With the Wild without a victory in its first two games of the season — scoring only a goal in each game and losing the shots on goal battle 82-51 — having goaltender Devan Dubnyk off to a hot start while his offense fumbles has been a gift from the heavens for coach Bruce Boudreau.
“Thank God,” Boudreau said of Dubnyk’s performance. “He’s been unbelievable. We hope he can continue this, and we hope our offense can be much better.”
Dubnyk has allowed only three goals while making 77 saves in his first two outings. And he’s not frustrated that stellar starts are going to waste so early in the year.
“You never know how seasons are going to start. Some years it takes a little bit to get up to speed, and sometimes, you feel good. Fortunately, I’ve felt pretty good seeing the puck,” Dubnyk said. “I’m sure there’s been plenty of games that we ended up winning that I wasn’t playing my best, so it goes both ways.”
Kick-starting the offense
With the Wild not playing again until 7 p.m. Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center, the team has some time to figure out how to bring the offensive production to life.
Dubnyk said he thinks the problem is more turnover-related than about creating scoring chances because the team has eventually picked it up in the third periods once it has controlled the game a bit better. Boudreau said he’s planning on using practice time and video to quicken his team’s pace.
“We know we didn’t play fast enough,” the coach said. “We had two 5-on-5 chances in the first two periods in both games, and we scored on two of them. So I mean, that’s not going to be good enough if we want to be where we want to be.”
Boudreau said he doesn’t think any of his offensive players have been at the top of their game. And as a way to spark them, he made some line changes Monday at TRIA Rink, including switching Joel Eriksson Ek to the top line with Eric Staal and Jason Zucker, while Nino Niederreiter joined Charlie Coyle and Jordan Greenway on the third line.
“We didn’t have much offense, so something’s got to change,” Boudreau said. “Just a subtle change, but I think I like Nino better on left wing than I do on the right wing. If my memory recalls, when him and Charlie were third-line left wingers, they seemed to be able to score some goals and really balance out the team. So hopefully it can work again.”
Eriksson Ek said it’s fun to play with those first-line guys who are highly skilled and play important roles on the team. He’s preaching simplicity as a way for the entire offense to improve.
“Especially on 5-on-5, I think we need to shoot a little bit more and not look around for passes,” Eriksson Ek said. “And if we’re going to shoot, I think there’s going to be a lot more second opportunities, and then their D is going to have to turn around and see what’s behind them.”
Kunin taking the final step
The Wild sent forward Luke Kunin down to AHL Iowa on Sunday evening as he looks to finally play some games after recovering from an ACL injury. Boudreau said the length of the assignment depends on how Kunin develops there and how the Wild is playing.
“I talked to him after the game the other night against Vegas, and obviously, nobody wants to get sent down to the minors,” Boudreau said. “But he knew he had to play games, and I said, ‘Listen, Zach [Parise] came off his injury, he had to go to Iowa. It’s not a big deal.’”
In 36 games at Iowa last season, Kunin had 10 goals.