By Scott Taylor
November 7, 2017
Those of us old enough to remember the winter of 2015 when Devan Dubnyk arrived in St. Paul, understand that the Minnesota Wild is never out of it.
After all, when the desperate Wild traded with Arizona to acquire the journeyman net-minder, they were pretty much “out of it.” They were 19-19-6 and battling to keep up with Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Jose in the West. They weren’t doing well. When you consider that L.A. finished 13 games above .500 and still missed the playoffs, the Wild were definitely “out of it.”
But then, Chuck Fletcher dealt a third round pick to the really, really, really out of it Coyotes, and he got a guy who has been the backbone of the team for the past three seasons. Dubnyk got the Wild into the playoffs almost single-handedly in 2014-15 and has played a major role on playoff teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Now, however, things are not so rosy for the Wild.
Monday night, they were outshot 34-27 by a banged-up Boston Bruins team at TD Garden in Boston and were beaten 5-3. Dubnyk started and gave up four goals on 24 shots and was replaced by Alex Stalock, who stopped all nine shots he faced (the Bruins fifth goal went into an empty net). Last year, Dubnyk went 40-19-6 with a 2.25 goals against average and a .923 save percentage and led the Wild into the post-season. This year, he’s 4-5-1 with a 3.03 GAA and a .907 save percentage, and that’s not good.
Worse yet, he just doesn’t look comfortable.
In a recent game in Winnipeg, he gave up four goals on 30 shots and was flopping all over the ice. A tall goaltender who can look awkward at times, he looked like a fish out of water — in front of his family from Regina – that night in the ‘Peg. Slow to react… clumsy. He was down too much and out of position too often. His defensemen have bailed him out more than once, and as Wild fans have witnessed this season, the defense hasn’t been great shakes either.
Now to be fair, the Wild are 5-6-2, have lost two in a row and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. This could simply be an early November slump. Dubnyk could very well light it up in January and February again, and all could be right with the world.
Trouble is, October and November is a good time to pick up wins that will be important in April. NHL observers have long claimed that the best teams in the league don’t start turning it on until the New Year. If you’re ever going to beat Boston in Boston, beat them in early November when they have half a dozen starters out of the lineup.
It simply didn’t work out that way.
“It’s like the Keystone Kops out there,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said, candidly. “Guys that know how to play hockey aren’t playing very well. We just weren’t very competitive the first two periods. That was probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with on a lot of teams.”
“They (Boston) were doing nothing in the first 10 minutes, and then we give them two goals, and we give them life. And then, all of a sudden we sit back and don’t do anything. It’s embarrassing.”
Granted, the Wild is still without offensive leader Zach Parise, but scoring goals doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue. They’ve scored 40 times which is better than three teams with playoff records in the West. Trouble is, they’ve given up 40. That’s more than three a game, and that’s not good.
Despite all the problems that their coach sees, it’s apparent that with better goaltending – one extra save every two games, the Wild would be in the early season hunt. If the goaltending doesn’t get better, the Keystone Kops will be playing golf in mid-April.