15 Bold Predictions for the 2nd Half of the NHL Season
Predictions can sometimes feel like the journalistic equivalent of shots on goal. As long as one in every few hit the back of net, you are doing okay.
With the NHL now having plunged into the second half of its 48-game regular season for 2012-13, the landscape has taken enough shape for one to prognosticate with more conviction. Preseason predictions have been dashed or fulfilled and there are enough disappointments, pleasant surprises and budding redemption stories all ranging from mild to major.
With a variety pack of those developments in hand and a survey of what lies ahead in the next 41 days, here are 15 of the more daring, yet perfectly conceivable predictions for the NHL’s 2012-13 homestretch.
The Blackhawks Will Clinch a Playoff Spot by April 6
Looking at the Western Conference standings going into Sunday night’s action, here is the maximum number of points the top four teams currently out of the playoff picture can possibly accumulate.
Columbus: 66. Nashville: 68. Dallas: 69. Phoenix: 70.
For the top-dog Chicago Blackhawks, who hold 49 points with a 23-2-3 record, this basically means they need any combination of wins for themselves and regulation losses for those teams adding up to 11 before they stamp their postseason passport. E.g. Chicago wins six more games while Phoenix goes pointless in five.
The Blackhawks’ final game before the April 3 trading deadline will carry a virtual four-point prize package as they tangle with the Predators on April 1. A regulation win that night will hasten the clinching process, as will taking the first half of a home-and-home with Nashville the subsequent weekend.
In fact, at this pace, the latter ought to complete the clinching process altogether.
The Habs Will Hang on to Clinch the Northeast
The Montreal Canadiens entered the past weekend’s action an impressive 18-5-4 and virtually tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Eastern Conference with 40 points apiece.
Although the Boston Bruins now trail by one point in the Northeast Division with a game in hand, there is no cause to assume that game in hand will permanently pole-vault them over these Habs.
The main reason why Montreal will take the divisional laurel, even if it temporarily slips into second, is head coach Michel Therrien. This is his second try with the Canadiens and his first NHL coaching gig since he was fired by the Penguins at the third quarter of 2008-09 and helplessly watched successor Dan Bylsma take that team on a tear en route to a championship.
Inheriting a team that finished last in the conference in 2011-12, Therrien has clearly enacted a personal motivation to convert negative energy to positive. The organization employing him ought to have the same motive, which explains why they have been meshing so well, even if the Habs are improving ahead of schedule.
None of that is going to stop any time soon, at least not for the remainder of the regular season.
The Jets Will Make the Playoffs
With the newly approved realignment set to take effect next year, the misplaced Winnipeg Jets will finally get a break after two seasons in the Southeast Division. But they will not wait until it is convenient to improve their season-ending stature.
As it should have been expected, last year’s Jets were grounded by a poor road record that failed to complement an impressive home transcript. This season, however, they started 8-5-2 away from the MTS Centre while going a mediocre 6-6-0 in front of their appreciably zealous fans.
The fact that they have yet to play their best on home ice, one of their key assets, should be worrisome to the teams chasing or being chased by the Jets. Ditto the fact that they are only halfway through their 24-game home schedule.
In addition, although it is a more condensed and rigorous schedule this year, that applies to all teams, which means the excess travel will take a less comparative toll on Winnipeg.
In addition, a schedule of 34 fewer games means there is less time for residual wear and tear to catch up to Claude Noel’s pupils the same way it did in 2011-12.
Ryan Getzlaf Will Exceed His 2011-12 Output
More points in a 48-game season than an 82-game slate? It is possible for Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
There is a minor kicker in that 2011-12 was an egregious nadir on Getzlaf’s career transcript. He posted a career-low 11 goals along with his lowest full-season NHL point total of 57 and had a negative rating (minus-11) for the first and only time in his Anaheim tenure.
But at the halfway mark of this season, Getzlaf had a 10-21-31 scoring log through 24 games, putting him on pace for 20-42-62 totals by April 27.
Impressive for anybody in a 48-game ride, regardless of what happened in preceding years.
Granted, he started the second half with a mild slump of two pointless games, but 58 points or more are still well within reach, especially if he keeps up his characteristic playmaking and pleasantly surprising goal-scoring pace.
Ron Wilson Will Land a New Coaching Job
Since he started his career as the inaugural skipper of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Wilson has never gone a full NHL season without coaching. The final quarter of 2012-13 just might see him switching roles from 2011-12 and being the beneficiary of a late-season change.
One place to watch carefully is Colorado, where the Avalanche are sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference and in danger of missing their third straight postseason. Joe Sacco just might be discharged as a consequence, but the rest of the staff could be retained.
If that decision is made, then general manager Greg Sherman would have a chance to experiment with an old head-assistant tandem that worked for two other organizations in the 90s. Current Colorado assistant Tim Army worked with Wilson in both Anaheim and Washington, helping the Ducks to their first-ever playoff series victory in 1997 and the Capitals to a Cup final berth in 1998.
Other floundering teams, such as the Buffalo Sabres, who are currently subsisting on the tutelage of an interim coach in Ron Rolston, could be a possibility for Wilson as well.
Niemi, Greiss Will Win the Jennings Trophy
The San Jose Sharks offense, currently second to last in the league with 2.22 goals per night, has to step up to another level at some point. When it does, that will naturally mean more puck possession for the team and less pressure for goaltender Antti Niemi and his occasional stand-in.
