With six games in the Wild’s final 10 days and Devan Dubnyk having had only one game off since Feb. 16, the Wild wants to give its slumping No. 1 goaltender a few days to rest and practice.
But with Darcy Kuemper also not playing well and the Wild in desperate need of a victory after only three wins in 15 games this month, the team recalled Iowa Wild goalie Alex Stalock on Wednesday.
Stalock will start Thursday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators in his Wild debut.
Coach Bruce Boudreau is expected to address the situation Thursday morning, but Dubnyk is expected to back up Stalock and Kuemper will be scratched, two sources said.
Since March 1, the Wild has the 30th-ranked save percentage in the NHL (.879).
Stalock, 29, a South St. Paul native and former Minnesota Duluth standout, hasn’t started an NHL game since Feb. 2016 after a tough season in the San Jose and Toronto organizations.
He signed a two-way contract with the Wild last July 1 to re-establish his career. In 62 career games with the Sharks, Stalock is 24-19-7 with a 2.37 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and four shutouts.
He’s coming off his fourth shutout of the season with Iowa and has been terrific since November. This season, he’s 20-16-7 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in Iowa. In February, he signed a two-year extension with the Wild. That assured the Wild can protect Dubnyk in the upcoming expansion draft and gives Stalock the inside track to replace Kuemper, a pending free agent, as the Wild’s backup next season.
Dubnyk has fallen on hard times. Goalie coach Bob Mason acknowledged recently that there have been cracks in Dubnyk’s game when it comes to tracking the puck and challenging shooters. Dubnyk had a strong practice Wednesday and the Wild, fearing he’s mentally fatigued with losses mounting, wants to give him a couple of rest days to work in practice.
Once considered a Vezina Trophy front-runner, Dubnyk is 10-11-2 since Feb. 1 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. He is 2-7-2 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .871 save percentage since March 7 and 1-8-1 in his past 11 starts (one no-decision).
“Over the month, there are a couple here and there that you’d like to come up with a save. As far as my overall game goes, I haven’t felt like anything’s way off, other than you start to squeeze because the results aren’t there,” Dubnyk told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the challenge of it. … You just go through the goals and decide if there’s any that you should have done something differently and move on.
“It’s easy to look at statistics and look at wins and losses, and that’s for you guys to do, and not for me.”
After not allowing more than three goals a game in his first 27 starts and leading the league with 18 wins and a 1.58 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, Dubnyk has allowed four or more goals 10 times since. He still has won a career-high 37 games — one short of the franchise record — and has a 2.23 goals-against average and .924 save percentage with five shutouts (none since Dec. 20).
“If you eliminate two games in the month of March, it tells a different story besides wins and losses,” Dubnyk said. “Wins and losses is all that really matters. Nothing is lost here. We’re still the same team; I’m still the same player. And you just continue to work every day.”
There is no doubt Dubnyk is still the Wild’s guy going forward. There is doubt about Kuemper, however, when the Wild is going to the extreme of calling up Stalock in lieu of starting Kuemper.
Kuemper would get Thursday’s start if the Wild believed he offered the better chance to lead the team to victory.
But after being yanked in starts Feb. 28 and March 10 — games Dubnyk won in relief — Kuemper didn’t play in his next two “penciled-in” starts. That was a clear sign Boudreau had lost faith in him.
Given another chance to start Saturday against Vancouver, Kuemper gave up four second-period goals and was mock-cheered by fans at Xcel Energy Center after allowing four goals on eight shots during one stretch.
Kuemper, 26, is 7-5-3 this season with a 3.26 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed to this story.