It’s hard to split Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk’s 2016-17 neatly into two halves, but this much is true: during his first 33 appearances last season, he posted a .940 save percentage with dazzling analytics-based numbers to match. The Wild, in turn, was 28-9-5 through the last of those 33 appearances — a 3-2 win at Chicago.
In Dubnyk’s final 32 regular-season appearances last season, he posted a .905 save percentage. The Wild’s overall play was eroding as well — as was coach Bruce Boudreau’s faith in his primary backup goalie option, Darcy Kuemper. Minnesota’s record over those final 40 games was 21-16-3 — not bad, but hardly the blistering pace at which it had started.
Dubnyk was generally good for the Wild in the postseason, giving up 10 goals in the five-game loss to St. Louis. He had the misfortune of being outplayed by Blues goalie Jake Allen and had his series bookended by allowing game-winning overtime goals in Games 1 and 5.
Alex Stalock made a couple of good starts toward the end of last season and earned the primary backup job for the Wild this season as Kuemper was allowed to move on. Still, it was clear when 2017-18 began that Dubnyk — who agreed to a six-year contract extension in 2015 — was the main guy.
Through the first eight games this season, Dubnyk had started six games and Stalock had started two.
Minnesota registered a badly needed 6-4 victory over the Islanders on Thursday after starting a six-game homestand with a sleeping pill of a 1-0 loss against Vancouver in which Dubnyk played but wasn’t overly tested.
The six-goal outburst against New York was good for the locker room, but it was also the fourth time in his first six starts this season that Dubnyk allowed at least four goals. What the Wild hadn’t done much up until Saturday was win a competitive, tight, low-scoring game. If anything, the Wild’s best example of that came when Stalock helped Minnesota to a 4-2 win at Calgary the previous weekend.
I was curious if Dubnyk would get the call against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on Saturday. He did, and I have to think it was an important test. The Wild probably wasn’t on the verge of a goaltending controversy — or at least conundrum — but if there were any whispers of such a thing Dubnyk alleviated some concerns with 29 saves in a 2-1 win.
Still, in the early sample size of 2017-18, and even with that strong start against Pittsburgh, Dubnyk’s numbers are rough: a .905 save percentage (same as the second half of last season) and 3.04 GAA in seven starts. His peripheral numbers match those more traditional stats: out of 59 goalies this season with at least 100 minutes played, Dubnyk ranks 47th in save percentage on shots deemed to have come from high-danger areas, and 48th on shots from medium-danger areas. Stalock, in an even smaller sample of just two games, is 23rd and 16th, respectively.
To get where it wants to go this season, particularly as it works through early injuries to key players, it’s pretty simple to conclude the Wild will need Dubnyk to be more like he was Saturday more often. Ideally, Stalock would probably make 25 starts this season to help keep Dubnyk fresher than he’s been in past years when the Wild leaned more heavily on him out of necessity.
It will be interesting, though, to see how the split actually plays out. If Dubnyk gets on a roll, will Boudreau be able to give him the rest he needs? And if Dubnyk struggles to some degree, will Stalock find himself in more games than we thought?