove and help things around for the Sabres.
Finally, it's not like this team doesn't have any talent. They have a bunch of names who have played well in the past but just don't have the confidence right now. A favorable home schedule in February could change that.
Expect to see Drew Stafford, Ville Leino and Derek Roy to snap out of their slumps at home and Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek to continue tearing it up in Western New York.
Sidney Crosby Will Play, but Only a Handful of Games
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It was reported earlier today that Sidney Crosby has, in fact, a soft-tissue injury in his neck.
Crosby will be able to recover, but the Penguins won't risk playing him until the last few games of the regular season so that he can be ready for the playoffs.
The Penguins don't need him in the regular season. They're going to make the playoffs, and Evgeni Malkin is the best player in the world right now. As long as he continues playing that way, the Penguins don't really need Sid until the playoffs.
The Penguins know this and won't take any chances on Crosby until the playoffs.
Rick Nash and Jeff Carter Will Be Traded
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The Columbus Blue Jackets are not going anywhere. They'll do Rick Nash and Jeff Carter a favor and trade both of them in order to get some young pieces and draft picks in return.
Then they'll begin the offseason with a fresh start. Perhaps they'll change their logo and team name, then draft Nail Yakupov to begin a new era in Columbus.
The Western Conference Playoff Picture Won't Change
Just look at the seven teams currently in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. It's hard to see Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago not making it.
Even the Los Angeles Kings with new head coach Darryl Sutter have started to play better as of late, and they'll likely sneak in.
As for the eight spot, Minnesota seems like they're out of their rut. The All-Star break was much needed for them to relax and take their minds off hockey.
Mike Yeo's style of coaching is still effective and will be able to propel the Wild past the inexperienced Colorado Avalanche, the inconsistent Dallas Stars, and the Calgary Flames.
The order of the eight teams may change, but the teams in the mix will not.
Evgeni Malkin Will Run Away with the Scoring Title
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Evgeni Malkin, as mentioned in a previous slide, is the best player in the world right now. In Sidney Crosby's absence he has stepped up his game to a level the Penguins haven't seen since the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He has 13 points in the Penguins seven-game winning streak. He has a three-point lead over Claude Giroux, but he's played in two less games. He also has a five-point lead over Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa, despite playing in seven less games.
Malkin has been on a tear all season and is the reason why the Penguins are competing for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.