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December 29, 2016 | 10:14am ET
Wild entering contender status

BY NICK MAXSON | TheFourthPeriod.com

ST. PAUL, MN -- The Central Division has always been competitive, but largely dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Minnesota Wild has nipped at their heels for the past four seasons and it appears the club is ready to take over the reigns.

With a franchise-record 11-game win streak, the Wild currently sit second in the Western Conference with 48 points. Chicago is only a single point ahead, but also has played three more games, which gives Minny the open door to take the Central Division lead.

Crippled by midseason slumps in years past, the Wild is in unfamiliar territory and this time around it is a thing a beauty.

Putting those wins in the win column hasn't been lucky, it has been impressive the way the team has been able to do it. Offensive production has been consistent and a different player every night has stepped up to provide the spark.

As a unit the club is striking for 3.06 goals per game -- only the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers have higher margins.

All four lines have been producing, as well as executing their distinguished roles with the fourth line being a big catalyst for the wins stacking up pinning the opposition in the forecheck and then handing off the deeds to the top six.

Speaking of top six forwards, Eric Staal is having a comeback year with the club and sits second with 11 goals and tied for the team lead with 29 points. He tallied a combined 39 points all last season split between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers.

Defensively the team has become a brick wall, and has one between the pipes in Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk is putting up MVP-like numbers leading the National Hockey League with 1.58 goals against average and a 0.947 save percentage.

Minnesota as a team is only allowing 1.94 goals against per game which is best in the League only allowing 46 even strength goals through 34 games. This is possible because all five skaters on the ice are playing as a single unit both in the neutral zone and in the defensive zone.

Opposing teams do not get a lot of room in center ice and with high pressure placed on entering the zone the Wild are able to force a lot of dump-in situations where their speed is able to retrieve pucks first and efficiently exit their zone.

Big question for Minnesota is can they sustain this type of play? Simply, yes, they can.

This hockey team is finally showing the potential and true talent they have possessed for the past few seasons. With Bruce Boudreau and his coaching staff behind the bench, it appears he's been able to extract every player's best, so far.

The way this team executes in all three zones, how they have been able to overcome injury and stay relatively healthy, and it's vigor on special teams has catapulted this club to the top in NHL.

With a tough travel schedule upcoming for the month of January, their toughest test still lies in front of them but anyone were betting this team looks to not have a disastrous breakdown it has had in previous campaigns.

Minnesota is the real deal. They continue to prove it every night, which embarks the real question, are they Stanley Cup contenders? The answer is only 48 games away.

Nick Maxson is the Minnesota Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.

 
 
 

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