Year in and year out, the Central Division is either the first or second best in the National Hockey League.
With teams like the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Dallas Star, it is easy to see why. There are tons of elite players and coaches in this division and as such, it is hard for other team to keep up.
One team I did not mention above may actually be the hottest team in the league as of this writing. The Minnesota Wild have caught fire and are playing like world beaters right now.
As of this writing, the team is 11-4-2, which is good for 24 points. They are currently just two points behind the division leading Predators and are also two points behind them for first in the entire league.
One reason for the team’s hot start has been the play of 32-year-old netminder Devan Dubnyk. For the Wild, this is nothing new as he has consistently been one of the league’s best goaltenders since being traded to the club during the 2014-15 season.
Dubnyk is currently 8-3-2 with a 2.13 goals against average, and a .933 save percentage. Dubnyk has especially been good in his last two starts as he has stopped 56 of 59 shots in wins against the Blues and Los Angeles Kings.
Speaking of keeping the puck out of the net, the Wild’s team defense as a whole has been very good to start the season. The team is currently (November 12) sixth in the league in goals against as they have allowed just 43 goals in 17 games.
Defensively, this club works extremely hard. They forecheck, they backcheck, they block a lot of shots, they force a lot of turnovers, and they are usually in good position to breakup plays in their own zone, helping to make life a bit easier for their goaltenders.
Believe it or not, the Wild have not been too bad on offense this year. Normally, this a team that struggles to put the puck in the net so for right now at least, it has been a nice change.
As of this writing, the team is 12th in the league in goals scored with 54 goals in 17 games. For the Wild, this means that they are scoring just over three goals a game and with the way their defense and goaltending is, this helps them win a lot of hockey games.
Leading the way for the Wild with 18 points (10 goals and 8 assists) is Mikael Granlund. Granlund, 26, has been the team’s most consistent forwards this year.
He has six points (4 goals and 2 assists) in his club’s last five games, has five points on the power play, has two shorthanded goals and with 10 goals on just 36 shots, he has a 28 percent shooting percentage. He is just coming into his prime so he should only get better from here on out.
Following Granlund are the likes of Zach Parise (16 points), Jason Zucker (13 points), Eric Staal (12 points), Mikko Koivu (11 points), and Jared Spurgeon (10 points). It is this kind of scoring depth that has helped the Wild get off to a great start.
The Wild have also been very good killing penalties this season. They are currently fourth in the league in that category as they have killed just over 85 percent of the penalties they have taken thus far.
There is no doubt that the Central Division is going to be tight all year long. This is why getting off to a great start is going to help the Wild come April when they should in the thick of things when it matters most.
*Photo: Pioneer Press