When Devan Dubnyk obviously tweaked something during the first period on Tuesday night, it would be pretty understandable for Wild fans to be concerned.
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) December 13, 2017
Last season, Wild fans had no other option but to be concerned when Dubnyk wasn’t starting in net, as Darcy Kuemper was mired in an awful season, posting career lows across the board. Kuemper was only having games with higher than an .885 save percentage 29% percentage of the time (a ‘quality start’ in statistical terms). Bruce Boudreau rode Dubnyk heavily down the stretch, which may have led to Dubnyk’s horrific March showing, and the Wild dropping out of the Central Division title race.
This season seems to be a different story. Following his shutout Thursday night against the Maple Leafs, Alex Stalock is looking great and boasting numbers not seen since his first full season in the league. With Dubnyk on the shelf with an apparent knee injury for a brief period of time, Wild fans are resting a little bit easier with a backup that’s on top of his game. By comparison, Stalock is keeping above the .885 save percentage threshold at at a 71% clip so far this season, and his 5-3-1 record isn’t bad considering the inconsistent efforts in front of him.
I looked into backup goaltending so far this season in the NHL, and Stalock isn’t exactly the cream of the crop, but he’s holding his own for sure. For goaltenders who have played between 5 and 15 games (aside from obvious starters who have missed time due to injury), Stalock is 10th in save percentage, and 10th in goals allowed average as well.
Stalock has actually passed Devan Dubnyk for the time being in a few key stats like save percentage and goals allowed average, but it’s also important to be realistic about Stalock’s season. His current .916 save percentage is slightly higher than his .911 career average, a number he hasn’t eclipsed since 2013-14(aside from his game and a half cameo last season). Stalock still needs to prove that he can keep up those numbers for a sustained amount of time before the talk of any netminder time share happens.
My concern with Stalock going forward and getting more starts would be his positioning. Stalock is a tremendously athletic goalie, and very active in the crease, but that’s the issue, his fault is that he can get a little too active at times, and get himself into trouble. Here’s an example of his athleticism from Thursday’s game, where he came up with the save.
— Giles Ferrell (@gilesferrell) December 15, 2017
As you can see, Stalock isn’t exactly ‘quiet’ in his movements in the crease, but he’s able to make saves thanks to lightning quick reflexes. At six-foot, he doesn’t have Dubnyk’s size advantage to help overcome some mistakes, so relying on that athleticism while remaining under control going forward is going to be essential. Whatever keys Stalock has to his game, he’s clearly found them again this year, whether it’s those mechanical things or just the mental reality that this is his last shot at a regular NHL job.
As for the talk of a time share between the two goalies, Dubnyk has had an up and down season as usual, but should still be regarded as the team’s starter when he returns. Unless this knee injury affects him for a prolonged period of time, he’s still the better of the two goaltenders and is the Wild’s best hope at a goalie that can get hot and carry them at the right time. Stalock still some things to prove before he should be considered to shoulder that kind of load.
That being said, Wild fans can rest a little bit easier this season knowing that without Dubnyk, the Wild can still be in good hands on occasion. Whatever keys Stalock has found this season, it’s been an important plus for the Wild so far this season, and he has proven to be a competent backup for the time being. One can only hope he can continue that success as the Wild will need to rest Dubnyk often with the hopes of some late season freshness and a playoff run.