Devan Dubnyk, after taking a red-eye from Phoenix to Buffalo via JFK, arrived in Buffalo at 8 a.m. and despite the long night and early morning, he’ll make his Wild debut tonight against the Sabres.
The Sabres, the NHL’s worst offensive team, have lost a franchise-record eight in a row. The Wild is 0-5-1 in its past six and has lost 12 of 14.
The Wild will be using a mishmash blue line with Ryan Suter suspended and Marco Scandella and Justin Falk hurt. Five right-shot D’s play tonight, so as of now, the pairs are:
Spurgeon (left side for first time in his pro career)-Prosser
Blum (who has struggled every time the Wild has seen him on the left side)-Dumba
Jordan Schroeder is scratched for a third straight game.
If you didn’t see the advance stat blog that our Michael Rand wrote on Dubnyk today, check that out here.
As advertised, Dubnyk is very affable and the Wild abandoned at least for today its team policy that the starting goalie doesn’t talk on a game day.
Dubnyk, who wore his Coyotes mask and pads in the morning skate, said the trade from the Coyotes to the Wild was a “bit of a roller coaster. I didn’t see it coming. I was aware of rumors and whatnot and I was just driving home from the rink and got a call. As the day went on, it settled in and I just got more and more excited. It’s an opportunity for me to come play. The way that things were in Arizona and Smitty (Mike Smith) there and they’ve got a great goalie locked up for a lot of years, to get a chance to come somewhere and play games is exciting for me. I’m looking forward to that.”
Honestly, in my opinion, Dubnyk has to look at this as a no-pressure scenario. Just play. The Wild has struggled. The goalies have struggled, so just get in there, play and try to allow the Wild to rediscover its game.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is the Wild’s game started to erode once the goaltending turned south. They started to cheat defensively to protect the goalies better, they started to get down in the dumps once the bad goals started to occur and now the game is MIA. There have been signs recently in the home game against Chicago, first period against Nashville, first and second periods against Pittsburgh that the structure is still there. So maybe tonight can be the beginning of the tonic, so to speak. We shall see.
Dubnyk, who has a wife and 17-month-old, wanted to make it here for the skate so he could get as much of a normal gameday routine as possible.
He said he got a little sleep on the red-eye, but he said laughing, “I’m 6-5, so I don’t fit on planes that well. I crunched up into a ball as best as I could. I think my tailbone will be reminding me of that flight for a couple weeks to come.”
Last year was “tough,” he said. As I wrote in my coverage in today’s paper, he lost his job in Edmonton, was traded to Nashville and Montreal and ended up in the minors.
“If you asked me before the start of last season what the absolute worst outcome of a season could be, I probably wouldn’t have told you half of what happened,” Dubnyk said. “That’s the way the things can go in professional sports. It was a long and difficult season for me. I was able to take a step back in the summer and I was fortunate to get a great opportunity to go to Arizona and get to work with [goalie coach] Sean Burke and an organization that gave me full confidence and an opportunity to go in and just get my game back. To feel fortunate to have an opportunity to play in this league, you realize how quickly it can be taken away from you, whether in your control or not. And to come back and just be grateful to be at the rink every day, maybe it’s a good thing in the long run.”
Burke and I are fairly tight. I covered him in Florida. In fact, I told a story to Dubnyk today about me sharing a cab with Burke coincidentally to a morning skate in Buffalo in the final week or two of one season. Burke’s hip was a mess and he told me he was shutting it down after that game and Kirk McLean would take over.
He told me he’d go out fighting that night. I didn’t take him literally. Early in the game, Vaclav Varada came within a few feet of the crease and Burke went to town on the Sabres agitator. Just pummeled him. Burke, when I covered him, had more fighting majors I believe than any active goalie at that time.
“I don’t have that side,” Dubnyk said of Burke. “I wouldn’t pick a fight with him. I’ve seen him in the gym, so I’d probably stay away.”
