Wild West: Taking Stock of the Minnesota Wild
Following Saturday’s 44-save shutout of Chicago, Devan Dubnyk seems recovered from a less-than-stellar first few months of the campaign and in a groove similar to that of last year’s outstanding first half.
His 13-3-2 mark since November 30, coupled with a .927 save percentage and 2.36 goals against aren’t enough to entirely offset some ugly early numbers, but they have helped propel a Wild club beset with an epidemic of October and November injuries into a tie for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference after Sunday night’s games.
While Darcy Kuemper is tearing it up in net currently with L.A. (9-1-0, 1.93, .937), last year was different as the Wild’s 2016-17 backup had difficulty holding the fort. While Dubnyk’s game dove in the late parts of a year in which he ultimately played 65 games in addition to an abbreviated, disappointing postseason, Kuemper’s .902 save percentage and 3.13 goals didn’t promote much rest for their number one. On the heels of a 67-game 2015-16, that had to take its toll on Dubnyk.
This year with Alex Stalock subbing and doing reasonably well (especially in the win column with 18-8-9, 2.77, .914 numbers), including a two-week December span during which Dubnyk sat due to injury, there’s been less pressure for him to carry the entire load. Dubnyk’s manned the net for 38 of Minnesota’s 55 contests, benefitting from rest that could pay huge dividends in the playoffs. Perhaps this can help overcome the Wild’s reputation of folding late in the year.
Last year the Wild scored at an impressive rate, finishing second in the league only to the Rangers with 3.21 goals per game. This year’s pace is not quite as torrid as they’re averaging 2.95, good for 12th in the league. Their goals against per game this year is also less striking at 2.82, compared with 2.51 at the end of 2016-17. But with a healthy and rested Dubnyk they might stand a good chance even squeaking in as a seventh or eighth seed against a less playoff tested Winnipeg or Vegas squad in the first round.
They have enjoyed strong home ice advantage this year however, sporting a 19-4-5 record at the Xcel Energy Center with just an 11-15 mark on the road, so seeding might be extra crucial. While they aren’t that far behind, it’ll be tough to leapfrog multiple division opponents, as they look up from fifth place with 66 points in the Central at Dallas (70 points), St. Louis (71), Winnipeg (73) and Nashville (75). Still, they’re only nine points from first with 27 games to go.
If you’re more concerned about your multi-cat fantasy squad’s playoff chances than those of Minnesota, there are a few names you might want to consider. While Jonas Brodin is out with a left hand injury, their defense remains key to the Wild’s success in goal and otherwise, and can bring you dividends.
Beyond Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba, one name that doesn’t pop up that often is Nate Prosser. Especially with Brodin looking to miss up to a month, vet Prosser could continue to be a bigger part of the mix as he was with five blocks Saturday. He won’t score much, but could bring some value in peripheral areas if you need it.
Remember to monitor Minnesota’s use of blue line prospects including Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly. Neither has caught fire this year, but they’ve both been considered parts of the Wild future back there for quite a while and with some regular playing time might show something. Olofsson did rack up an assist and two blocks in more than 20 minutes of ice time during Saturday’s shutout. That could be a sign of good things to come. Riley picked up nearly two minutes on the power play as well.
With the rearguard rotation in flux, even recently acquired career AHLer Viktor Loov is worth keeping an eye on. Of course the NHL trade deadline, only two weeks away, could bring some added talent. Especially if Minnesota is serious about a playoff run.
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