Don't look now, but the hottest team in the NHL is none other than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bet you didn't see that one coming.
But how long is it going to last?
With their 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, the Blue Jackets set a franchise record by recording a point in their ninth consecutive game. That broke the mark set during the club's expansion season in 2001.
Of course, it is worth pointing out that four of those nine games were overtime/shootout losses. But, hey, we didn't let a couple of shootout losses stop us from raving about the Blackhawks streak this season. What has been really impressive about this run is that most of the games have come against some of the recent powers in the Western Conference, including two against Vancouver, two against Detroit (both wins) and two against Chicago.
Let's start with the good news for Columbus.
Leading the way has been goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has started eight games on the streak and bailed the team out on more than one occasion. During this run, he has posted an incredible .955 save percentage and raised his season mark to .927, sixth best in the NHL.
For a team that has had a glaring hole at the position since Steve Mason's Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in 2008-09, this is a big development. When the Blue Jackets acquired Bobrovsky from the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason for a draft pick, I was skeptical that he would be the answer to the goaltending issues. After all, he was one of just four goalies in the NHL last season to qualify for the league lead in save percentage and finish below .900 (his current teammate, Mason, was one of the others).
But Bobrovsky has bounced back in a big way and proven to be -- at this point -- a steal for the Jackets. And he has been at his best during this most recent run, including against Chicago on Thursday night, when he made a number of saves like the diving effort shown above against Dave Bolland.
Bobrovsky's success this season has to be a blow to Flyers fans watching from a distance, given that Philadelphia dealt him for a couple of draft picks over the summer. Especially since Ilya Bryzgalov is struggling yet again and -- because the team has no capable backup (something Bobrovsky obviously would have been) -- has to play him almost every single night.
Bobrovsky's play has been the good news. But what about the bad news? Well, that's also related to Bobrovsky.
For one, this run that he's on obviously isn't going to last. His career is like any other goalie in the NHL with hot streaks and cold streaks. Right now, he's on one incredible hot streak. And what goes up, must come down. Just check out his career cumulative save percentage and notice all of the peaks and valleys in there.
If his previous performance is any indication, he's due to head back down, and probably very soon.
Once Bobrovsky cools off, there's not much to suggest the rest of the team can make up for it. During this nine-game run, they've been outshot seven times (by an average of five per game) and, in many cases, by a significant margin (four times by 10 or more). That suggests this run is almost entirely due to hot goaltending.
Also bad: It's probably a case of too little, too late when it comes to working back into serious playoff consideration.
When this streak started on Feb. 26, the Blue Jackets were in 15th place and eight points out of the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference. After gaining 14 of a possible 18 points (a .778 points percentage), they were only able to close that gap to three points behind the current No. 8 seed (Phoenix, a team that has played one fewer game than Columbus) and only move up three spots in the standings to No. 12.
That is why gaps of at least three points are so hard to make up halfway through the season.