GLENDALE, ARIZ. – If Darcy Kuemper needed proof that the Wild plans to start him more than it did in the second half last season, the goaltender is already slated to start the fourth game of the season Friday night in Los Angeles.
Kuemper, 25, went more than three months between starts last season thanks to Devan Dubnyk’s brilliant run to the playoffs.
“L.A.’s L.A., so I don’t know that we’re necessarily giving [Kuemper] too much of a favor by starting him in there,” coach Mike Yeo said, laughing.
Dubnyk started 38 consecutive games after arriving in Minnesota. The Wild doesn’t want to ride Dubnyk like that this season, so quality fill-ins from Kuemper will be needed.
“We’re hoping and we’re counting on Darcy to give us a really good chance to win that game, but we’re also hoping and counting on our team to play a real good game in front of him and give him a real good chance to perform at his highest level,” Yeo said.
Yeo wants to make sure Kuemper gets a start early so he doesn’t lose all he gained during a quality training camp. He also noted that Kuemper has played well in Los Angeles.
Kuemper’s first appearance at Staples Center came in April 2013 when Niklas Backstrom was pulled after giving up two goals on two shots. Kuemper gave up one goal in the next 57 minutes. Kuemper’s only start there came in January 2014. Josh Harding had a relapse with multiple sclerosis and Backstrom needed a cortisone shot for abdominal stiffness that ultimately ended up being a season-ending sports hernia.
Kuemper, whose only previous start that season came in October when he allowed three goals on seven shots through 32½ minutes in Toronto, stopped 39 of 40 shots in a shootout victory vs. the Kings.
“It’s a rink I love playing in, and any chance you get to play is a good one,” he said. “It’s nice to get that first one early in the season.”
That victory at Los Angeles started a string of 11 victories in 16 games for Kuemper before the Wild traded for Ilya Bryzgalov. Last year, Kuemper got off to a strong start, his game began to falter, he got hurt and the Wild traded for Dubnyk.
From Jan. 6 to the end of the season, he started once — April 9, a 32-save victory at Nashville.
“It was just nice getting in that game for the reassurance that what I was working on was working,” Kuemper said. “To have a good game and get a ‘W’ was good heading into the summer and gave me a lot to build on.”
His goal this year is to “earn as much playing time as I can, but I don’t want to look too big picture. I’ll focus on [Friday] and build from there.”
No. 6 guy changes
Defenseman Nate Prosser made his season debut Thursday against the Coyotes and Christian Folin was scratched. Similarly to Yeo’s rationale for playing Kuemper so soon, the Wild coach said he’s not unhappy with Folin’s play and wants to keep Prosser involved.
“Training camp’s a waste if you go three weeks without playing a game,” Yeo said.
New guy in
With rookie center Tyler Graovac on injured reserve because of a strained groin, right wing Justin Fontaine came off IR and made his season debut on a line with Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle.
Fontaine missed the first two games because of an oblique injury sustained Sept. 24.