As Minnesota Wild fans have witnessed in recent years, their professional hockey team has often displayed great performances earlier in the season.
39 games into the 2016-2017 season, the Wild stand at 25-9-5 (55 points), second in the Western Conference behind the Chicago Blackhawks. Something to be noted: Chicago has played four more games than Minnesota at this point, and there is only a two-point differential between the two teams. In fact, Minnesota has played less games than every team in the Western Conference other than the Colorado Avalanche (39). The Wild and Blackhawks will face-off at the United Center for the first time this season Sunday, Jan. 15.
At this point last season, the Wild held a 21-11-7 record. The Bruce Boudreau-era of Wild hockey has certainly captured the attention of teams across the league, especially with the 12-game winning streak that was recently halted by another streaking team in the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild have put up astounding numbers all season long, with their goal-differential leading the Western Conference (+38) and ranking third in the entire league behind the New York Rangers (+39) and the Blue Jackets (+47).
Goaltending has remained a key factor for the Wild this season, as Devan Dubnyk has created the ideal story for his professional career. Once a man almost forced out of the league, “Doobie” has undoubtedly resurrected his career with the Wild. He leads the NHL in save percentage (.940), goals against average (1.80), shutouts (5), adjusted goals against average (2.09), and goalie point shares (8.4), per hockeyreference.com. Mixing a combination of sound defense and consistent goal-scoring (5th most), Minnesota may have a team finally made for something more come playoff time.
The Minnesota Wild have never fared well when traveling for games on the west coast, as well as the rest of the league. What may have been the statement of the season thus far, the Wild picked up some much-needed points in California after having their 12-game winning streak snapped at home. Some would say the winning streak was a mark of excellence, but what exemplifies their season was the ability to bounce back against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks. With all three teams playing physical kind of games, especially the Ducks and Kings, the Wild grinded out some tough points. The first game of the road trip set the tone, as the Wild were trailing the Sharks 4-2 before rallying to an epic victory in regulation, 5-4. Although Minnesota would lose their next game in overtime to the Kings, they still would obtain a crucial point and finish the California trip with a victory over Boudreau’s old team in Anaheim.
“Tough stretch, three [games] in four [days], travel, big teams, heavy teams, teams that have had success in the past, and we know that if you want to win in the playoffs, those are teams that you’re gonna have to be able to match up against,” said Wild forward Jason Pominville to wild.com.
The new-comer center Eric Staal has made his mark with the team this season, leading the team in total points (35), assists (22), T-1st in goals scored (13), power-play assists (8) and game-winning goals (5). The 32-year old is playing some of his best hockey of his career, and has filled a great need in offensive production for the Wild this season. Along with Staal, the Wild have seen great production from some of their younger players in Mikael Granlund (age 24), Charlie Coyle (24), Jason Zucker (25), Nino Niederreiter (24), and Mathew Dumba (22). Co-Captain Ryan Suter has logged the most ice-time on the team, and currently leads the NHL with a +24 plus/minus on the season.
The Minnesota Wild will continue a tough stretch going forward, as they will continue play on Thursday, Jan. 12 at home against the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have played well as of late, going 6-2-2 in their past ten contests. Two days later, they will face the Dallas Stars on the road, as well as the Blackhawks the day after.
If anything can be said at this point about Minnesota’s success, it does not appear this team is facing any glaring issues. This roster is built strongly up and down, so a collapse should not be something to expect come playoff time. Strong goaltending will continue to be relied on, as well as the consistent offensive production shown so far this season.