VANCOUVER – Six starts by a goaltender is a small sample size. There are still 34 games left, meaning things can change in a hurry as Wild fans know all too well.
But as Devan Dubnyk continues to deliver the type of stability that the Wild could have used six or eight weeks ago, one has to wonder if Dubnyk is auditioning for a job next season in Minnesota.
After two years of goaltending instability, General Manager Chuck Fletcher says the most important thing this offseason will be solving that problem. With a 4-1 record in six starts with a 1.66 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and two shutouts since arriving in a trade from Arizona, Dubnyk has provided confidence in the skaters in front of him.
The latest example came Thursday in Calgary when Dubnyk made 30 saves in a 1-0 Wild victory. He stopped 22 shots the final two periods, which was no small feat considering the Flames pressured the final half of the second period with 10 consecutive shots and are the top-scoring third-period team in the NHL.
“We thought enough of him to trade for him,” Fletcher said last week. “Everybody I talked to about him told me what a really good person he is and what a good teammate he is.
“There’s no secret we’d love to get some stability in goal, and I’m sure he’s analyzing our situation as well. This last half a season, our goal is to win as many games as we can. But I also think it’s fair to say you’re always evaluating.”
Dubnyk, 28, has felt welcomed by his new teammates. His wife and child are moving to Minnesota next week and he has found an apartment.
And while he doesn’t think anybody should look at him as a “savior,” he “absolutely” says he’s taking this opportunity as a chance to prove himself.
“To come here and have a chance to play, it’s a chance that I was trying to work for,” Dubnyk said. “But it’s important that I just concentrate from game to game and not think about that long term. There’s no success to be had to be thinking about a picture that big.”
As Fletcher knows after three seasons of injury and illness with Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding, things change quickly. A few weeks ago in Buffalo, Backstrom was sitting on the bench backing up Dubnyk in his Wild debut. Suddenly an errant stick smacked Backstrom across the jaw and “after the game I thought we may have lost him for awhile,” Fletcher said. “He turned out to be fine, but you just never know. Our goaltending situation always seems to be day-to-day, which is obviously something we’d like to change going into next year.
“We’re searching for stability in goal and maybe Devan turns out to be that answer.”
With Backstrom and Kuemper both under contract next season, if the Wild signs a goalie Backstrom might have to be bought out or Kuemper may have to be traded.
But Fletcher said “it’s not that simple” and he’s not at the point where he’s giving up on either, particularly Kuemper, who is 24.
“Darcy is still a goalie with tremendous potential,” Fletcher said. “There’s ebb and flow in performance with goalies in general.
“We need our goaltenders to be better, but these situations are fluid. Dubnyk has the net now, and he’s played well, but there’s a lot of games down the stretch and I’m sure there will be an opportunity for Darcy to grab the net again. There’s four games in a week, back-to-backs, three in four with travel. We’ll probably need all three of them to play again.
“We’ve watched Darcy in junior, we’ve watched him in the ECHL, we’ve watched him in the AHL, the NHL, we’ve watched him in the playoffs. He’s a quality kid and real good young goaltender who’s a big part of our team. The tendency is to look too far ahead, but we have to stay in the moment … and just let things play out.”