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NASHVILLE – Devan Dubnyk wanted to have the greatest start in the history of great starts almost a year ago.
On Jan. 18, 2014 he jumped into goal for the Nashville Predators after a mid-season trade with Edmonton for Matt Hendricks. Nashville needed a goalie with Pekka Rinne out with a hip infection. Dubnyk was tall, he was quick. Pair him with then Nashville goaltending guru Mitch Korn, and it was a perfect fit.
“That first game against Colorado here, I was all pumped up and wanted to go out and do backflips and do all this stuff,” Dubnyk said.
Then Nick Holden scored 6:21 into the game. Jan Hejda made 2-0 at the 11:27 mark. Gabriel Landeskog pushed it to 3-0 at the 12:05 marker.
Such began the stretch of nine goals allowed in two games for Dubnyk, his only two contests with Nashville. Eventually he was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, essentially for nothing. But that experience has helped him realize that when you’re playing for a good team, you don’t have to be a savior in goal. Just a good enough player to let the guys do their work.
“When you make a picture that big and put that much pressure on something, it doesn’t allow you to be successful,” Dubnyk said.
Has his move to the Wild in a January trade from Arizona made Minnesota an incredibly better team? Sure. When your goaltending improves it makes everyone look more solid. Minnesota says it hasn’t changed its systems or its style. But knowing the guy in net is going to make a save and not allow a softy certainly helps.
“I think some of it is confidence. I think some of it is trust and trust that you can just go out and do your job and with that understanding that if there is a breakdown or something happens you have somebody there to take care of it,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Thursday night at Nashville, Dubnyk is about to hit his 19th straight start. During that span, both he (and the Wild) have gone 13-3-1. Dubnyk has a 1.66 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. His play has spearheaded a Wild revival. Minnesota has 69 points, just one behind Calgary for the final Wild Card spot. The Wild has one game in hand.
By comparison, the Wild’s best possible other option is Darcy Kuemper who has a 2.62 goals against average and .904 save percentage.
“You can’t play a perfect game in this league,” Yeo said. “You’re going to give up chances and I think when we give up shots from the outside he does a good job of controlling those rebounds and when there is a scoring chance he’s a good first save goalie.”
This is all true, but ask the players, and in some ways Dubnyk’s arrival coincided with the team hitting rock bottom. There was only one way to go – and it was up. Did Dubnyk’s inspired play propel the Wild to where it is now? Or was it more just an eventual rebound by a team that was almost too talented to continue its downward spiral?
“Our game was a mess,” forward Zach Parise said. “We just really stopped competing. It was bad. When he came in, we got a little stability between the pipes and I think our record since he has come has spoken for itself. Slowly we’ve been able to build up to get back to playing some pretty good hockey.”
But that’s all it has been. Same old same old for the Wild. Dubnyk didn’t reinvent its proverbial wheel. As Parise points out, he had arguably the best goaltender of all time in Martin Brodeur when he played in New Jersey. And the system stayed the same.
“We still played the trap and slowed the game down,” Parise said. “You don’t change based on who is in the net.”
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