Devan Dubnyk (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)
The Wild are back in playoff contention, and they have Devan Dubnyk to thank. The 28-year-old netminder has been outstanding between the pipes for Minnesota, posting a 6-1 record, three shutouts, and a .943 SP.
When the Minnesota Wild traded for goaltender Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14, they had 41 points, trailed the Colorado Avalanche by four points for fifth place in the Western Conference wild card standings and were eight points out of the second and final wild card spot.
Since that time, the Wild have gone 6-1-1, leapfrogged the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings, trail the Colorado Avalanche by only one point, and sit five points out of the second wild card spot currently held by the Calgary Flames, who have 59 points through 51 games. There’s no doubt that the change in the Wild’s play has been almost entirely due to Dubnyk.
Since Jan. 15, when Dubnyk suited up for his first game with the Wild, he has played more minutes than all goaltenders except former teammate Arizona Coyotes teammate Mike Smith. Over that period, Dubnyk has the fifth highest 5-on-5 save percentage of goalies that have played at least 200 minutes and is one of only three goaltenders to play 250 minutes of 5-on-5 with the score within a goal in the first two periods.
It’s his play during that last situation – even-strength with the score close – that has really been a difference maker for the Wild, too. When the game is tight, Dubnyk, 28, has a .953 save percentage, almost .025 better than Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov and .05 higher than Arizona’s Smith.
Though the sample sizes are vastly different, Dubnyk’s numbers are so much better than those of Minnesota backup Niklas Backstrom and the recently demoted Darcy Kuemper. Over 29 games and 715 minutes, Kuemper’s 5-on-5 close SP is .908. Backstrom’s, in 16 appearances and 376 minutes, is below .892. It’s clear, then, why Minnesota has gone with Dubnyk at one of the most important junctures of their season.
Throughout this campaign, the Wild’s goaltending problem pre-Dubnyk was magnified by the fact that Minnesota, one of the best possession teams with a 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage of 52.5 percent (tied for 6th), couldn’t string together wins even though they were playing a structured game that gave them every opportunity to take home two points. While offensively the rest of the team tried to buoy the Wild through the difficult period, shooting 7.74 percent at 5-on-5 (13th), the goaltending ranked 30th, behind even the lowly Edmonton Oilers.
But now, slowly, things are starting to correct themselves. Dubnyk has posted six wins and one loss and a no decision. His SP at all strengths and all situations is .943, worlds better than Kuemper’s .904 and Backstrom’s .887. He’s already posted as many shutouts, three, as Kuemper did in 29 appearances even though he’s played only 445 minutes as a member of the Wild. Suffice it to say the Regina, Sask., native is playing lights out.
The trading of Dubnyk by the Coyotes was a baffling move for Arizona, as he was outperforming Smith – who has a giant contract that would admittedly make him difficult to move – by a wide margin. After being drafted by the Oilers in the first round of the 2004 draft, Dubnyk seems to have found his game this season after a 2013-14 that saw him move from the Oilers to Predators and, finally, the Canadiens’ AHL team in Hamilton.
Earlier this season, the Wild looked one of the surprise contenders in the Western Conference’s Central Division. They faltered, struggled with Kuemper manning the net, and slipped into the Western Conference basement. But now the team is having the success that their underlying numbers suggests they can with Dubnyk between the pipes.
Minnesota dominated Chicago on Tuesday night, skating away with a 3-0 victory in which the Wild dominated the shot attempts at 5-on-5 53-40 and had 25 scoring chances for to Chicago’s 12. They didn’t look like a team that isn’t going to go away easy between now and April, and if they manage to lock up a playoff spot, who knows how far Dubnyk could carry them.