It’s been no secret that Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper has struggled this season. In 12 games, Kuemper has given Wild fans (and perhaps more importantly, his head coach, Bruce Boudreau) more nausea than one would care for when he’s in between the pipes.
In those 12 starts this season, Kuemper has posted a 6-3-3 record with a 3.21 goals-against-average and .904 save percentage. Not particularly great numbers, unless you are a goaltender playing for the Colorado Avalanche.
So what exactly has been the problem for Kuemper this season? Yes, the answer can simply be “he lets in too many goals,” smart guy. But we can dig a little deeper into his play this season. Let’s take a look at a couple of areas to show what has ailed him this season
What the stats say
If you are just looking at the basic stats, Kuemper’s .904 save percentage ranks 40th in the NHL out of 53 goalies with at least 12 starts. It’s better than noted starting goaltenders Kari Lehtonen (.902), Antti Niemi (.901), Jake Allen (.900) and Steve Mason (.900), but not exactly company you want to be in.
Just looking at 5-on-5 save percentage, you find Kuemper’s .911 ranking 43rd out of 52 goalies with at least 550 minutes. Again, it’s putting him in the same realm with the Masons (.906) and Allens (.909) of the world. Just to compare, Devan Dubnyk is posting a .943 save percentage at 5-on-5, which is one of the best in the league (the comparison is unfair, but it just shows how insane Dubnyk has played this year).
But the most defining part of Kuemper’s struggles this year can be found in the shot location stats (or adjusted save percentage).
If you are unfamiliar with shot location, there is high-danger save percentage, medium-danger save percentage, and low-danger save percentage. As to how each of those is defined, check out this chart via ingoalmag.
Blue area denotes high danger zone, red area denotes medium danger zone, and yellow area denotes low danger zone
First and foremost, if you filter the qualified goalies by the same time on ice as the 5-on-5 save percentage stat above, Kuemper’s average distance of shots faced is 25.17. That’s the second-worst distance, only to Keith Kincaid of the New Jersey Devils (21.94). So basically, Kuemper is facing a fair amount of shots in areas you don’t want the opposition shooting from.
If you break down Kuemper’s save percentage by the danger zones, it doesn’t look pretty. Kuemper ranks in the bottom six in low-danger save percentage (.964) and medium-danger save percentage (.899). While his high-danger save percentage (.807) comes in at the middle of the pack, it’s the other two where improvement is needed.
The saying goes: “Make the saves you’re supposed to make,” which Kuemper has not.
What the eye test says
In this case, the eye test pretty much backs up what the stats say. Kuemper leaves much to be desired. He’ll let in some pretty bad goals, like these:
Then toss in that his rebound control has been not good this year …
And that usually adds up to some pretty disastrous starts. Thankfully, the Wild offense has been able to bail out Kuemper, as they are averaging nearly four goals per game (3.8) when Kuemper plays. While the offense has been good, Boudreau said a few weeks ago that there needs to be improvement from his backup, plain and simple.
There has been speculation that the Wild could make a move for a backup goaltender before the March 1 trade deadline. If Kuemper, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, can’t start correcting some of his issues in goal, then the team might have to bring someone in as playoff insurance for Dubnyk.
Making a trade for a backup sounds good in theory, but factor in that all but two teams are still in the playoff race, and you might not find teams who have capable backup goaltenders (Kincaid of New Jersey comes to mind) they’re willing to sell because they still have a shot at the playoffs. A lot can change between now and March 1, but the NHL’s points system will keep most of these teams in the hunt.
Unless the Wild are able to swing a deal or they call up Alex Stalock from Iowa (both have low odds at the moment), it seems Kuemper will be the backup for the rest of the year. With the Wild’s near-insane schedule to close the year (final 20 games will be played in 35 days), they will need “Kumps” (as Boudreau calls him) to make some spot starts to give Dubnyk a night off here and there. But if he can’t correct those problems, those spot starts might become few and far between.
That’s something the Wild definitely do not want to see.