Two years ago, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Devan Dubnyk to be this team’s savior. Dubnyk was just that, as he led the Wild to an improbable bolt up the standings and into the 2015 playoffs.
Now here we are, two years later, and Dubnyk has become the team’s undoing, as he is a main reason for the Wild’s most recent swoon, an annual tradition. After a Vezina-caliber start to the season -- he was still considered the favorite before the month of March started -- Dubnyk has fallen completely off the table and has become a major issue for the Wild as they head into the playoffs in two weeks.
Sure, the defense in front of him hasn’t exactly been stellar, but Dubnyk hasn’t exactly done much, if anything, to steal a game over the month of March.
To show how badly Dubnyk has fared in this past month, here are his numbers:
Goals Against Average: 2.94
Save Percentage: .889
5-on-5 save percentage: .900
It’s also worth noting here, that the last shutout for Dubnyk came on Dec. 20 against Colorado. He has played in 37 games since that shutout.
Last week, Ben Remington noted that one way or another, Dubnyk always seemingly comes out of these rough patches. But what’s alarming is that these rough stretches come around this time of year (or October), as referenced by both Ben and Tony from Hockey Wilderness.
So what does this mean?
Well, maybe the problem has been Dubnyk’s workload.
Since being acquired by Minnesota, Dubnyk has started 165 of a possible 204 regular-season games and has played in a total of 168. That’s over 80 percent. That is quite a bit, and it's beginning to show as Dubnyk has let in some pretty bad goals in recent games.
When he was acquired by Minnesota in 2015, the Wild needed him to start just about every night because they had no choice. They needed the two points every night just to climb back in the playoffs. Last season saw Dubnyk play just about every game down the stretch because a February swoon cost head coach Mike Yeo his job, and the Wild had to win just about every night in March just to remain in the playoff picture.
Dubnyk starting nightly is due to the fact each year the team has next to no confidence in backup Darcy Kuemper. The “between the ears problem” for Kuemper has not allowed him to get starts down the stretch, which would have offered much-needed rest to Dubnyk.
This year should have been the time for Kuemper to see more starts in the last half of the season, as the Wild are in an advantageous position in the standings this time around. But instead, it's still Dubnyk getting the heavy workload.
Why? Because the head coach has no confidence in Kuemper, and it was failed to be addressed by the general manager prior to the trade deadline.
In mid-January, head coach Bruce Boudreau called on Kuemper to play better, as his play in the games leading up to those remarks left much to be desired. It was also noted here on Zone Coverage as to what was ailing Kuemper this season.
In the games that followed, Kuemper started to show a bit more, but it just ended up being another mirage. The trade deadline came and the Wild did not feel the need to bring on a backup goaltender.
Now they are paying for it.
In three games since the March 1 trade deadline, Kuemper has posted an 0-2-0 record with a 3.70 GAA and .870 save percentage. If you thought Dubnyk’s 5-on-5 save percentage was bad, Kuemper’s is .881.
Yes, you read that right.
Now, Boudreau has seemingly lost all confidence in his backup to play, and his solution is just to throw Dubnyk in there every night and hope he breaks out of his slump. That's not exactly a sound strategy.
So how does one fix the problem Dubnyk has had over the month?
Boudreau can continue to just put Dubnyk in goal and hope he bounces it out of the funk, but that would push his games played number to the 67-68 range this season, which is a large amount for starting goaltenders.
But he can also just try the same strategy with Kuemper, as the Wild appear to just barely be holding on to that second spot in the division (thanks to their two most recent OT losses) for home ice advantage in Round 1. The Wild do have a soft schedule to end the season, and as noted last week, that would be a great spot to give Dubnyk a bit of rest before he starts all of Minnesota’s postseason games.
Or, it's the path Fletcher and Boudreau appear to be taking by giving Alex Stalock, who has been playing well in Iowa for the last half of the season (registered his fourth shutout of the season Tuesday night) a look in place of Kuemper, since all confidence has been lost in the backup goaltender. You can't do much worse in goal than what's been seen this month, so might as well give a look to the hot goalie in Iowa with NHL experience. Stalock was recalled from Iowa yesterday and appears to be the starting goaltender for Thursday night.
Minnesota has six games remaining in the regular season, and it currently holds a seven-point cushion on Nashville for second place. It's not the safest lead, but it’s a pretty solid one. Give Dubnyk four of these nights off and just let Kuemper or Stalock take the goal for them.
He needs it; the Wild need it.
Continue to toss him out there, you run the real risk of Dubnyk not shaking off these problems. And if he can’t, the Wild are going to be in for a real short stint in the upcoming playoffs.