PHILADELPHIA – Bruce Boudreau was spending part of his off day in the City of Brotherly Love deciding which of his two goaltenders would start Saturday night’s game against the Flyers.
Devan Dubnyk would have been a no-brainer in previous seasons — he is 5-2-1 in his past eight with a 1.13 goals-against average and is coming off a season-high 39-save effort Thursday in Pittsburgh.
But Darcy Kuemper has only two games under his belt this season and hasn’t started since giving up five goals to the Islanders on Oct. 23.
Boudreau’s rationale if he starts Kuemper on Saturday?
The Wild coach had always planned to play Kuemper this weekend, in Philadelphia or Sunday in Ottawa. Starting him Saturday might give Kuemper the best chance to succeed. Kuemper would have the chance to play behind fresh teammates, not potentially tired legs in Ottawa, where the opening puck drop comes 22 hours after the one in Philadelphia.
Plus, the Flyers are playing for the second time in 24 hours with travel, and if the Wild’s dragging in Ottawa, the red-hot Dubnyk may give the Wild its best chance to steal a game.
While Boudreau won’t announce his decision until Saturday morning, the coach needs Kuemper to win games regardless.
He won six of 21 games (16 starts) last season and is 1-1 this season, but he has given up eight goals and seemed to fight the puck even in a victory over Los Angeles.
“All good backup goalies, their practices are their games,” Boudreau said. “They’ve got to be ready. He practiced really good this week, so I think he’ll be ready. His history is he’s a good goaltender, so I think he’ll continue to be good.”
Dubnyk has experienced life as a No. 1 and a backup in the NHL, so he gets how tough it is for Kuemper when he goes without seeing action for long stretches. Kuemper said it’s not easy, “but I’ve done it lots, so it’s nothing new.”
“Sometimes the days can get a little long,” Dubnyk said. “Practicing isn’t always the most fun to do. It’s part of the job, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy.
“That first five, 10 minutes where you get back in there after a long stretch, it’s kind of like starting new. It’s almost like the start of the season where you have to get through that first five minutes of strange and then everything comes back to you right away.”
The Wild played a solid, scoreless first period against the Islanders. But moments after Zach Parise scored his 300th goal to open the second period, John Tavares scored a terrific goal Kuemper had no prayer on.
But this is often where Kuemper seems to cave; he gives up goals in bunches. Instants later, it was 2-1 Islanders off a shot from the side wall, then 3-1 soon after that.
“It’s not like there were bad goals,” Kuemper still says. “You give up the three quick ones that put the team in a hole, but overall my game was good. I played well.
“It’s not like I was letting in muffins or letting in weak goals. Just don’t overthink it and look at the positives. The game as a whole, the result wasn’t there, but the work was there. You’ve got to realize you weren’t bad.”
True or not, it’s the quick hole the Wild was put in that eventually led to the loss.
Dubnyk, not referring specifically to Kuemper, said it’s important for goalies to forget goals against immediately.
“It just comes with experience,” Dubnyk said. “You need to go through situations where you give up one from the red line and shut the door the rest of way. A bad goal doesn’t mean it’s going to be six that night. But you have to experience all these things and take from them, and that’s going to be important for Kuemps.”
Whichever game Kuemper starts this weekend, in Philly or Ottawa, Dubnyk said it’s important Kuemper “doesn’t put that game on a pedestal.
“It’s a tough thing to do when you haven’t played for so long and then you get that one game,” Dubnyk said. “If you approach the game as the be-all, end-all, that doesn’t work. You’re going to put some unnecessary pressure on you.”