Goalies in the NHL are often thought to be "big-thinkers". This kind of seems like a bit of an oxy-moron, as who in their right mind would willfully put themselves in the way of a puck flying around a sheet of ice at over 100 mph. When a goalie has a good game, he can literally steal 2 points from the opposition. When a goalie has a bad game, it tends to be magnified on the scoreboard and in the backs of their minds.
I personally think Darcy Kuemper is a fantastic goalie. I also am in the camp that he is truly his own worst enemy. Scoggins touched on this last December, but when Kuemper lets in a goal, he sometimes seems to just fall apart in front of your eyes. Doubts creep into his head and his game just hits a wall. The hope was that Kuemper could turn it all around this season, and after being peppered in L.A. things looked pretty good for the 25 year old netminder. He didn't let in anything early and it took a very skilled shot on a Kings PP to beat him in the 2nd period. Unfortunately, that stellar play in L.A. would not carry over to The Wall last Sunday afternoon.
Looking at it, there is really no reason for Kuemper to not stop this. Ehlers comes streaking down on Kuempers left, and Kuemper himself is positioned facing the shooter at the top of his crease. With Suter covering the defender skating up the weak side, the only thing Kuemps should need to worry about here is the shooter. This one slips past Kuemper on the far side, meaning it had to travel just that much further to reach it's target. A good shot indeed, but one that Kuemper was in a position to stop. At this point, he's over-thinking the game and not playing the kind of hockey you want to see out of your netminder. It gets worse folks. Check out this tweet from @GregBalloch.
What on Earth is Kuemper doing here? Watch that again. Kuemper's waffle pad is miles away from his body here, there are holes everywhere in his armor. If you wanted to see an example of how not to position your limbs while playing goal, this would be a good example. The fact that this didn't go in is miraculous. The puck bounces off of everything before smashing into the post and exiting out the far side. It almost looks as if Kuemper is just winging it at this point.
It's nearly impossible to quantify a goalies mental state. Kuemper has generally been thought of as a level headed netminder who has had success and consistency at every level. His NHL career .910 Sv% isn't terrible either. Last season it took nearly a month for Kuemper to start to falter as the number 1, this season it took him just 2 starts spelling Dubnyk. He stopped just 14 of 18 shots against the Jets, and while I can certainly concede that 2 of those which got past him should not be blamed on him. With the last two goals he allowed, along with his very luck gaffe that ricocheted off the post and his play around the net throughout the first, it leaves you wondering just what is going through his head sometimes, he's better than this.
To me, it's one of two ideas that are Kuemper's biggest problem right now. Either he's just not that great of a goalie, which his history tends to suggest is simply not the case, or he's getting his cage rattled in games much more frequently and he's over-thinking the process. Goalies are allowed to have bad games, and Kuemper has just played two this season which land on opposite ends of the spectrum. When you look at how last year played out for him however, it's tough to not believe after that Jets game that those mental demons are not quite behind him. We saw him last season fall apart as the starter. This season, the number 1 pressure is off him, but he still can't seem to shake it off and forget the last goal.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have the time to figure things out. The Wild need him to be able to spell Dubnyk this season, and that means he's going to need to play at a more consistent level than every other game. He is going to have to show that he can indeed be counted on to come in to games and perform at a level befitting an NHL backup. He's going to need to show his memory is short in regards to goals allowed. They don't all have to be wins, but 4 goals on 18 shots is not the kind of performance the Wild are looking for in a backup goalie.
Maybe this was a 1-time deal for Kuemper this season, and maybe in his next start he looks unbreakable again. Maybe this is his 1 mulligan of the season. I certainly hope so. As I stated, I think he's a fantastic goalie, when he doesn't get in his own way.