Depending on the outcome of the Thursday night games, we could be looking at a winning streak match-up when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets duke it out Saturday night. As I write this, the Wild have won 11 straight games and the Blue Jackets are on a 13-game winning streak of their own, each franchise records. Hopefully this write up will not jinx the streaks, and the heavy weight showdown between the two will come to fruition. All the Wild need to do is beat the Islanders at home, but Columbus has a stauncher task at hand in Winnipeg, with a Jets team that is on a two-game winning streak of their own, and can score in bunches at the MTS Centre.
Special teams have played a huge part in the success of these two clubs, along with stellar goaltending. The Wild are fourth on the Penalty Kill with an 86.14% success rate while the Blue Jackets are boasting the NHL’s best power play unit with a 27.08% conversion rate. The goaltending cannot be understated though. The play of Minnesota net minder Devan Dubnyk and Columbus shot turner Sergei Bobrovsky has been MVP worthy, and if it continues they will both be in the final three contenders come year's end. These two are one and two in every significant goaltending category thus far, and maybe third place if someone else got lucky enough to catch them.
Each team has only surrendered 68 goals so far, both are in the top seven in goals for, and both are in the tougher part of the Strength of Schedule Ratio, with the Wild having the toughest. Dubnyk leads the league in shutouts with five, ranks first in the NHL in point shares with a 8.1, GAA at 1.58, Save Percentage with .947, and is third in wins with 18. Ryan Suter leads defensemen with a 3.6 in point share, which explains why the wall around Dubnyk is so hard to penetrate. The Wild are one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks for tops in the Western Conference, with three games still in hand.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have turned into the 1987 Oilers when it comes to scoring goals this season and are also one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for tops in the Eastern Conference. They also have three games in hand over the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Jackets are an impressive 14-3-1 at home, which is expected, but it’s the road record of 10-2-3 that really stands out. And then there's the +46 goal differential along with the previously mentioned return to awesomeness goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobs leads the NHL in wins with 22, is second in GAA at 1.91 and also second in Save Percentage at .934%, while tied for third in shutouts with three. Bobrovsky is third in the NHL in point shares at 7.0 and only trails Dubnyk and San Jose Defenseman Brent Burns, who is nipping at the leaders tails with a 7.8 point share.
These three players along with Sidney Crosby are the front runners in my opinion for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
So far this season, the Blue Jackets are first in goals for and third in goals against, while the Wild are sixth in goals for and first in goals against. Minnesota's performance has surprised me, especially on the offensive end. With Columbus, they have had a decade of lottery picks and now with Bobrovsky healthy again, we are seeing what a team with confidence is capable of doing. With such a young core of players, I’m hoping this continues. Columbus deserves an honest winning team built with hard work after years of suffering. By the way, if anyone has an extra seat, I’ll drive up from Michigan to watch this beast of a game.
Everyone enjoy the hockey and have a safe New Year's.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat