New Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk barely got a moment to rest Sunday. He parked himself between the pipes throughout a practice at Xcel Energy Center, facing wave after wave of teammates during a series of five-on-five drills.
The scenario at the other end of the ice brought to mind the old saying: Three’s a crowd. The Wild’s other goaltenders, Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper, spent part of the practice working with goalie coach Bob Mason; during the remainder, they took turns in net. To further illustrate the point, Dubnyk was given the corner locker formerly occupied by Kuemper, while Kuemper — currently on injured reserve — dressed in a temporary stall that jutted into a doorway.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Sunday that Kuemper’s lower-body injury has healed and he has been cleared to play. That creates a three-man logjam in net, a situation that hasn’t gotten easier to handle the second time around.
“It’s an ongoing, day-by-day thing we’ll have to deal with,’’ said Yeo, who faced a similar issue last season when injuries led to a rotating cast in goal. “I think we were able to manage it fairly well [last season], and that’s going to be important again this year.
“It’s a little bit tricky in that you have to make sure the person who’s starting is getting the workload and preparation they need. And in a lot of ways, how you deal with the other two guys is going to be equally as important as far as their emotional state, making sure they’re ready in case they need to be called upon, and also making sure they’re getting the proper amount of work.’’
Kuemper has missed six games because of his injury. Yeo said the team is considering sending him to Iowa for a rehabilitation assignment, but nothing has been finalized.
The Wild acquired Dubnyk last week as Kuemper and Backstrom both struggled. Kuemper’s 2.68 goals-against average is ranked 30th among the 44 NHL goalies who have played 14 or more games, and his save percentage of .902 is ranked 37th. Backstrom is ranked 36th in GAA (3.04) and 42nd in save percentage (.887).
Dubnyk demonstrated composure and consistency as he won his first two starts with the Wild. He acknowledged that three men and two nets makes for some uncomfortable math, though he also noted that the group can help one another by sharing ideas and perspectives.
“I don’t think it’s ideal for anyone,’’ said Dubnyk, who has stopped 43 of 44 shots in his two Wild victories. “I think you’d be lying if anybody said three goalies was good. But sometimes that’s the way the situation is, and the most important thing is to just be there for each other, have good relationships with each other and understand we’re all in the same boat. We’re all fighting for the net and supporting each other.’’
For those getting less time in the net, the fight can be more challenging. Backstrom — who became testy Sunday when asked about his recent difficulties — said it could be difficult for everyone to get enough repetitions in practice. That will be a bigger issue for a younger goalie such as Kuemper, he said, and those who aren’t playing regularly will require help from teammates and coaches to ensure they are getting enough work to stay sharp.
Though Backstrom finds everything comes easier with the rhythm that develops as a No. 1 goalie, he also finds that increased competition motivates him to push himself harder. And he said complaining or worrying about playing less is fruitless. “The biggest thing is, you have to know you can make mistakes, because everyone makes mistakes,’’ he said. “You can’t go out there and think you can’t make a mistake, because that’s not going to help you. You just have to find a way to be at your best for the guys in this locker room.’’
Yeo hopes Dubnyk’s presence will aid Backstrom and Kuemper by relieving the pressure they have felt. Mason — who once was part of a three-goalie group during his playing days — also is trying to help them navigate a suddenly crowded net.
“Both [Kuemper and Backstrom] have played good hockey,’’ Mason said. “You’ve got to get up and go to work every day, hang onto the good stuff and try to improve what you’ve been struggling with. It can be dark at times. But you’ve got to go out there and trust yourself.’’