Any time Devan Dubnyk is on the ice — for practice, warm-ups, even in-game — he’s honing his skills.
Not that any casual observer would necessarily notice. Because after nine seasons in the league, the 31-year-old Wild goaltender isn’t focused on making wholesale changes to his game to keep him precise.
“There’s just a thing here or there that you just need to sharpen up on a little bit,” Dubnyk said. “With me, it’s always going to be just having my feet set and making sure I’m not drifting and being on my angles and not leaving my feet early. … Those are just really important for me. And when I’m in control of rebounds as well as just moving around, it’s always when my feet are set, and I’m not drifting.”
Dubnyk managed a bit of extra preparation when he didn’t start at Winnipeg on Nov. 27. He’s won the two games since, allowing only three goals. That’s a marked improvement: In four games before that break, he had given up 18 goals. Yet before that, he set a franchise record with a three-game shutout streak.
So that little “refresher course,” as coach Bruce Boudreau called it, seems to have put the goalie back on track.
Against St. Louis on Saturday, Dubnyk tied a season high with 41 saves, nine of which came during Blues power plays. In the overtime victory, Dubnyk kept the Wild in the game when St. Louis outshot it 42-25.
“I thought we got outplayed pretty good by St. Louis, but we had great goaltending,” Boudreau said. “And sometimes, that can overcome a lot of mistakes.”
Much like how he drills the minute details of his game, Dubnyk uses that same narrow attention while playing in tense games such as Saturday’s against St. Louis.
“Now just getting a chance to play as many games as I have over the last few years, you just try to stop the next puck,” he said. “And I know it’s cliché, but it’s really the best way to approach it is just, some games are easier than others to not think about the score or the situation. But again, if you just concentrate on those things. And the big one last game was just finding the puck because they were putting so many bodies to the net, and they were getting a lot of shots and a lot of pucks to the net. And so the most important thing was to always make sure I had a sight line on the puck, regardless of where it was or who was in front of me, and then go battle when they throw it to the net.”
Defenseman Nate Prosser said when Dubnyk is on top of his game like that, he can win games for the whole team, and that brings confidence to the entire roster. Center Matt Cullen termed Dubnyk’s performance “huge” for the Wild.
“He was outstanding last game,” Cullen said. “When you get outshot two to one, obviously your goaltender has a big night. And he was awesome. And he has been. And we’re going to need him to be.”
The Wild next face what Dubnyk called “the California gauntlet,” a three-game, six-day swing through the state, starting 9 p.m. Tuesday against the Los Angels Kings (17-8-3). Dubnyk said this is an important part of the season if the Wild (13-10-3) wants to climb back into a playoff spot.
And while his recent play has been up, down and then back up again, Dubnyk said he’s ready to even out that volatility.
“I guess, what I’ve worked on most in the last couple years is just that understanding, what it is that I need to be doing to give myself the best chance to play well so I can pick up on it right away,” Dubnyk said. “Some nights are harder than others to make the adjustment and get back where I need to be. But I think over the last few years, that’s probably been the biggest part of my game that’s improved that’s allowed me to play consistently is being able to kind of grab on to that mid-game before it costs you and be able to have a good game even if at the start, I wasn’t necessarily feeling well.”