Darcy Kuemper found himself back in familiar surroundings Monday, with one exception. The Wild goalie returned to Xcel Energy Center after a brief minor league interlude to find he had been assigned a new locker, on the end of the row occupied by the Wild’s defensemen.
Kuemper expects that fresh perspective to extend to the ice as well. He said he felt good about his play during a five-game conditioning stint with the Wild’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, and he declared himself ready to start whenever the team needs him. That could happen as soon as Tuesday night’s game at Winnipeg, though coach Mike Yeo hadn’t decided Monday.
Yeo said he wants to ride the hot hand of Devan Dubnyk whenever possible as the Wild continues to pursue a playoff spot. He still has no set plan for managing his three goalies — Dubnyk, Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom — but Kuemper said he is prepared to go with the flow.
“I felt good,” said Kuemper, who went 2-3 with one shutout in Iowa and had a 3.22 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. “I was making big saves every game. I don’t know what’s going to happen [with the Wild]. You just control what you can control, and I’ll work hard every day and support my teammates.”
Dubnyk made his 10th consecutive start Monday, with Backstrom backing him up. Yeo said there is “a good chance” Dubnyk will stay in the net as long as he feels fresh and ready.
Yeo expressed sympathy for Kuemper and Backstrom, whose struggles have been magnified by Dubnyk’s sterling performance. He said both have had “a great attitude” and noted that the Wild’s improved team defense will give them a better chance to succeed when they r play.
In Iowa, Kuemper said, he worked on reading the play, corralling rebounds, being in position to stop second-chance shots and playing with control. Yeo said the Wild must be mentally strong enough to maintain confidence — and to overcome a bad goal or bad bounce — no matter who is in net. Forward Zach Parise echoed that idea, adding that Kuemper doesn’t need to prove himself to his teammates.
“We know he’s a good goaltender,” Parise said. “Everyone goes through stretches. Whoever is in [goal], that can’t affect how we play in front of them.”
Another star turn
Dubnyk was named the NHL’s first star of the week Monday after stopping all 42 shots he faced in shutting out Chicago and Colorado. He had been honored as the league’s third star only a week earlier.
In his first nine starts with the Wild, Dubnyk went 7-1 with four shutouts, a goals-against average of 1.31 and save percentage of .948. He said his struggles last season — when he was traded from Edmonton to Nashville and spent time in the minors — has made him appreciate the accolades more.
“It’s great,” Dubnyk said. “It’s exciting. I’ll probably try to sit down Wednesday [between games] and take a minute and really enjoy it.
“It’s nice to be talked about for the right reasons. It’s important to not change what I’m doing, but also important to take some time on a day in between and really enjoy it.”
Dubnyk said he is feeling as strong as he ever has in his pro career. Through Sunday, he was ranked sixth in the NHL in save percentage (.925) and 10th in goals-against average (2.26).
“It’s nice to go out there and feel that, and not feel like I’m doing anything crazy or out of the ordinary,” he said. “I’m just trying to be sharp and solid, and with how hard [my teammates] play, that’s all I need to be.”
• The Wild scratched defenseman Christian Folin and winger Justin Fontaine.
• The game was part of the Canucks’ father-son trip, which ends Wednesday. The fathers watched the game from a suite and attended the morning skate.