Look atop the leader board in virtually every NHL goaltending category, and it still won’t take you long to find Devan Dubnyk’s name. The Wild goalie has a league-best .935 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average. He’s second in wins (25) and tied for second in shutouts (five).
The story lately, though, has been different. After an incredible run from late October through late December, Dubnyk has been increasingly human in January. A goaltender regression seemed to be the biggest thing that could derail this Wild season. It still might, but for now one of the most interesting story lines of this impressive Minnesota season is that Dubnyk suddenly putting up average numbers hasn’t cost the Wild at all.
In the first 27 Dubnyk starts this season, he and the Wild allowed just 43 goals for a minuscule 1.59 GAA. In the same span, the Wild scored 76 goals (2.81 per game) for an impressive goal differential of 1.22 through 27 Dubnyk starts. The Wild didn’t allow four goals in any of those 27 starts and allowed three goals just five times.
In the last nine Dubnyk starts, he and the Wild have allowed 26 goals (2.89 GAA, nearly double what it had been). But the Wild in those nine games has also scored 37 goals (4.11 per game). Guess what that works out to? The exact same 1.22 goal differential as it was before, just with more goals scored and allowed. Dubnyk has allowed four goals in four different starts in that stretch, and three goals in two others. But the Wild is 4-2 in those games and 7-2 overall in Dubnyk’s last nine starts.
The question becomes: did the Wild change its style of play, leading to more chances (and goals) each way? Or is the Wild doing a good job of compensating for some slippage from Dubnyk.
The answer is probably a little bit of both. Anyone who has watched the Wild lately has seen a higher-octane offense and more aggressive play on that end — while also seeing Dubnyk miss some pucks and give up some rebounds that just weren’t happening earlier in the season. Wear and tear from a grinding regular season — and the corresponding lack of practices — could be a factor in the uptick in scoring on both ends.
The great news for the Wild is that it has shown the ability to win both ways — and convincingly at that, given its Western Conference-leading plus-46 goal differential on the season.
That said, it might also be better in the long run if the Wild settles into more of a happy medium instead of relying on the extremes of great offense or great goaltending to carry the day.