Dave Tippett, Sean Burke and the Arizona Coyotes are doing it again. They’ve plucked another goalie off the scrap heap and made him look like look like a legitimate NHL netminder.
This time it’s Devan Dubnyk, the former Edmonton Oilers castoff who’s been revitalized by playing in the desert. The towering 6-foot-6 goaltender appears to finally be tapping into the potential that made him the 14th choice overall in the 2004, much to the disappointment of Oilers fans. It’s taken Dubnyk a few years and a few trades to figure it out, but at long last, he’s using his big frame to stop pucks.
Dubnyk looked solid in net for a 4-2 loss to the L.A. Kings Saturday afternoon, stopping 31 of 35 pucks fired his way by the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Dubnyk faced five power plays and allowed goals on two of them, while his team was punchless on three PP attempts at the other end. The Coyotes only put 17 shots on net.
The loss was Dubnyk’s 13th appearance for the Coyotes, and the sixth time he’s had to stop 30 or more shots for Arizona. He seemed to have a force field over the net at times against the Kings on Saturday, despite the loss. Jeff Carter failed to bat in a mid-air loose puck in the second, and in the third, a Kings shot hit the inside of the crossbar and bounced out without crossing the line.
Lucky? Yes, but most of Dubnyk’s saves were simply good technique, and he didn't have a whole lot of help from his defence.
Dubnyk is winning the coaching staff’s confidence with solid, steady goaltending, and he’s starting to cannibalize No. 1 Mike Smith’s starts. Saturday was Dubnyk’s third straight start, and his numbers are superior to Smith’s.
Dubnyk has a .919 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average this season, while Smith has won just five of his 22 starts, posting a sub-standard .889 save percentage and a 3.35 goals-against average.
But we’ve seen this movie before. The Coyotes turned Mike Smith around after unsuccessful stints in Dallas and Tampa. And before Smith it was Ilya Bryzgalov, who was decent in 2008-09 but who really took a step forward statistically when Dave Tippett assumed the coaching duties in 2009.
The common thinking in recent years has been that Tippett’s defensive system insulates his goaltenders and lets them put up numbers they couldn’t achieve elsewhere. That might be true, but it’s not particularly evident this season. The Coyotes are among the five worst teams in the league for goals-against, yet Dubnyk is still having a solid year.
Former goaltending star Sean Burke likely has a lot to do with it. He helped revitalize Mike Smith’s career, and he seems to be weaving his magic again with Dubnyk.
But Dubnyk also deserves credit. He’s playing on the second-worst team in the West right now, yet his numbers are far better than they were with the Oilers or Nashville Predators last year.
Dubnyk’s best statistical season was in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.57 goals-against average in 38 games. The Oilers finished 24th overall that year – bad, but not as bad as usual.
Dubnyk’s numbers aren’t quite near those 2013 highs, but they’re getting close.
And as long as Smith continues to struggle, Dubnyk will get his chances in Arizona.