Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was in what he calls “emergency mode.”
After he was tangled up with Hurricanes captain Justin Williams in the crease Saturday, getting nudged out of position, Dubnyk had to dive to his left as a shot came in from defenseman Justin Faulk.
“I knew I had a split second to adjust and then jump at it,” Dubnyk said.
And he timed it just right, with the puck catching the ear of his mask before he slid out of the blue paint — one of Dubnyk’s most dynamic saves of the season so far.
“You never quit,” he said. “You gotta battle.”
A frantic, last-ditch effort has been responsible for a chunk of the league-leading 187 saves Dubnyk posted through five games, but despite an accelerating pace of play, the 32-year-old also has enough time to identify shooters and recall their tendencies — instant analysis bred from years of experience that is also keying Dubnyk’s tremendous start.
“It’s huge just for feeling comfortable,” he said.
Although he catches highlights of other teams’ performances, Dubnyk doesn’t study video or check stats before facing an opponent.
What he does do, though, is leaf through his mental catalog to remind himself of the unique shooters — usually the four to five best offensive players — and the scouting report he’s assembled from the nine previous NHL seasons he’s competed against them. That awareness is crucial in helping Dubnyk feel prepared.
“I just want to make sure I’m set and square where I want to be on the ice, and then I’m not going to think about where he’s going to shoot it,” he explained. “I’m just going to be ready for him to shoot it. You’re always going to react to the shot. When you’re playing well, you’re going to see it coming and then you’re going to make the save. So the important thing is putting yourself in the exact position you want to be in to make that save.”
When playing the Predators, Dubnyk knows to expect winger Filip Forsberg to unleash the puck from anywhere.
Against the Blackhawks, captain Jonathan Toews moves the puck so quickly on the power play, and Patrick Kane favors a short-side, top-shelf shot.
“So you might have to have your hand up a little more than normal just to be ready for it,” Dubnyk said, “because he’s so good with it.”
Recognizing hallmarks of players can help Dubnyk dictate his workload.
Even if he knows the shot is coming, Dubnyk will never give a player what he likes. But he will be patient to bait a player into putting the puck where he wants it.
“You give what essentially could be an easier save for you,” he said. “When plays are happening fast, it doesn’t necessarily work. If there’s a pass through the slot and the guy’s coming down and you’re pushing across, you don’t want to get too far over because he goes back the other way and one, it’s a way more difficult save and two, the rebound is going to be sitting in the slot.
“If I’m going from this way to this way, I’m going to try to hold my net a little more and … make the short side look a little more favorable because that’s an easier save for me.”
Processing all this at an ever-increasing speed of play seems challenging, but the game doesn’t seem that fast to Dubnyk when he’s in a groove.
“A lot of where pucks are shot have a lot to do with the body position of the guy that catches the puck and if somebody’s pressuring him, where it’s coming from,” he said. “All of these things you can more or less calculate the probability of where the shot’s going to go.”
Based on his proficiency in the Wild’s 2-2-2 debut, Dubnyk’s math skills have been on-point.
After another 31 saves in a 2-1 win over the Coyotes on Tuesday, he’d made the most stops in the NHL while being tied for the most shots-against (199) — a productivity that can only help the Wild get on a roll.
“As long as you have your eyes on the puck,” Dubnyk said, “then you can decide what needs to happen from there.”
Sarah McLellan covers the Wild and NHL hockey for the Star Tribune.