Back when the Wild was reeling off win after win in December, Bruce Boudreau had a saying about his No. 1 goaltender: “It’s like Duby said, ‘No more.’ ”
In the midst of marring what a month ago looked like a banner-raising season, the Wild needs that version of Devan Dubnyk back — the version that didn’t allow more than three goals in his first 27 starts, the version that stole victories, the version that earned a second consecutive All-Star Game invite, the version that looked like a Vezina Trophy shoo-in.
This is part of the reason Dubnyk started Thursday’s game at Carolina and Sunday’s game at Winnipeg — two games Darcy Kuemper originally was “penciled in” to start.
With Dubnyk struggling, Boudreau wants him to battle his way out of it by playing. Plus, goalie coach Bob Mason said, “Leaking oil like we are, Bruce is hungry for a win, so, ‘Let’s go with our best guy.’ ”
There are 11 games left in the regular season. With the Wild 2-8 this month and suddenly seven points behind the Chicago Blackhawks, the ship probably has sailed on a first Western Conference and Central Division title.
But for the Wild to resurrect itself before the playoffs, Dubnyk needs to become impenetrable again.
The “Duby no more” guy is missing in action.
In Tampa, with the Wild trying to rally, Dubnyk gave up a backbreaking third goal. In Washington, with the Wild having cut the deficit to one, Dubnyk gave up a soft fourth goal late in the third period. In Raleigh, N.C., 90 seconds after Eddie Lack made point-blank stops in a tie game, Dubnyk gave up the winning goal with 3:24 left. In Winnipeg, he allowed three goals on seven first-period shots, then a soft fourth goal on an eighth shot, then the winning goal on a point shot he never saw after the Wild roared back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the score.
Dubnyk still is tied for second in the NHL with 36 wins, second with a .927 save percentage and fourth with a 2.18 goals-against average among goalies with at least 30 games, but his numbers have taken a dramatic turn south since late December.
In his first 27 starts through Dec. 29, Dubnyk was 18-6-3 and ranked first in the NHL with a 1.58 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. In 31 games and 29 starts since Dec. 29, Dubnyk is 18-12 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
In that span, he ranks 22nd in GAA and 26th in save percentage among goalies who have played at least 16 games. He has given up four or more goals in a game nine times.
In March, he has won one of nine starts and is 2-7 in 10 games with a 2.92 GAA and .899 save percentage. He has gone seven starts without a victory and has been looking for his career-high 37th victory for five games since winning in relief of Kuemper at Florida on March 10.
Mason says Dubnyk’s struggles are a combination of things, including that the Wild is not as tight in the defensive zone and is giving up Grade A chances right away in games.
“The first three goals in Winnipeg were all from the middle of the ice instead of — it’s a goalie-friendly thing, but — letting him get four or five chances to get a feel of the puck,” Mason said.
But Mason admits Dubnyk is not tracking the puck as well as he was earlier.
“Sightlines are a problem right now. He’s not getting visions on the puck,” Mason said. “One of his staples is he likes to track it and find it early and lead with his head and everything goes with it, and he’s nice and tight and compact.”
Mason used Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei’s tying goal Saturday as an example, saying: “Skjei’s shooting that puck and Duby hadn’t even turned his head to find it yet. He gets a sightline on that, he stops that 10 out of 10. He was just late on the play.”
One concern is the lack of practice time for Mason to work with Dubnyk. For instance, the past two off-days — Friday and Monday — were days off for the team, so much of Mason’s work with Dubnyk has to come during gameday morning skates.
“We have to find some time to bang out a few drills that will replicate what he’s done well,” Mason said. “Tracking is a staple and so is trying to maintain some ice on top of the paint — using his size and ability to track the puck, get there early and get set and not retreat where he can hone in, grab that angle and keep it.”
Another concern: Is Dubnyk getting tired? He has played 14 consecutive games and all 12 since the bye because Kuemper was pulled from his two starts.
Mason had “a nice talk” with Dubnyk after the team landed from Winnipeg on Sunday night. The two will have a video session Tuesday morning in advance of the Wild’s home game against San Jose.
“We’ll smooth things out and see what we need to do better and correct a couple little things,” Mason said. “Hopefully that triggers some wins. One win might boost us into three, four, five in a row.
“Devan’s highly motivated. He’s got a good thing going this year, and he’s not going to let that slip away. We’ve got a lot of motivated guys in there. We’ve got to tighten the bolts and not let something real good slide away. We won’t.”