The NHL’s two hottest teams over the past month currently have a 24 game winning streak between themselves. The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild have been downright dominant and are roaring into the new year with a great deal of momentum. What is all the more remarkable is that both teams are vastly defying their expectations for this season.
The Hockey News magazine’s 2016 NHL preview did not predict either the Wild or the Jackets making the postseason. As of 12/29 however, Columbus is second in the entire League and Minnesota is fifth. Not bad for two cast-offs, eh?
John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets have been driven in large part by RW Cam Atkinson, who is improving more and more each new year. Atkinson scored 27 goals last season and already has 15 this year along with 20 assists. His 35 points are tied with Patrick Kane and Jake Voracek for 6th in the League. Sam Gagner, Brandon Saad and captain Nick Foligno have also contributed, but Atkinson is largely carrying his team currently.
On the defensive side, G Sergei Bobrovsky has returned to the form that won him the Vezina Trophy in 2013. The 28-year-old Russian netminder currently leads the NHL with 22 victories and is second in both GAA and Save %. These stats are especially impressive when you consider that Seth Jones and Jack Johnson are the team’s only viable defensemen.
The Blue Jackets’ last regulation loss was a 2-0 shutout on November 23 at the hands of Calgary. Their next contest is tonight vs. the Winnipeg Jets, where they will try to push it to 14.
The Minnesota Wild have also been an incredible success story this year. Though the team is much more impressive on paper, still not many were expecting big things at Xcel Energy Center this season.
24-year-old C Charlie Coyle has been a welcome surprise for first year HC Bruce Boudreau, leading his team with 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points. Eric Staal is providing an immediate return on the $10.5 million investment Minnesota made in him this past summer. The former Hurricanes captain has 11 goals and 18 assists to share the team lead with Coyle. The two have been welcome contributors for a team whose biggest offensive threat Zach Parise is struggling mightly. Defenseman Ryan Suter has been a force to be reckoned with on the blue-line, contributing 19 points alongside an NHL best +23.
However, past all of these, the story of the year for the Wild has been the man between their pipes. G Devan Dubnyk is adding another chapter to his resurgent career. 3rd in the League with 18 wins, Dubnyk is leading the NHL in GAA (1.58) Save % (.947) and shutouts (5). More victories from Martin Jones and the aforementioned Bobrovsky are all that separate the 30-year-old from the goaltending triple crown. If the Vezina Trophy was awarded today Dubnyk would undoubtedly be the recipient. He is proving to be a steal for the Wild more and more each year (the team traded a 3rd round pick for him, after all).
The Wild will try to make it 12 in a row as they play the NY Islanders tonight at home.
If the Blue Jackets and Wild can each win their next contest, the NHL will have a Saturday ratings smash opportunity. The two teams are scheduled to meet on Saturday in Minnesota. If both teams win tonight, then the two streaks will go on the line against the other, and only one will come out intact. This is a match that fans across the League will tune in to see, let’s hope we get to see it.