Give all 30 NHL GMs their choice of one goalie to win them a game and I am quite certain they would all select Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
Price is a generational player, unquestionably the best stopper of this era.
So isn’t it funny then that the two main contenders for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender this season are Devin Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets? They are also in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player.
It goes without saying Price is also a contender for both awards with plenty of the 2016-17 season to play, but it is safe to say few imagined the Blue Jackets and the Wild would be two of the NHL’s best teams at this stage of the season and their goalies would be two of the game’s hottest stars.
The Blue Jackets, who have won 14 games in a row, top the NHL standings at 25-5-4 for 54 points having out-scored the opposition 119-71 for a plus-48 goal differential. The Wild, meanwhile, are fifth overall with a 23-8-4 record for 50 points. The Wild has out-scored its opponents 111-72 for a plus-39 goal differential.
Are the Blue Jackets really the NHL’s best team? Can they, along with the Wild, continue to play at such a high level? Those are two legitimate questions.
Also legitimate, though, is the notion that their goalies, Dubnyk and Bobrovsky, are largely responsible for their team’s good fortunes.
A quick scan of the NHL’s top scorers shows Cam Atkinson of the Blue Jackets comfortably sitting in ninth spot with 25 goals and 35 points in 34 games. Alexander Wennberg is 17th with eight goals and 32 points in 34 games while captain Nick Foligno is 20th with 12 goals and 31 points in 32 games. All in all pretty impressive, but it’s hard to imagine any of this trio seriously challenging for the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer.
As for the Wild, you have to go all the way down to 29th on the list of top scorers to find Charlie Coyle, regarded as a second- to third-line player, who leads his team with 12 goals and 30 points in 35 games. Centrer Eric Staal, who is enjoying a revival season in Minnesota, is 30th with 11 goals and 30 points in 35 games.
Dubnyk kicked around the NHL for a few years unable to establish himself as a legitimate No. 1 goaltender with the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes before finding his game with the Wild. Since joining Minnesota Jan. 14, 2015, Dubnyk has performed spectacularly.
This season Dubnyk has the NHL’s best goals-against average, 1.67, and save percentage, .944. He also leads the league with five shutouts and is second in wins with 19.
Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy with Columbus in 2013, leads the NHL with 23 victories, is second in GAA, 1.95, and third in SP, .934. He has three shutouts and has won his past 12 starts.
The table has been set for a 1-on-1 showdown when the teams meet on Saturday when Columbus travels to Minnesota. The starting goalies have not been named, but it’s hard to imagine either team’s coach, John Tortorella of the Blue Jackets and Bruce Boudreau of the Wild, passing on the opportunity of playing his No. 1 goalie in such a matchup.
Regardless, there is no denying Dubnyk and Bobrovsky have been two of the NHL’s brightest stars this season. And if they continue to play as they have, then Columbus and Minnesota will continue to enhance their status as potential Stanley Cup contenders, as strange as that may have seemed heading into the season.
It should be noted Price is also enjoying a wonderful season with 18 wins, a 1.99 GAA and .931 SP with two shutouts and of the three, history suggests he is the most likely to maintain his high numbers through to the end of the campaign. However, after an amazing start to the season, the Canadiens have slipped a bit thanks in a large part to injuries to key individuals.
The Blues Jackets and the Wild, meanwhile, continue to hog the spotlight thanks to their super hot goaltenders.