Losses used to torment Devan Dubnyk.
He’d have trouble sleeping, wake up grumpy and get annoyed in practice.
At the start of his NHL career, that was how he coped with adversity, and there was plenty of it.
Not until he latched on with the Wild and enjoyed a renaissance did his perspective on the goaltending position change.
Instead of continuing to buy into the singularity of the role and the stress it can create, he realized he’s only one piece of the puzzle — a stop on an assembly line whose product is determined by the sum of its parts.
Because of that, the recognition he’ll receive this weekend in his franchise-record third All-Star Game appearance in San Jose, Calif., isn’t just a reflection of his body of work this season.
It’s a testament to the team.
“If you go out there and have a great game, it’s not because you had a great game,” Dubnyk said. “It’s because we all did together. And when you have that feeling and you understand that’s how it works, you can get away from that unnecessary pressure of thinking that it’s just you and whatever you do is the only thing that can affect the game because that’s not really how it is.
“It’s a difficult league, and the only way for any of us to have success is we go out there and do that together.”
When he was vying for stability in the NHL, that wasn’t Dubnyk’s outlook.
The last line of defense standing alone between the pipes, he subscribed to the isolating visual of goaltending. His circumstances reinforced that ideology. A first-round draft pick by the Oilers as an athletic 6-6 18-year-old in 2004, he toggled between a starter and backup for much of his five seasons in Edmonton, starting in 2009.
The Oilers traded him in 2014, the start of a dizzying slide that crashed into the minors. The Predators demoted him after two tough games; the Canadiens did the same after acquiring him from Nashville.
“You’re trying to impress, impress, impress,” Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason said. “Sometimes you get that in your mind. You get a mental block and press and press and press. That’s when things can kind of get sideways on you.”
A fresh start later the next season with the Coyotes was the beginning of Dubnyk’s resurgence. Stuck as a backup, he still told himself he had to shine in every game since they’d be spot starts. He responded well enough for the Wild to acquire him Jan. 14, 2015, and immediately give him the keys to its playoff hopes — which Dubnyk jump-started into a berth amid a 27-9-2 run.
But he also left Arizona with more cargo in his mental space. A postgame conversation with then-Coyotes captain Shane Doan after Dubnyk led the team to a 4-2 victory over the Flyers less than three weeks before he was traded has stayed with him.
“When you’re at your best and you’re doing your thing,” Dubnyk said Doan told him, “always remember that that’s who you are and not the other way around. If there is an off game, that’s not who you are. It was just a rough night. The next day, you just get back to being who you are.”
Learning to win
Dubnyk has known who he is since: The Wild’s No. 1 goalie, a title that helped complete his transformation.
So did the victories that piled up.
“Initially it was about proving others wrong,” said Dubnyk’s wife, Jenn. “Now he’s done that, and now he’s just comfortable.”
Since joining the Wild, Dubnyk ranks first in the NHL in starts (267), goals-against average (2.31) and shutouts (21); and second in wins (154) and save percentage (. 921) among goalies who have played at least 175 games.
“He’s a big guy who could skate,” said Frederic Chabot, the Wild’s goaltending development coach and the Oilers’ goalie coach while Dubnyk was in Edmonton. “He could read the game well. He had the ability to stop the puck. … But he [made] adjustments to keep improving. I think the better goalies in the league are able to do that.”
What these results underscored were the different formulas to achieve two points; it could take a 2-1 grind in which he’s posted 30-plus saves, or maybe the offense bails him out 4-3.
But by learning how to win, it dawned on Dubnyk — it’s not all about him. And succeeding that way was more gratifying than his accolades when he viewed himself as a solo artist.
“There’s no possible way in this league that you can go out there and do it on your own,” he said. “It does not matter who you are, if you do back flips, there’s just no way to do it. Even if you’re making Grade A saves, you’re given that ability to make a read on the play. Everything that happens in front of you gives you the ability to make those saves.
“Even if it is a breakdown or a Grade A, there still is that kind of last play by the D-man or backcheck by the forward that allowed you to get a read on where the puck’s going.”
That it took time to accept this isn’t unusual, as it seems to be correlated to experience. Instead of stewing in misery after every setback, the 32-year-old is even-keeled.
He’s still disappointed, make no mistake, but he doesn’t show it.
“When you win, you’re not on the top of the mountain thinking you did it by yourself,” Dubnyk said. “And when you lose, you’re not sitting there depressed thinking it was all your fault.”
Leading the charge
Interpreting his responsibility this way, however, doesn’t diminish Dubnyk’s importance to the team.
In fact, he’s poised to be the face of the Wild’s push to the playoffs after it regroups from an eight-day layoff.
“You have to be a big part of it,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”
His performance has helped the team climb into the third seed in the Central Division with 55 points. Dubnyk’s 20 wins are tied for fifth in the NHL, while his .913 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average are improving — in his past four games, he went 3-0 with a .944 save percentage and 1.29 goals-against average.
“If he can be on top of his game after the All-Star break and for the last 32 games,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said, “I think you’ll find us there.”
Rather than focusing on that objective, though, Dubnyk will concentrate on the checklist that he utilizes to stay consistent by making sure he’s set in his crease and tracking pucks. Even if that doesn’t produce perfect play, he hopes to be solid enough that his teammates feel they have a chance to win with him in net.
And if that means a heavy workload the rest of the way, Dubnyk is fine with it.
“You want to be the person that is relied upon every single game and in the tough situations,” he said.
Before that, though, Dubnyk will bask in the spotlight shining on the NHL’s premier players in San Jose for a skills competition Friday and then the 3-on-3, tournament-style showdown Saturday among divisions for a $1 million prize.
He’ll be accompanied by Jenn; their two oldest sons, Nate and Parker; his parents, brother and brother-in-law.
“I don’t think the novelty wears off,” Jenn said.
Dubnyk is one of only eight goalies who will participate, but he’s not treating the attention as an individual honor.
He’s also representing the Wild.
“That’s why it’s such a great sport,” he said. “There’s just no way to win without everybody doing something.”