Monday February 2nd, 2015

Off The Draw

It was the management equivalent of a Hail Mary.

His goaltending in disarray, his team’s season on the brink of ruin, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher needed to find someone who could stop the bleeding. So naturally he turned to the backup goalie on one of the few teams that was worse off than his own.

Islanders MVPs, Maple Leafs follies, Kings shooting blanks, more

Fletcher’s deal—he sent a third-round pick to the Coyotes in exchange for journeyman Devan Dubnyk—reeked of desperation, but it just might end up saving Minnesota’s season.

Since he joined the Wild on Jan. 14, Dubnyk has started all seven of the team’s games. His record? A stellar 5-1-1, with a .935 save percentage, a 1.71 goals-against average and a pair of shutouts.

Sure, seven games is a small sample size, but for a team that’s looking to get back on track, they’ve been seven steps in the right direction.

“Dubnyk came in and gave the guys the spark that we needed,” Thomas Vanek told The Star-Tribune. “From there, I think every defenseman, every forward trusted him and then built their own game up.”

Dubnyk continued his hot play on Sunday, making 35 stops in a 4–2 win over the Canucks. He has now saved 88 of the last 91 shots he’s faced, and Minnesota swept a three-game Western Canadian swing last week (beating, in order, the Oilers, the Flames and Vancouver) for just the second time in franchise history.

The current stretch of play has seen the Wild finally start to look like the Wild: smart, defensively disciplined and offensively opportunistic. But despite the three wins, Minnesota remains stuck in 12th place in the West, looking up at four teams between the Wild and the final playoff spot in the conference.

There’s not a lot of margin for error. But at least there’s hope. Before the trade, the Minnesota’s playoff chances were languishing in the single digits. Now, thanks to Dubnyk, the Wild’s postseason odds are at 17.8%, and trending upward.

“We owe a lot to Dubnyk,” said Zach Parise after the goalie shut out Calgary on Friday night. “He bailed us out of a lot of breakdowns we had.”

Left unsaid: Those were the sort of breakdowns that led to goals against, and to many frustrating losses, when Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom were between the pipes.

Dubnyk, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is playing for a new contract. Minnesota is looking for stability. Both Kuemper and Backstrom are under contract for next season, but a strong finish from Dubnyk could lead the Wild to buy out one of them—most likely Backstrom.

Dubnyk would love the chance to make a home in Minnesota, but that’s a concern for down the road. With the Wild’s next three games at home, including a tough match up on Tuesday night against the Blackhawks, the only thing that matters is making up ground in the West. With the lanky netminder guarding the twine, the Wild have a chance to do just that.

What to watch tonight

Jets at Flames (9 p.m. EST; TSN3, SNW)

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Both teams should be feeling the urgency in this one. Winnipeg holds down the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but Calgary—which has the second—is just three points back and has a game in hand heading into this critical four-point showdown.

If the Jets are to snap out of a three-game skid they’ll have to start by staying out of the box. The league’s most penalized team gave the Stars eight chances with the extra man and got dinged for four power play goals in a 5–2 loss on Saturday. “You try to wind yourself up as much as possible emotionally, trying to finish your check and [be] involved in the game,” said Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd. “Sometimes, we’ve been taking it too far, so it’s something where we have to get better at walking that line and being more disciplined.”

The Flames had been fizzling with the extra man, but have scored two power-play goals in their last three games. Calgary has done more damage at five-on-five, though, having won six of its last eight games to open up some space on the ninth-place Kings.

Rest of the schedule: Panthers at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-F, MSG); Oilers at Sharks (7 p.m. EST; SNOL, CSN-CA)

What you missed during the weekend

• Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist really took one—a puck, that is—in the neck, and he shared the experience with the world.

Alex Ovechkin has joined some pretty elite company.

​The numbers game

• The Blues are on an 11-game point streak (10-0-1) and are one point away from tying the franchise record, set from Nov. 24 to Dec. 26, 2000 (11-0-1).

Carter Hutton is now the first goalie in Predators history to get a shutout in Pittsburgh, and only the second Nashville goalie to ever blank the Penguins. The other: Tomas Vokoun, who blanked Pittsburgh twice on home ice: on Nov. 23, 2001, and on Feb. 27, ’03.

Louis Domingue is now only the sixth Quebec-born goaltender in the last 50 years to earn his first NHL win by beating the Canadiens in Montreal. The others: Bernie Parent (1965), Fern Rivard (’69), Gilles Gilbert (’70), Jimmy Waite (’89) and Dan Blackburn (2001).

Hot Links

• Steve Zipay says Antoine Vermette would be a nice add for the Rangers, but that the Coyotes have another forward who’d be an ever better fit.

• Steve Buffery writes that it’s clear now that the Maple Leafs dropped the ball with their decision to fire coach Randy Carlyle.

• Mike Russo believes that Martin Brodeur’s retirement was awkward and wrong.

• Fluto Shinzawa touched on Brodeur’s legacy, big expectations for the Stars, contract issues in Los Angeles and much more in his Sunday notes column.

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