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No need to sweat statistics in All-Star Game

Plenty of goals await, so goalies should just enjoy experience, Dubnyk says

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- As a goalie, Devan Dubnyk isn't sure whether to call himself a three-time NHL All-Star Game participant or a survivor, but the Minnesota Wild veteran does have advice for his eight puck-stopping peers in St. Louis: Embrace the big moments and saves and ignore the big numbers.

Dubnyk, who played in the All-Star Game's current 3-on-3 format in 2016, 2017 and 2019, has a career .684 save percentage and 28.42 goals-against average in his All-Star appearances according to QuantHockey.com, but will be remembered most for making a spectacular windmill glove save on a breakaway by Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid during the 2019 All-Star Game.

"It was way easier by the third time," Dubnyk said of his All-Star Game appearances. "My first one, in Nashville, I was nervous. You don't want to get embarrassed, you're thinking about letting in too many goals and you're tight and then a couple go in and you start to think about it, but I realized an hour after that game that people really don't care. No one is going to think you're a bad goalie because you got scored on in the All-Star Game, so by the last one in San Jose [in 2019], I found it a lot easier to go out and be free and not worry about getting scored on or getting embarrassed and just enjoy it and have fun.

"It's a pretty unique opportunity to be on the ice with the best players in the world, and I just wanted to really enjoy the time out there and make some saves while I was at it."

Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Atlantic Division), Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (Metropolitan), Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets (Central), and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks and David Rittich of the Calgary Flames are the goalies for the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills presented by New Amsterdam Vodka on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS) and the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

The McDavid breakaway save was the most memorable Dubnyk has made during his All-Star tours of duty, though he also threw in a stacked-pads save on Corey Perry, then of the Anaheim Ducks, in his first All-Star Game appearance that made the highlight reels.

Video: CEN@PAC: Dubnyk flashes the leather for terrific stop

Career numbers for goalies in the All-Star Game are rarely flattering, even for Hall of Famers like Martin Brodeur (.812 save percentage in nine games) and Dominik Hasek (.844 in six games), or more recent Vezina Trophy winners like Carey Price (.778 in six games), Henrik Lundqvist (.761 in five games), Holtby (.757 in four games), Vasilevskiy (.757 in two games) or Pekka Rinne (.742 in three games).

The games only got harder for goalies -- and the numbers worse -- after the NHL switched to the 3-on-3 format in a series of 20-minute games to determine a champion in 2016; Dubnyk, Vasilevskiy, Rinne and Holtby made all their appearances in the current format.

Since the switch, there have been 124 goals scored in 240 minutes, an average of 31 goals per 60 minutes. That's up almost 10 goals per 60 minutes from the 21.6 average goals scored in the previous five All-Star Games using a traditional 5-on-5, 60-minute game format.

As if the defense-optional approach at All-Star Games weren't already hard enough on goalies, switching to 3-on-3 gave the world's best players more of the time and space so rare in a regular-season game.

In the past, goalies talked about adjusting their approach for an All-Star Game, but where some might assume the solution would lie in being more aggressive with positioning and challenging open shots, the reality is most rely on playing deeper in their crease because they're expecting more lateral plays and back-door passes.

"Play extra deep and wait for plays to develop," said Roberto Luongo, who had an .829 save percentage in five NHL All-Star Game appearances before retiring after last season.

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .686 save percentage in four All-Star Games, also talked about hedging toward passes, saying he focuses less on the shooter and tries to stay on his feet as long as possible rather than sliding on his knees too soon. But if you ask Dubnyk, the wide-open style of an All-Star Game requires a completely different mindset for goalies.

Video: Super Slow Mo: McDavid, Karlsson, Crosby and Fleury

"I think you just have to be a lot looser than you normally would be," Dubnyk said. "You're going to have to break out a little away from kind of being too tight and technical."

For goalies, that could mean going outside the butterfly box and embracing even more of the unpredictability many believe is becoming increasingly important to the position, even outside an All-Star Game.

For Dubnyk, it might mean a few more extended poke checks on breakaways or stacking the pads in tight like he did on Perry in 2016.

Goalie Robin Lehner has embraced a similar approach behind a more open Chicago Blackhawks system this season after playing behind a tighter defensive structure with the New York Islanders last season.

"[It's] more focus on just saving the puck and not how you do it [with the Blackhawks]," Lehner said. "There's quite a bit more chances in general but a lot more rush chances, so it's more read and react for sure."

That sounds a lot like being a goalie in the NHL All-Star Game.

"No one is really defending, so you need to free yourself up to really just react," Dubnyk said, "And it's fun too. No one cares if you get scored on, so try to have some fun with it."

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