As we finish off 2016, hockey fans have the delight of tuning in to an historic game as the Columbus Blue Jackets meet the Minnesota Wild. These teams are both on franchise best fourteen- and twelve-game win streaks respectively. It is time for all hockey fans to take these teams as serious contenders and more than viable options to represent their conferences in the Stanley Cup.
Top Notch Goaltending
Teams do not simply put together win streaks like this without the men between the pipes playing at a dominant level. Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk are both early Vezina candidates and deservingly so. Bobrovsky leads the league with 23 wins and is second only to Dubnyk with his 1.95 GAA and .933 save percentage. Dubnyk has been standing tall all season with his 19 wins, 1.67 GAA, .944 save percentage, and league best five shutouts. Barring a major collapse from these two net minders, one of them should walk away as the Vezina recipient.
They Score, Period.
Columbus leads the league in two critical areas: the power play and goals per game. The league average on the power play is 18.5%, while the Blue Jackets have found a way to score 28.0% of the time. They also notch a very impressive 3.44 goals per game, with a fifth-best 74 goals coming at even strength already this season.
The Wild sit 17th on the power play at 17.5%, but are in a comfortable fourth spot in goals per game at 3.14. The one area that Minnesota does hold a slight advantage is on the penalty kill, where they are currently sitting at 85.6%. For comparison, Columbus is currently at 81.4%. While this may seem like a small margin of difference, four percent can make a big difference in the course of a season.
The Wild seem to target quality veteran free agents every season, and 2016 has seen no change to this pattern. Eric Staal has come in to the fold and is having a resurgence to his career with 30 points in 35 games this season. Charlie Coyle is also having a career season with 30 points himself, and at 24 years old, he looks to be blossoming into the first line center he was thought to be when he was drafted 28th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2010. Five other players have also notched 20+ points before the calendar turns to 2017, and Minnesota are clicking on all cylinders.
The Blue Jackets continue to surprise the hockey world and if the success they’ve found in 2016 can transfer to 2017, the Metropolitan Division title will not be raised in Pittsburgh, Washington, or New York next year. Four players have already reached 30 points for this franchise, with the trio of Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, and Nick Foligno combining for 48 power play points. This team could have a sweep of award winners at season’s end, with Bobrovsky in the running for the Vezina, Atkinson the Art Ross, Zach Werenski the Calder, and John Tortorella the Jack Adams. Possibly for the first time in franchise history, Columbus is a legitimate playoff team. Realise it, accept it, and appreciate it.
One of these teams will begin 2017 on a remarkable and historical win streak, the other will look to start a brand new one. Tonight’s game will finish 2016 with a bang and further heighten the excitement 2017 will bring.