WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The last time Devan Dubnyk faced Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center, he gave up five goals in the turning point of his season — if not career.
Dubnyk’s Arizona Coyotes actually won 6-5 on Nov. 2, “but it was really like 6-3, because they scored two goals in the last two minutes. But it was the best thing to happen to me.”
Sean Burke was disenchanted with Dubnyk’s game that night, so the Coyotes goalie coach immediately pulled Dubnyk into the video room and showed him clips of what he was doing wrong. With the help of Burke in two weeks of practices, Dubnyk altered his style and has been stellar since, including since his trade to the Wild.
Thursday, the Wild’s workhorse goalie gets another stab at the Capitals.
As hot as the Wild has been since Dubnyk’s arrival (16-3-2), this might be its biggest test. The defensive juggernaut faces the offensive juggernaut — and the league’s two hottest players.
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are tied for the NHL lead with 67 points apiece. Ovechkin leads with 43 goals, 19 power-play goals and 10-game winning goals. Backstrom leads with 49 assists.
“It’s tough to defend [Ovechkin] because he’s so big and strong and fast and he’s got that unbelievable shot,” Wild veteran Zach Parise said. “He’s, like, scoring every night. He’s been incredible.”
Parise isn’t exaggerating. Since Jan. 15, Parise is tied for third in the NHL with 11 goals. Ovechkin has 21 in 22 games in that identical stretch and 26 in 29 games since Jan. 1. Ovechkin has 12 multi-goal games this season. No other NHLer has more than seven.
“Backstrom’s a pretty good player, too,” Parise said. “That guy’s unreal. It’s a combination of both those guys and [the Wild] staying out of the box because their power play is pretty lethal.”
The Capitals rank second in the NHL on the power play (23.9 percent), which makes for an intriguing matchup because the Wild’s penalty kill (47-for-48 in 17 games since the All-Star break) also ranks second at an 87 percent success rate.
“Their power play, it’s just on fire,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “But they’re a lot more than that. They’re playing a team game right now they believe in. They’re playing real solid defensively and they’re bought-in [to coach Barry Trotz].
“It’s going to be a good challenge. It’s a team that’s got a couple superstars on it, but it’s a team that also if you look at only those guys, they’ve got a lot of other guys that can give you some trouble, too.”
Dubnyk has a 1.65 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts for the Wild. He ranks third in the NHL with a 2.14 GAA and fifth with a .926 save percentage between Arizona and the Wild. But after Dubnyk stopped 32 of 37 shots in that 6-5 victory over Washington in November, Burke wasn’t happy.
“We sat down and I was blunt,” Burke said. “I said, ‘I’ve seen enough of you, and you have to change some things or you can’t play in the league.’ We watched some video and he said ‘Wow, I didn’t know I looked like that.’ ”
Dubnyk smiled as he recalled that meeting after the Capitals game.
“He was very upfront with me,” Dubnyk said. “He wasn’t mad at me, but he showed me video of six or seven clips of plays I wasn’t getting set on. I was kind of drifting back and almost backing up and shuffling into plays. He just sat me down and said: ‘We’re going to beat every play on our feet. We’re going to push and stop and be set for everything.’ ”
Burke convinced Dubnyk to play deeper in net and said: “No matter what, I want you to be set every single play. And man, just such a small, simple thing and all of a sudden you’re there ahead of stuff. It allows you to get your eyes on the puck and you’re ready and if bodies come in front, you’re already there, so you shift and find lanes that if you’re still moving you let yourself get screened on. All of a sudden, you feel big and patient and everything kind of comes after that.”