DALLAS – Devan Dubnyk, the target of much angst for some early-season inconsistency and bad goals, is suddenly the NHL leader with 10 wins, and it has come in 13 starts.
The Wild goalie, who signed a six-year, $26 million in June after saving the Wild's season last year and becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist, has won three in a row and is "stealing games" again.
He'll face arguably his biggest challenge Saturday night against Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and the offensively explosive Stars, who are averaging 3.65 goals per game and are deeper than many teams in the NHL.
But as long as Dubnyk remains in a groove and looks fresh, coach Mike Yeo will continue to ride him.
"He's on his game," Yeo said after Dubnyk made a season-high 37 saves in Thursday's come-from-behind overtime win in Carolina. "You can tell. What we said last year, the next game's the next challenge. But that's why we rolled with him for a little bit here.
"We knew that he was close to his game, we knew that he wasn't quite on it, and we just felt that if he got some more game reps, then he would get there. You can just see it's building. Certainly he's on it right now."
Dubnyk has stopped 93 of his last 98 shots faced for a .949 save percentage. At 5-on-5, his save percentage over that span is .962. This is a far cry from the Dubnyk earlier this season who had an .887 save percentage at one point and was still at .896 before this run.
Dubnyk has worked in recent games on staying on his feet more, tracking pucks and being patient. He has also noticeably challenged shooters more on top of the crease, a clear adjustment for a goalie who plays deeper than most.
"You just don't know at the start of the year if that's going to come right away, but sometimes it takes a little bit to get some shots and get a feel," Dubnyk said. "Fortunately we've been able to get some wins along the way, but I feel really good now."
Dubnyk said he worked with goalie coach Bob Mason on "sharpening just a little bit. It wasn't a huge difference. There's been a lot of interesting bounces and calls. That's just the way it goes in stretches sometimes."
He joked they had a running tally of how many pucks deflected into the net off Wild teammates, and Dubnyk said sometimes when you're struggling, the smartest thing is to just relax and not change too much.
Dubnyk has started seven consecutive games. Backup Darcy Kuemper, whom the Wild stopped using during Dubnyk's run of 38 consecutive starts last year, has not yet gotten a chance to bounce back from his second start of the season. He followed a strong season debut in Los Angeles on Oct. 16 with a stinker in Winnipeg on Oct. 25, giving up four goals on 18 shots.
Yeo said the coaching staff felt it imperative to give Dubnyk some consistent action so he could rediscover last year's form.
"You don't like to do this, but Duby's our starter and our first decision has to be toward what he needs most and what the team needs," Yeo said. "We have faith in Darcy … but as much as anything else, we just wanted to keep giving Duby a chance to find his game."
At Carolina, Dubnyk didn't have a chance to stop either goal he allowed, and his save on Jeff Skinner with the Wild trailing 2-0 in the first was arguably the game's turning point because Jason Zucker scored the first of his two goals soon after that.
Dubnyk will have to be on his game against the Stars.
"They're playing great," Dubnyk said. "We have to concentrate on our group and understand that we have a great team as well. We have to go out and play a really good game against these guys but not think too much about their skill and their guys.
"If we go out and play our best game, too, then we should have a good chance to win."