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Twelve predictions for second quarter of season

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

As the 2015-16 NHL season enters its second quarter, some may feel trends have been firmly established.

Not so.

A short 20-game sample can fool many into thinking what they are seeing is reality, whereas oftentimes it is simply an indication of a team or player either needing some time to warm up, or some time to come back to earth.

Here, then, are 12 bold predictions of what is absolutely guaranteed to happen in the second quarter of this season. You can take these to the bank. They are guaranteed.

Tampa Bay Lightning will wake up

The Lightning are simply too talented at too many positions and too well-coached to remain a picture of mediocrity for much longer. Tampa Bay is treading water at roughly 50 percent in just about every significant statistic imaginable; goal differential, shots on goal for and against, shot attempts percentage and scoring chance percentage (according to war-on-ice.com) with a middle of the road power play and penalty kill.

The Lightning led the NHL in goals last season, fueled by the highest 5-on-5 team shooting percentage. That shooting percentage is 19th in the League this season. Some may feel last season was an anomaly, but it's more likely this one is and those shooting numbers will change, the Lightning will start scoring goals, and a climb up the standings will follow.

Pittsburgh Penguins won't

The Penguins were ranked 19th in goals per game last season and have dropped to 25th this season despite the addition of Phil Kessel, one of the top scorers in the game.

Pittsburgh is doing fine in the standings, largely on the back of an outstanding first quarter from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

But they won't be able to surge up the standings unless the offense comes alive.

The Penguins are putting pucks on net nearly as frequently, but they were one of the strongest possession teams in the NHL last season with a 5-on-5 SAT% of 52.8, fifth in the League. They are now one of the weakest at 48.3 percent, 19th in the League.

Sidney Crosby won't remain on a 50-point pace for very long, but his revival alone can't cure what ails Pittsburgh. Moving through a second straight season of scoring struggles, perhaps this is simply what the Penguins are.

Klingberg vs. Karlsson

After Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators easily took the title of top scoring defenseman two seasons in a row, it will be a two-man race in 2015-16, with he and John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars pulling away from the pack over the second quarter of the season.

The Stars and Senators are two of the top scoring teams in the NHL, and each relies on their engine on the back end.

Klingberg and Karlsson enter play Friday tied for the lead with 24 points, four points ahead of Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.

That gap should only widen over the coming weeks.

Anaheim Ducks will fly

It would be hard to imagine the Anaheim Ducks getting off to a worse start than they did. Perhaps the many experts who chose them to come out of the Western Conference and win the Stanley Cup were a bit hasty in anointing the new champs.

But they weren't this wrong.

The Ducks won one game in October and scored three goals in their first eight games. In November, they've gone 7-4-2 with 34 goals scored. They play 15 of their next 22 games at Honda Center, where they have a 5-3-3 record.

Despite the slow start, the Ducks remain in the hunt in the Pacific Division, so much so they will be leading it by the time the first half of the season is over.

Chicago Blackhawks up

Coming off another Stanley Cup championship and the usual roster shake-up that ensues, the Chicago Blackhawks are hitting their month.

Since coach Joel Quenneville took over four games into the 2008-09 season, the Blackhawks have a combined record of 54-17-7 in December, a points percentage of .737. In all the other months, not counting the shortened 2012-13 season, the Blackhawks have a record of 226-131-53, a points percentage of .615.

This is when the Blackhawks traditionally make their move, and with Duncan Keith back from injury and Patrick Kane showing no signs of slowing down, this season should be no different.

Look out, Central Division.

New York Rangers down

The numbers will catch up to the New York Rangers at some point.

The Rangers have the highest 5-on-5 shooting percentage plus save percentage (SPSv%) in the NHL, and by a wide margin. There's no reason to believe Henrik Lundqvist's goaltending will dip much, but the team shooting percentage is not likely to stay above 10 percent as it is now.

No team has shot over 10 percent in an 82-game season since the 2009-10 Washington Capitals were at 10.1 percent, according to war-on-ice.com. That team had a 50-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer, a 30-goal scorer and four 20-goal scorers. The Rangers, well, they won't have that.

New York has been winning despite being dominated in the possession game and being regularly outshot. At some point, the offense will begin to dry up, and securing wins will become more difficult.

Alex Ovechkin will explode

Scoring 11 goals in 20 games is hardly a slump. In fact, it leaves you in a tie for seventh in the NHL, which most players would be thrilled with.

Alex Ovechkin is not most players, and his production thus far is behind his normal pace.

That will change in the second quarter.

Ovechkin scored his second power-play goal of the season Wednesday, putting him on pace for eight this season. This from a man who scored 49 power-play goals over the past two seasons, 14 more than anyone else in the NHL.

It would not be the least bit surprising to see Ovechkin score 20 goals in his next 20 games.

Hurricane watch

The Carolina Hurricanes were picked by just about no one to compete for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and so far, they are following the script with their sixth-place spot in the Metropolitan Division standings.

Except the Hurricanes are quietly playing some good hockey and simply aren't being rewarded for it.

Carolina has the fourth-worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage and fourth-worst 5-on-5 save percentage in the NHL, leaving them tied with the Ducks for the worst SPSv% in the League.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes are one of the top possession teams, are seventh in shots on goal per game and first in shots against per game. If those things continue, the Hurricanes will rise. Maybe not into the playoff picture, but closer than they are now.

Travis Hamonic will stay with New York Islanders

When a trade request becomes public, a feeding frenzy of speculation and rumors usually follows, and it was no different when Hamonic's request that the New York Islanders trade him to a team in Western Canada for personal reasons came to light recently.

All of a sudden, it appears as though there is some urgency to trade him just because the information is out there, even though the request was made prior to the start of the season.

But trading a top-two defenseman and getting equal value in return is tricky at the best of times, and the second quarter of a season is far from the best of times.

Islanders general manager Garth Snow won't rush this.

New Jersey Devils will hang around

The New Jersey Devils are a 22nd-ranked possession team that has received some of the best goaltending in the NHL over the first quarter of the season.

But there are reasons for optimism in Newark, and it starts with Cory Schneider in goal. Much like the Rangers across the river and the Canadiens further north, the Devils shouldn't have to apologize for having an elite player in net.

But the Devils also provide Schneider with excellent protection by allowing the fewest 5-on-5 scoring chances in the NHL, according to war-on-ice.com.

The system of new coach John Hynes should get some credit for that, and his players will only grow more comfortable playing it, which should help the Devils remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for at least another quarter of the season.

Arizona Coyotes will drop off

The first quarter of the season is often fun because of stories like the one being spun by the Arizona Coyotes; two rookies energize the team and spark them to a great start.

The second quarter is often when those fairy-tale stories come back to reality.

Can Max Domi continue to produce at nearly a point-per-game pace? Can Martin Hanzal? Can Anthony Duclair score on 28.6 percent of his shots on goal all season?

Don't count on it.

All-Star coaches

The 2016 NHL All-Star Game will feature a 3-on-3 tournament with each division having its own team. The coach of the team that leads each division after games on Jan. 9 based on points percentage will also earn a trip to Nashville for the big show to coach the division all-stars.

But you won't have to wait that long, because those coaches will be: Atlantic Division - Michel Therrien, Canadiens; Metropolitan Division - Barry Trotz, Capitals; Central Division - Lindy Ruff, Stars; Pacific Division - Bruce Boudreau, Ducks.

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