Most of this season has been highlighted by the Metro Division. The division holds most of the top teams in the league and the longest streaks. It starts with John Tortorella’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the 16-game winning streak they rode. Then you have Pittsburgh and Washington, both of whom have had nice streaks themselves. Carolina is on the rise, and the Rangers have stayed steady. Philadelphia had their long run, although in a free fall as of this moment. Let’s take a look at a team out West, though. That team is the Minnesota Wild, who I’ve described as the sneakiest team in the league.
The Wild stand in first place in the Conference at 59 points, holding a 27-9-5 record. They are second in the league in team +/- at a +45, as well as second in fewest goals against allowed at 86. Not to mention they had their own 12-game winning streak. Multiple areas have contributed to their success.
The first player that comes to my mind as a big contributor is Eric Staal. His reemergence has been a treat to watch. He had been on the decline since 2013-2014 in Carolina, and in the previous two seasons, he began showing less emotion during the games. An immediate change of scenery to New York didn’t help much. I was afraid that his production was headed down the same path as Alex Semin. Well, off to Minnesota it was during the summer of 2016, and it has worked out very well. He currently leads the Wild with 39 points, scoring 15 goals and tallying 24 assists in 41 games. That’s on pace for a 30 goal season and 78 points, which would be his highest total since 2010-2011 when he notched 76. To add on, he’s playing on both special team units. He’s also showing the most emotion he’s had since 2013-2014. As a Canes fan, it is bittersweet seeing him be the most productive skater again.
The second player who comes to mind is Devan Dubnyk. Holding a .940 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average, I think it might be safe to say he’s been the best goaltender in the NHL this season. He has made great strides over the last couple years. I remember his Edmonton days where he was an average goaltender. I don’t think I’ve seen such a drastic improvement by a goalie as I have witnessed with Dubnyk. When a team has that type of net-minding, they are going to win a good amount of games.
Special teams have also been a big contribution. They rank 5th in penalty-killing at 85.1%, and 13th in the power-play at 20.2%. Color commentator Tripp Tracy has many times pointed out the fact that special teams percentages should add up to at least 100, and the Wild’s adds up to 105.3.
The final reason for their success is the hiring of coach Bruce Boudreau. Looking at his resumé, he has consistently lead his clubs to first in their divisions and 50+ wins multiple times. So, really, it should be no surprise the Wild are doing so well under his control. The real question will be in the playoffs; Boudreau has not had success in the postseason.
The Wild have had a great season; it has been much better than I even expected. From Eric Staal and all four lines contributing, Devan Dubnyk backing them up, the special teams delivering when called upon, to the coaching staff lead by Bruce Boudreau, it truly has been impressive. It is refreshing to see new teams emerge powerhouses.