Wild showing early confidence in Alex Stalock
ST. PAUL — Less than a month into the season, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau seems to have more confidence in backup goaltender Alex Stalock than he did in Darcy Kuemper, last year's backup.
With starter Devan Dubnyk coming off back-to-back wins — including a 2-1 victory over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night — Boudreau is giving him the night off Tuesday, Oct. 31, and going with Stalock in the net against the Winnipeg Jets at the Xcel Energy Center.
Just that says something about how the Wild feel about Stalock, a 30-year-old South St. Paul, Minnesota, native who is 1-0-1 in two starts with a 2.90 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
"So far he's been really good in tough situations," Boudreau said. "In Carolina he gave us a chance (when) we weren't very good and we lost in a shootout. In Calgary he was really good and won us the game. It'd be nice if our players played really good in front of him."
This type of scenario probably wouldn't have happened last season.
Whenever Dubnyk was on top of his game, he was playing, no matter what. Kuemper only got the nod when there was no other option. In fact, when Kuemper surrendered five goals to the New York Islanders on Oct. 23, 2016, he didn't play again for another three weeks. He only played in 18 games last season, finishing with a 8-5-3 record, 3.13 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
He got used to not playing for surprisingly long stretches, which wasn't good for him or Dubnyk. That probably won't happen this season with Stalock.
"Yeah, we talked about that," Stalock said. "You know, for (Dubnyk) to play 65, 70 games, that's hard. ... He needs breaks, and tonight happens to be one of those games where I go in there and keep this thing going."
Stalock said he was looking forward to keeping the positive momentum rolling considering the fact the Wild (4-3-2) have won two in a row after stumbling out of the starting blocks.
"I'm getting another chance to go in there and win a game," said Stalock, who played at South St. Paul High School and University of Minnesota Duluth. "We got it started last week, (so I'm) looking forward to getting in there."
Nino Niederreiter confirmed after the morning skate that he intends make his return during Tuesday's game. He has missed the Wild's past six games after suffering a high ankle sprain Oct. 12 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"Obviously I wanted to come back earlier," Niederreiter said. "At the end of the day it's the doctor's word, and I think he's happy with how things are going, so I'm happy to be back."
And the Wild are happy to have him.
"It's his first game back ... and sometimes guys get a little rusty when that happens," Boudreau said. "At the same time, it's good to have him back."
Fourth line success
With the Wild forced to jumble lines because of all the early-season injuries, Matt Cullen and Daniel Winnik have become a model of consistency at the bottom of the lineup.
"Well, they're experienced players," Boudreau said. "It's not like the fourth line is sprinkled with a lot of first-year players. These guys have played. They have been very useful. They have won Stanley Cups. They know what their role is, and they do it really well."
Winnik said he's been pleased with what the fourth line has been able to bring so far this season, including a goal in Saturday's 2-1 win over the Penguins.
"I think Matt and I are starting to get a lot more chemistry," Winnik said. "It really shouldn't matter who they put with us on the right side. I think we're starting to prove that."
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