How Devan Dubnyk gave Minnesota Wild their groove back

How Devan Dubnyk gave Minnesota Wild their groove back

Timing is everything.

Especially for a goalie. Especially for an NHL goalie named Devan Dubnyk.

The Edmonton Oilers decide to end his five-season tenure there last season and shipped him to the Nashville Predators, where he obviously had no chance to start. So the Arizona Coyotes signed him last July, ostensibly as Mike Smith’s back up, and he ends up starting 16 games and appearing in 19 because Mike Smith played like hot garbage. He posts a 2.72 GAA and a .916 save percentage, both significantly better than Smith.

Minnesota Wild, having their own goaltending issues, come calling Don Maloney and acquire Dubnyk. He then goes on an insane 10-1-1 tear in 13 appearances, piloting a Wild post-All-Star break surge with a .938 save percentage and a 1.60 GAA.

There was another goalie around Dubnyk’s height who went on a 13-game tear for a team who desperately needed a boost, posting 10 wins during that stretch. It happened 27 years ago. The team was the New Jersey Devils, who rode that effort to their first playoff berth. The goalie’s name was Sean Burke, the man Dubnyk credits with turning his season – and perhaps his career – around as coach with the Coyotes.

"He was a big guy positionally and was one of the most-patient goalies. The main focus is to get your game back, your confidence back and trying to create an opportunity for myself — whether it was a year later or into next season or down the road at some point. This is a lot earlier that I expected,” said Dubnyk to the Vancouver Province recently.

Burke has earned a “goalie whisperer” reputation for his work with Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith, turning Grade B goalies into elite-level netminders.

With Dubnyk, the challenge was unlocking the potential for a large-bodied goalie that never was given the support to succeed consistently in Edmonton. Part of that was getting Dubnyk to better understand how to use his frame and recover on rebound attempts.

"Just finishing where I needed to be in the net, to be set always and be set on shots. That helped me find pucks and playing around with depth, I can be at the top of the crease and sometimes I can be back. It's all based on what's happening in front of me. It's been a smooth transition because of the similar ideas in the defensive zone in Arizona and here,” he told the Province.

He fits well with that the Wild like to do, including his puck-handling skills, which allow the team’s north-south attack to flourish.

But sometimes it’s as simple as giving the team in front of you confidence that the last line of defense won’t be a liability. And while the Wild have supported Darcy Kuemper on the record, it’s clear his struggles were short circuiting any momentum the team could generate to get back into the race.

Enter Dubnyk, enter a career-best winning streak and enter the Wild back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

"I think it probably starts with him," coach Mike Yeo told TwinCities.com. "Just in the sense that he's making the key save at the key time and he's got a sense of control and calmness back there that has trickled through to the rest of the group."

The Wild have scored the first goal in the game at least eight times during this hot streak. Meanwhile, Dubnyk’s made the leads stand: The Wild outscored opponents 9-4 in the third period during games in which Dubnyk earned at least a point; outside of those games, the Wild have been outscored 49-40 in the third.

Will this last? Well, there’s an issue of burnout. Dubnyk’s started 47 games in a season, but rarely have they come in such a short duration. And, well, let’s face it: The Wild and injured goalies go together like a Jucy Lucy and molten cheese.

But you sorta hope it does. We’ve been robbed of seeing how good this Wild team can be with some semblance of competent goaltending, let alone an outstanding one.

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