On how he resurrected his career this year and frankly played better than Smith, Dubnyk said, “It was very simple. It was a combination of going in there with [Burke] and [Dave] Tippett and all the coaches in that organization and them just showing me the confidence right from the day I showed up there. That was never in question for me, which after a season like last year was one of the most important things. For them to show that to me was a great start and it’s real simple with Burkie. He’s a big guy, he played a similar style, so it’s about beating the play and being set for the play and being patient on your feet. He told me he had all the confidence in the world that I could stop the puck from there, so if we put in the work to be ahead of the play, then I can just go play goal and have some fun.”
Yeo said that Dubnyk looked good in the morning skate.
“We’re just excited. I know from playing against him that I really do believe that this is a guy who can come in and be successful here,” Yeo said.
Yeo said he hopes Dubnyk’s arrival would give the team confidence going into games.
“Sometimes just adding an NHL player, whether it’s goaltender or any position, it does something to the psyche, does something to the confidence, and particular with the goaltending position, and this is not to place blame on Backy or Kuemps, our game has not been good enough,” Yeo said. “I think a lot of times the goals have been going in and for whatever reason our game starts to deteriorate after we let in one or two goals and this could gives a chance to reset and focus on our own jobs.”
Yeo continued, “The way things have gone lately between Backy and Kuemps, there’s no doubt that their confidence is not high right now. Part of the fact that both guys have not been quite on top of it doesn’t really give the other one an opportunity for a break. I think one other guy coming in here and hopefully he can find his game quickly and establish himself right away, I know that it’ll help the other guys as well.”
I assume John Curry has been reassigned. He was working off the ice with injured Justin Falk as the Wild skated.
“He’s got a lot of facial hair, so he definitely matured a little bit while he’s down there,” Yeo kidded. “We know he has a chance to come in and be impactful in areas of his puck play and his execution on the back end, [especially offensively]. I definitely want to see the consistency … in his defensive game, his position, his reads and that’s what I’m excited to see. From my understanding, he’s been playing more of a controlled game and we’re going to need that from him.”
Dumba, on his goatee, said jokingly, “That’s what I was going for. I needed to grow a good goatee just like him. It’s been a good experience down there. I’ve been playing lots of minutes and I think my game’s coming in a good way. Just want to keep going on that, keep improving every day.”
On Iowa, Dumba said, “It’s been fun, get back to playing all those scenarios (power play, PK, No. 1 pair). It’s been good. With those guys down there, too, it’s been fun. A lot of guys my age and friends I’ve made over the last couple years, so it’s fun. It’s all working back to this and trying to get your game to the best it can be so you can be here.”
Suter didn’t want to talk today. He’s very disappointed the league didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt after years of clean play.
But he does have a minus-21 in his past 20 games, so Yeo said, “Mentally as much as anything, a chance to reset. We’ve talked a lot about his plus-minus and how frustrating and disappointing that is for him, [so this is a chance] to clear his head a little bit on that. But physically, we demand so much from him, especially when Marco’s been out. It seems like we’ve had one of our top-4 Dmen out almost all year long, and with that, we’ve asked an awful lot of him, especially with him coming back after being sick. So typically what we would do on a day like today, we would skate them into the ground. But we’ve instructed our coaches that he really does basically no extra work today. Tomorrow [with J.P. Parise services], another off day for him. Two good rest days.”
Yeo said Scandella is hitting the ice today. He took a couple days off because he wasn’t progressing.
Yeo said Kuemper is close, and Mikael Granlund is close. The Wild is 2-6-1 since he broke his wrist. Granlund and maybe Scandella and Kuemper will be able to join the team at Saturday’s morning skate and practice Sunday.
Again, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the Wild may talk to Kuemper about going to the All-Star break for a brief rehab assignment. Let’s be honest: He could use it, but he’d need to accept if the team goes that route.
Yeo said one positive: “We do have some help on the horizon.”