Devan Dubnyk vs. Jonathan Quick tonight in a goaltending classic between the Wild and L.A. Kings.
Who woulda thunk 2 ½ months ago Dubnyk would put himself in the conversation this season with the league’s elite goalies?
But Dubnyk continues to roll and tonight will start his 35th consecutive game (includes one with Arizona), the most in the NHL since Dwayne Roloson started 36 in a row for Edmonton in 2009.
Dubnyk is 34-11-3 in 52 appearances this season. He ranks second in the NHL with a 2.07 goals-against average and second with a .930 save percentage. He is 25-6-1 in 33 starts since joining the Wild. He has a 1.72 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.
Since being pulled in Detroit on Jan. 20, Dubnyk is 3-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.20 goals-against average and .967 save percentage. The Wild is 5-2-4 in the second of back-to-backs this season.
Wild has won four in a row and a win tonight and the Wild overtakes Chicago for third in the Central. Kings have won three in a row on their five-game road trip.
The Kings are starting to hit their stride, and Yeo said of the defending champs, “When I look at their game right now, I see the L.A. Kings from last year in the playoffs.”
The Wild is 8-6-2 in its past 16 games against Los Angeles with six of the games decided in a shootout. The Wild is 10-4-4 in the past 18 meetings played at Xcel Energy Center.
Ryan Carter, who separated a shoulder Feb. 9, will play for the first time in 24 games. He will play for Sean Bergenheim, who has one goal and no assists and is minus-5 in 15 games. In two of his past five games, he played less than six minutes.
Carter joked that he should have fresh legs, and he’ll play on a line with Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder. Kyle Brodziak is feeling much better, coach Mike Yeo said, so he should be able to practice when the Wild next skates Monday.
Yeo said Carter should add a physical presence against the big Kings and help with the penalty kill.
“He should be more than fresh,” Yeo said. “He should have a lot of energy and excitement coming into the game. He’s one of those character guys, real important part of our locker room and I think his presence will be a lift for the rest of the group.”
Matt Cooke is even close to practicing.
At a minimum, assuming nobody gets hurt tonight and Brodziak is ready to return Thursday against the New York Rangers, one of Brodziak, Schroeder, Haula and Carter would have to not play.
“I don’t want to paint the picture that we have a short leash for everybody, but certainly we have a lot of guys that we’re going to get some games and an opportunity,” Yeo said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but if we do make the playoffs, this is almost a showcase for guys as far as what our lineup is going to be going forward.
“Every game is meaningful, every shift is meaningful.”
One interesting thing that has happened the past two games is Schroeder, besides making things happen basically every shift with his speed and offensive ability, has killed penalties. While the former Gopher was scratched eight consecutive games, Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson had Schroeder sit in on the penalty-kill meetings.
The coaches wanted to give him every opportunity to stick in the lineup once he got back in. They like his speed in this role, and remember, when he became the odd guy out after the acquisition of Bergenheim and Chris Stewart, one reason given was Schroeder was the only forward on the team without a special teams role.
“It’s another way to stay in the lineup,” Schroeder said. “I enjoy it. If they know I can be responsible and they can count on you to block that shot and make the right play, it’s always an added bonus. With the amount of guys we have on this team and the fact the team is playing great, every shift, every game is like a tryout.”
The fact the coaches know Schroeder can kill penalties now could give him the ability to stay in the lineup maybe for Haula if the coaches want to insert Brodziak back in.
Just so many players here right now, and remember, at some point the hope is Cooke and eventually Jason Zucker can return.
Yeo said of Schroeder playing the PK, “It’s not always ideal to break a guy in this time of year. We’ve kind of approached it similar in how we handled Zuck at the start of the year. Likewise with [Justin Fontaine, who has been playing the PK lately], just trying to incorporate these guys a little more. If we can give them an increased role, it helps them to stay in the game.”
By the way, Thomas Vanek notched the tiebreaking goal early in the third period to hit the 20-goal milestone for the 10th time in as many NHL seasons. Per Elias Sports Bureau, only two other active players have scored at least 20 goals in each of their first 10 NHL campaigns: Jaromir Jagr (first 17) and Alex Ovechkin (first 10, active).