GLENDALE, Ariz. – Since he left home for this road trip, the first one he’s been on in nearly a month, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk’s mind has kept circling back to his wife, Jenn, and their three children.
He wonders how they’re doing, and the worry that comes with being away from them is tough to silence.
“It’s definitely a different feeling than normal,” he said.
But as he continues to re-adjust to his routine, and likely to start Thursday against the Coyotes when the Wild wraps up a three-game road trip, the 33-year-old doesn’t want hockey to be an escape from his wife’s serious medical situation.
“You don’t want to forget about it,” he said. “It’s good to be conscious about it.”
What the game is, though, is comfortable, and that can take care of Dubnyk during this challenging time.
“It’s nice to be here,” he said. “I love the guys in the room, and the whole organization. It’s a good feeling to be around here.”
Dubnyk has been mostly absent from the Wild since returning from a Nov. 19 game in Buffalo, participating in practice only occasionally and missing two road trips.
Before suiting up Tuesday to back up Alex Stalock in a 3-2 loss in Las Vegas, Dubnyk was out of the lineup for 13 games and inactive longer than that. His last start was Nov. 16, a 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina at Xcel Energy Center.
The past week, however, has been busier.
After getting on the ice last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dubnyk practiced Monday and took part in Tuesday’s morning skate before getting in another session Wednesday at Gila River Arena.
“It feels good,” Dubnyk said. “It’s good to get out and take full reps in practice to make sure I’m checking back into the things I need to be sharp on. But there’s really no way to replicate playing a game. You just have to get back in there.
“It usually takes about three or four minutes where it feels a little weird, like the first game of the year. After that, I’ve played enough games to settle in.”
While Dubnyk has been gone, the Wild has played its best hockey — compiling most of that recent 11-game point streak without him. His play to open the season, much like the team’s, was uneven, and he has a 4-8-2 record with a .893 save percentage and 3.35 goals-against average. But coach Bruce Boudreau looks at Dubnyk’s reemergence as a clean slate.
“He knows he hasn’t had the greatest of starts, and this is like a new lease on life and let’s get started again,” Boudreau said. “Let’s go from here. That’s how I would take it if I was him, so that’s how I’m hoping he takes it.”
This return by Dubnyk comes at a time when the Wild could use veteran stability. Three regulars are back in the Twin Cities with injuries after winger Jason Zucker left the trip to join captain Mikko Koivu (lower body) and Joel Eriksson Ek (upper body). Zucker is out week-to-week because of a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, however, has a 50-50 chance to play Thursday, Boudreau said. Spurgeon has been out since Dec. 3 because of a hand injury.
Although Boudreau has made it clear injuries won’t be used as an excuse for the team’s performance, the Wild is winless on this trip at 0-2 — the first time it has lost back-to-back games in regulation since Oct. 29-30.
Dubnyk recognizes the opportunity to come in and steady the situation, but he also realizes he can’t try to do too much.
“You always want to be the guy that’s relied upon to come in and win a game whatever time of the season that is, if we’ve won a bunch and need to keep it going [or] if we’ve lost a bunch and need a win,” he said. “Whatever it is, I want to be looked at as that guy and feel like that. [But] I also have to be careful not to go out there and chase it because being a goalie is a reactive position.”
Goaltending is also what Dubnyk knows, a constant he enjoys. By embracing that, perhaps he’ll help himself and the Wild.
“It’s been fun to be here and feel back a part of it,” he said. “It certainly would’ve been nice to feel a win [Tuesday] night. All the more reason to go get one [Thursday]. That’s the best part of being around everything, the winning.”