A couple of NHL teams saw their lengthy win streaks end thanks to slim-margin losses Saturday. Included in that twosome were the Philadelphia Flyers, whose 10-game mark was the longest in the league this year.
It might not be the most impressive streak for much longer. That’s because the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild are closing in.
The Blue Jackets (19-5-4) are on an eight-game tear. They lost four of their first six to start the season, but have been a force basically ever since. Their success, however, was viewed as an aberration.
The Hockey News’ Yearbook predicted a sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. They made little change after finishing 27th overall and their coach, John Tortorella, was coming off a dismal showing with Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey.
The numbers backed up the early doubts. Through Nov. 22, the Blue Jackets were 10-4-3 despite a 48.59 percent team Corsi (23rd overall) and a 24th-ranked 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 at 58.76. However, they’ve improved those numbers to 51.15 and 55.50 during their streak, good for 12th and 17th respectively. Their power play, meanwhile, is running at an NHL-best 25.9-percent clip and features off-season signee Sam Gagner and rookie defenseman Zach Werenski each with 10 points while on the man advantage.
The Blue Jackets are only in third place in the uber-competitive Metro, but have played just 28 games. Every other team in the Eastern Conference has played at least 30. Their plus-36 goal differential is good for second in the league. They’re in Vancouver on Sunday.
Minnesota was in a similar situation as Columbus was heading into the season. Yet, here they are with seven straight wins under their belt.
The Wild were predicted to finish sixth in the Central Division in The Hockey News’ Yearbook after losing in the first round of the playoffs to Dallas. They’re challenged by being in one of the league’s toughest divisions. Other than bringing in coach Bruce Boudreau, they were relatively quiet. They essentially flipped Eric Staal, who was coming off a miserable season, for Thomas Vanek, while also adding depth right winger Chris Stewart.
The Wild are second in the Central with an 18-8-4 record and a Western Conference-best plus-29 goal differential. They’ve done this despite being one of the league’s worst puck possession teams – 47.72 percent team Corsi and 58.45 percent in 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60 (both 24th overall).
What they do have is a Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltender in Devan Dubnyk, who tops the league with four shutouts. His 1.62 goals-against average and .947 save percentage are the best among starters, leading his coach to espouse his greatness after a 3-2 win in Toronto on Dec. 7.
“If he was in Toronto, there’d be no Carey Price,” Boudreau said. “I’m just saying media-wise. I mean, he hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any game he’s played this year.” That last comment remains true four starts later.
The Wild are off until Tuesday when they host Colorado.
The Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks are holding down four-game winning streaks entering action Sunday. One of those streaks will continue and one will end because they’re facing off against each other.
As for the Flyers, they fell 3-1 to Dallas and lost for the first time since Nov. 25 against the Rangers in the process. They scored the first goal when rookie Taylor Leier potted his first in the league. But Radek Faksa and Adam Cracknell responded to put the Stars ahead. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov hit the post twice in the last 10 minutes before Stars blueliner Jordie Benn scored an empty-netter.
Despite the Flyers’ streak, they were only able to climb to the second wild-card position – albeit with an eight-point advantage over Carolina.
That’s because the Washington Capitals were riding a six-game winning streak of their own. The two Metropolitan teams are tied with 41 points, but the Caps have three games in hand.
The Capitals lost 2-1 at home to Montreal, while only managing 20 shots on goaltender Carey Price.