Niemi has largely carried the Sharks with a career year up to this point. When his support steps up, it will be on him not to recede, but rather capitalize by turning in the same effort and let his stats enhance.
Chris Kunitz Will Win the Richard Trophy
For another league award that is automatically determined by final regular-season output, look for Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz to upset and dethrone Steven Stamkos by tallying the most goals. His chemistry with Sidney Crosby, whose Art Ross Trophy victory as the top point-getter is a not-so-bold prediction, has emerged as a lethal formula as this season has taken shape.
The Northwest Division Will Have Multiple Playoff Entrants
There had to be consolation for the Vancouver Canucks faithful last week when a loss to Minnesota pulled the Wild into a virtual tie for first in their division. That 4-2 upshot and its implications constitute a sign that Vancouver will be more battle-tested for the 2013 playoff than it was for 2011 or 2012.
Recent developments are naturally encouraging for Minnesota fans as well. Between Feb. 26 and March 14, the Wild went 6-3-0, but those three losses were all against the Western Conference’s one-two punch of Chicago and Anaheim. Three of their five regulation losses in the 10 preceding games came at the hands of the Ducks and Canucks.
Somebody Will Successfully Attempt the Daugavins Move
Senators forward Kaspars Daugavins has now tried the trick seen in the video two times on record. He is 0-for-1 when pulling the stunt in the NHL, but 1-for-1 in the American League.
Furthermore, as opponent Shawn Thornton states in the video above, he was almost successful on his second try. That fact alone ought to offset any deterrent for others who may be tempted to try it themselves on a not-too-distant future penalty shot.
The Lightning Will Sweep Their Season Series with the Hurricanes
This season’s unbalanced schedule has Tampa Bay and Carolina crossing paths five times, and the first three installments of the season series have already gone to the Lightning, each with a three-goal differential.
The Bolts nabbed a 4-1 decision on Jan. 22 at PNC Arena, claimed a 5-2 victory in the same building Feb. 23 and most recently reaped a 4-1 triumph at home this past Saturday.
One way to explain why this has happened and to believe it will continue is that Carolina continues to allow more than its share of shots on net. Not exactly a winning strategy against a team that buries a nightly average of 3.25 goals.
The Hurricanes may be the logical favorite to finish first in the Southeast Division, but even the best teams can have a mysterious nuisance that inexplicably gets the better of them. For this year’s Carolina club, that would be Tampa, a potential playoff no-show.
April 4 and April 21 will pose two more tests as to how deep in the Hurricanes’ heads the Lightning have really settled. Still, it’s hard to dismissively assume that three three-goal victories in as many months happen by sheer accident.
There Will Be Last-Day, Last-Minute Decisions in the Standings
Remember that shootout bout between the Flyers and Rangers that decided who stamped the last available playoff spot on the final day of the 2009-10 regular season? Look for comparable contests in at least three matchups on April 27.
Whether it decides who makes the postseason and who doesn’t or who simply gets a higher seed, the Rangers-Devils, Sharks-Kings and maybe even Red Wings-Stars cards all have the potential for the same sort of drama.
Carey Price Will Collect More Wins This Season Than Last
Through a projection run on his online profile by The Hockey News, Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price is on pace to appear in 38 games and post a 26-7-5 record. If he meets that projection, he will have won as many games on a 48-game schedule as he did on last year’s 82-game itinerary, when he went 26-28-11.
But let’s just be a little bolder and say that, as part of the Therrien-driven push to securing the division title, Price will contribute to and benefit from an incentivized squad and post 27 or 28 wins by season’s end.
Robin Lehner Will Have More Regulation Ties Than Regulation Losses
Robin Lehner has been splitting the Senators’ workload with Ben Bishop over the last two-plus weeks with Craig Anderson still out with an injury. Through his first six starts, Lehner is 2-0-4 with three of those shortcomings decided in a shootout and his single-game save percentage ranging between .933 and .962.
With more of the same tireless toil and eventual reassignment to Binghamton if and when Anderson returns, it would not be an utter shock if Lehner finishes this NHL campaign with a greater number in his third record column than his second.
Rick Nash Will Attain Two Milestones in One Night
As of Sunday, Rangers forward Rick Nash has skated in 697 NHL regular-season games and inserted 298 goals.
He has slumped lately with zero points in his last three ventures, all of them Blueshirt losses and no goals in his last four. But New York’s nadir could presage a timely turnaround, one that may set the stage for Nash to notch 700 career games and 300 career goals in one evening.
If nothing else, barring circumstances beyond their control, Nash and the Rangers will have two more games before hosting the Florida Panthers, owners of the league’s leakiest defense with 3.75 goals-against per game, this Thursday.
Alexander Ovechkin Will Relinquish the Capitals Captaincy
The first three years have ended in a first-round playoff collapse in 2010, a second-round sweep in 2011 and another second-round shortcoming in 2012 brought on, in part, by an underachieving regular season. Now the Caps are in stark danger of missing the dance altogether for the first time since Ovechkin was a professional sophomore in 2006-07.
When and if they bottom out, it would be more surprising if Ovechkin does not abdicate than if he does. Besides the team’s subpar performances, his two full seasons as captain so far have also been his least productive with 85 and 65 points.
This is right about the time when the most rational and patient should be ready to try reverting to when Ovechkin was simply the resident star, following a less-skilled, more-driven leader en route to triple digits in the point column.