ST. PAUL — It’s not hard to discern who’s been the Wild’s best goaltender this season. The proof is in the pudding.
While starter Devan Dubnyk has struggled to a 4-8-2 record, a 3.35 goals-against average and .893 save percentage, Alex Stalock has offered a glimmer of hope. After Tuesday’s 4-1 victory at Buffalo, the South St. Paul native is 4-3-0 record with a 2.63 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Not that the Wild have a goaltender controversy on their hands. Not yet, at least.
That would require Stalock to string together a few good games in a row, showing at least a modicum of consistency, which he still hasn’t done. In fact, every time Stalock has earned a win this season, he’s followed it with a loss.
Frankly, Stalock hasn’t even been competitive coming off a win.
Last month, Stalock shut out the Ottawa Senators, then a few days later allowed four goals in a loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He galvanized teammates with a win over the Anaheim Ducks to start a long West Coast this month, only to follow it up with a stinker against the San Jose Sharks, allowing four goals in the opening 20 minutes.
“You look at it and there have been big letdowns,” Stalock said. “It just comes down to consistency. That’s what any coach looks for in any player, whether it’s a forward, defense or goalie. It’s not just a one-night league; it’s an everyday league.”
After recently backstopping the Wild in Tuesday’s win, Stalock knows the next step in his progression is winning back-to-back games. His next chance to prove himself could come as early as Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Coach Bruce Boudreau claims he still hasn’t made a decision about his starter, but it’s hard to imagine Stalock doesn’t get the nod over Dubnyk, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a family issue.
“My biggest worry is that (Stalock) works so hard every practice that he’s a little fatigued,” Boudreau said. “I told him to get off the ice today after the shots he was taking.”
No matter what happens moving forward, this stretch has been a bit of vindication for Stalock. He played sparingly last season, and while some critics thought his career might be on its final legs, he returned this season eager to prove he could still be a viable option in the league.
Has he enjoyed proving some of the doubters wrong so far?
“Absolutely,” Stalock said. “Anyone would say the same thing.”
Not that it’s his main focus; he’s too busy thinking about potentially playing against the Avalanche, and the Wild remain mired at the bottom of the Central Division standings with 18 points.
“It’s a tough test with a good team coming in,” Stalock said. “I look forward to that. It’s a Central Division team, so it’s a four-point game, essentially, and we know the time is now to get something going.”
“This group, we want to get out of where we are (in the standings), and whatever it’s going to take, whoever’s in, it’s up to them to give the team a chance to win,” Stalock added. “We have to get out from the bottom half. That’s our No.1 goal.”
Defensemen Matt Dumba and Greg Pateryn also missed Wednesday’s practice. According to Boudreau, Dumba will be a game-time decision Thursday’s, while Pateryn will likely partake in the morning skate before the team decides whether to activate him from the injured reserve.