Swoons coupled with goaltending drama were trademarks of the Wild in recent years, and the team came so close to avoiding both this season.
But with the Wild’s game in the tank since March 1 and goalie Darcy Kuemper having struggled in his spot starts, coach Bruce Boudreau explained the rationale Thursday morning of the Wild recalling Iowa goalie Alex Stalock to start against the Ottawa Senators instead of using the team’s backup.
With Devan Dubnyk needing a rest, the Wild didn’t think it was fair to push Kuemper into the cage when he hasn’t had many practices lately.
“It’s unfair to throw Kuemps in as a backup when we haven’t had a chance to practice, and he plays once every two weeks, and he goes in and we’re asking him to do the right things,” Boudreau said of Kuemper, who gave up four goals in last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver after being yanked in his previous two starts.
“Alex has done a great job down in Iowa, with two shutouts in the last week. … He’s playing every day, so he’s feeling it.”
Dubnyk, who had played all but one game since Feb. 16, is 1-8-1 in his past 11 starts and 2-7-2 since March 7 with a 3.31 goals-against average and .871 save percentage.
“We have to give him a rest,” Boudreau said. “Duty looks tired, and Kuemps wasn’t getting enough reps to make him sharp.”
The Wild entered Thursday with an .879 save percentage in March, ranking 29th in front of the worst team in the NHL, Colorado (. 878).
“I don’t think .879 is great. It’s got to get better,” Boudreau said. “I think one of the great things that we’re doing here is Duby had a chance to practice [Wednesday], had a chance to practice [Thursday] and a chance to practice [Friday].
“He worked very hard the last two days on getting back to the things that he was doing wrong. I think that’ll continue and it’ll make him better for it.”
While Stalock prepared Thursday morning, Dubnyk and Kuemper worked with assistant coaches Scott Stevens and Darby Hendrickson on the other end of the rink. Afterward, Dubnyk sat on the ice and talked with goalie coach Bob Mason.
Dubnyk and Kuemper were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Stalock, 29, a South St. Paul native, started his first game since Feb. 11, 2016, in front of scores of family and friends. He was nervous before the game but excited to get back to the NHL after playing all season with Iowa. He previously played 62 games for San Jose.
“Playing in this building for the hometown team, not many kids get to do from Minnesota and it’s a pretty special chance,” Stalock said.
Boudreau wouldn’t commit to his goalie rotation past Thursday. Dubnyk backed up Stalock, Kuemper was scratched. The Wild plays Saturday in Nashville and Sunday at home against Colorado.
“It’s a day to day situation,” Boudreau said.
Despite a half-shut swollen and bloodshot right eye, a shiner and stitches above and below the eye, Zach Parise surprised everyone by taking part in Thursday’s morning skate and working with the assistants afterward.
Boudreau joked while Parise was still on the ice, “I’m waiting for him to come in and ask me to play, quite frankly. He looked OK, which is great news for us that the injury to his eye and upper body weren’t as bad as we thought.”
Parise wasn’t available for comment, but the hope is he can play this weekend.
• Centering the fourth line, Joel Eriksson Ek played for the first time in the NHL since Nov. 12.
• Jordan Schroeder and Nate Prosser were scratched.