ST. PAUL — You’ve got to hand it Dean Evason. Even though the Wild’s rookie head coach only recently had the interim label removed from his title, he’s handling his current goaltender situation like a wily veteran.
He has refused to tip his hand about whether the Wild will start Alex Stalock or Devan Dubnyk in Game 1 of the qualifying series with the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night, Aug. 2.
He wasn’t willing to commit following Wednesday’s exhibition game, a 3-2 loss to Colorado, at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Asked if he saw enough from Stalock and Dubnyk in the game to make a decision, Evason provided little to no clarity.
“Maybe,” Evason said with a smirk.
It’s unclear what exactly will go into Evason’s decision. If he’s taking into account the regular season as a whole, then Stalock will start. If he’s using Wednesday’s exhibition a barometer, then perhaps it will be Dubnyk.
It wasn’t the best outing for Stalock if he was trying to prove himself as the unquestioned starter. He stopped 14 of 17 shots across 30 minutes of play and admitted he felt a little rusty after a few months off. That showed in the early stages, in particular, as he served up a couple of juicy rebounds.
“I felt like I settled in as the game went on,” Stalock said. “You’re playing against one of the fastest teams in the league in the Avalanche, and probably the fastest player in the league in Nathan MacKinnon. There’s some catch-up with a few months off. It took a little while to get adjusted.”
Meanwhile, Dubnyk stopped 12 of 12 shots in relief, looking a little frantic early on before settling in as the game progressed.
“We saw some real good things from both of them,” Evason said. “They both had areas of the game that they had barrages, and they held up extremely well.”
Asked earlier this week when he plans to name a starter, Evason said the announcement will come in the 24 hours leading up to Game 1.
Is that awkward for Stalock and Dubnyk?
“Not at all,” Stalock said. “My whole career has kind of been that way. You find out day before games and practice the same way. You learn how to get the body ready for the game. It’s a daily process.”
It might actually help that Stalock, 33, who is from South St. Paul, has been a backup for most of his nine seasons in the NHL. He has been navigating unknowns throughout his time in the NHL, and this is no different. That’s not something Dubnyk, 34, has as much experience with as a starter for most of 11 years in the NHL.
“It’s different,” Dubnyk said. “I’ve just tried to show up and be ready to go and concentrate on getting my game to where it needs to be. We kind of knew that this was going to be the situation coming into training camp, so I didn’t want to go home and lose any sleep over it. I just wanted to come in and compete as much as I could and be ready to play if called upon.”
There’s no question Stalock had a better regular season, finishing with a 20-11-4 record, 2.67 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, while Dubnyk struggled to a 12-15-2 record, 3.35 goals-against average, and .890 save percentage.
That said, Stalock has never started a playoff game in his career, and while Dubnyk has a measly 8-18-0 career playoff record, he’s at least been around the block. There’s no replacement for experience.
“We are going to have a very difficult decision and (it’s) something we have to talk about clearly here for a couple of days, Evason said. “Hopefully make the right decision.”
Meanwhile, both Stalock and Dubnyk have downplayed the position battle itself, vowing to be a good teammate regardless of the outcome.
“As long as we’re winning, regardless of who’s in the net, I think we’re both going to support each other extremely well,” Dubnyk said. “We just need to support each other and both be ready to compete because it’s happening real quick.”