With Darcy Kuemper doing a fine job keeping the puck out of the net, Devan Dubnyk won’t be rushed back into his normal starting spot Tuesday when the Wild plays host to Vancouver.
Dubnyk, who strained his groin Dec. 5, practiced Monday, but he assumed Kuemper’s usual role of sharing one net with third goalie Niklas Backstrom.
Kuemper has started three consecutive games and played four in a row since Dubnyk left halfway through a win against the Colorado Avalanche. Kuemper is 2-0-2, having given up four goals and only two in regulation for a .946 save percentage and a 1.12 goals-against average.
“I’m not the least bit surprised. I hope nobody is,” Dubnyk said of Kuemper’s ability to step up. “He’s a great goaltender. That’s a backup’s job. Injuries happen and to be able to come in and give the guys a few great games, he did a great job of that. Those are big points for us.”
Dubnyk said he is ready to return and will back up Kuemper against the Canucks. He said the hesitancy he felt during last Thursday’s practice didn’t occur Monday. There’s never a good time to get hurt, but this injury particularly frustrated Dubnyk because he had given up one goal in 2½ games since allowing 35 during a stretch of 13 straight starts.
“You go through times when you feel like you’re never going to get scored on and that was one of those times, but there’s no reason why we can’t get that back either,” Dubnyk said.
Mike Yeo has been impressed with Kuemper. The Wild coach admitted Monday that the staff was worried the young goalie would be rusty from riding the bench between Oct. 25 and Nov. 28.
“He’s shown no signs of it,” Yeo said. “It’s a compliment to him the way he has practiced and the way that [goalie coach Bob Mason] has prepared him. He looks very comfortable in there, looks very confident in there.”
Kuemper, after posting his first shutout in 13½ months Saturday at San Jose, said it’s just nice to get playing time.
“I’ve been feeling good in practice and to get out there and feel good out there means a lot,” Kuemper said. “The guys have been playing real hard in front of me and making my job as easy as it can be. I feel like I’m seeing the puck well. I feel like mentally I’m in a good focused state right now.”
The Wild, which has points in seven consecutive games (4-0-3), plays six of its next seven games at home. Yeo said it’s time “to really put our foot on the gas.”
Other than the heating up Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line and recently effective Chris Porter-Erik Haula-Ryan Carter line, Yeo reshuffled two lines Monday.
Mikko Koivu centered Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker (moves from left wing to right) and Charlie Coyle centered Nino Niederreiter (moves from right wing to left) and Justin Fontaine.
“In theory, it should be a line that can possess the puck, control the puck in the offensive zone,” Yeo said. “It should be able to play against any line out there and create offense as well.”
Yeo is trying to jump-start Zucker, who has no points in the past 10 games, and Niederreiter, who has none in 12.
Yeo feels the “pressure to produce on the top line” has especially got to Niederreiter.
“He hasn’t had the same focus with the little things in his game,” Yeo said. “He hasn’t been as physical on the forecheck, finishing checks, getting to the net. I feel like he’s been almost a little deliberate in how he’s playing.”
Niederreiter said he needs to simplify his game. He hopes previous chemistry with Coyle reappears quickly.
“If you don’t get a lot of shots, it’s always frustrating,” Niederreiter said. “It’s one thing if you get chances, but when you don’t get any chances anymore, then you focus on different things. The one main thing I feel I always do is work hard, but at the end of the day, if you’re only working hard, you’re questioning yourself a lot of times.
“Sometimes you make the wrong decision and sometimes you’re afraid to make that play because you’re not sure if you’re as comfortable with it. I just need to get back to doing what I do well, and that’s getting to the net, moving my feet and shooting the puck.”