ST. PAUL — Conventional wisdom for when to start the backup goaltender hinges on his record against a particular opponent.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has a different theory when deploying Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock during sets of back-to-back games.
Stalock is a better puck handler than Dubnyk, a third-defenseman trait that can benefit fatigued blue liners on the back ends of those sets.
“When defensemen are tired in the second game,” Boudreau said, “it helps out an awful lot by being the better of the two puck handlers. So it makes sense to do it that way.”
Stalock is scheduled to start on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Chicago, following Dubnyk, who was in the net Saturday at home against Buffalo. Most No. 1 goaltenders prefer to play the first of a home-and-road set to avoid a game after overnight travel.
Stalock, who is 3-1 with a solid 2.73 goals-against average and .905 save percentage, shrugs off the fatigue factor. He’s happy to get any start.
“Legs and stamina are down a little, but the adrenaline’s still running from the night before … and those competitive juices,” he said. “I just feel like it carries over to that next night. Guys are still wired. Yes, you’re tired, but everybody’s tired.”
This weekend is Minnesota’s fifth set of back-to-back games. The Wild are 2-2 in the first contest and a perfect 4-0 on the back end. Stalock has won three consecutive starts, all in the second game of back-to-back sets.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Boudreau said. “I have a lot of confidence in our goaltending. I’m not worried about it. When Alex goes in, I fully believe we’re going to be successful and when Duby goes in I always feel we’re going to be successful.”
Eriksson Ek reboot
Joel Eriksson Ek was a healthy scratch against the Sabres, the first time the third-line center has been benched for a game. He missed six games in October with an upper-body injury.
He has one goal and one assist in 13 games. Boudreau is satisfied with Eriksson Ek’s defensive efforts and work ethic. He wants the production to match the projection Boudreau has for him as potential 15-goal, 40-point player.
“At this point, it’s a bit of ‘take notice,’ ” Boudreau said. “He plays hard every night. He does all the things you want to do defensively. We just need a little bit more.”
The Sabres’ 2-1 shootout victory over host Winnipeg on Friday night was their fourth straight and gave them 26 points through 19 games, Buffalo’s best start since 2011-12.
Coach Phil Housley, a South St. Paul native, has his team playing tighter defensively while being opportunistic on offense. Quite a turnaround from being the NHL’s worst team in 2017-18.
“They’re an awful lot better than they have been in the past,” Boudreau said before Saturday’s game. “And when a team has been in the dumps, and then they start to play, and they realize that they’re good, all of a sudden, it becomes a tougher out.”
After Sunday’s game against the Blackhawks, the Wild return home for another three-game homestand against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Arizona.