Darcy Kuemper will start in goal for the Minnesota Wild on Monday when it hosts the Detroit Red Wings.
It will be Kuemper's fifth start and sixth appearance in the Wild's past 11 games. Kuemper has seen increased playing time due to injuries sustained by starter Devan Dubnyk, but the 25-year-old backup is also playing himself into a more regular role.
So while Dubnyk is a little banged up, it was very possible Kuemper was going to make his ninth start of the season against Detroit regardless.
"We were looking at that," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "I don't know if [Dubnyk] is going to back up or not. [Goaltending coach Bob Mason] will work with him a little bit with him out there, and see how he's feeling."
Dubnyk's latest injury came on Sunday when he was hit on the right arm with a shot during practice that required six stitches.
"My chest guard happened to ride up a little bit, and I got my hand kind of forward to make the blocker save," Dubnyk said. "It just missed the top of my blocker and hit between my chest pad and my blocker."
Dubnyk, who was hit in the face by a high stick against the New York Rangers a week ago, and is just now seeing a black eye fade, previously sustained both a groin and knee injury this season.
"I'm going to knock on wood, but I already said I hadn't missed time in my career to anything," Dubnyk said. "So maybe we're getting them all out in this short period of time, and we'll make sure we're healthy for the end of the season."
In his absence though, Kuemper has stepped in and given the Wild confident, strong performances, having not lost in regulation (4-0-4), with a .926 save percentage.
"If you're going to be successful in this league, you're going to need good goaltending, and most teams need two good goaltenders," Yeo said. "Whether it's injuries, whether it's filling in, because obviously the workload of a starting goalie can only be so heavy.
"When you're putting somebody else in the net, you want to make sure you're getting wins, and he's done that for us lately."
Forward Zach Parise, who exited Wild practice on Sunday early, will play on Monday night, and with forward Ryan Carter healthy, Justin Fontaine will come out of the lineup.
"My thing for [Fontaine] is I just want to see him take a step in his career," Yeo said. "We have a lot of confidence in him and in what he can do, and what he can be as a player. He's shown signs of it from game-to-game."
Yeo and Fontaine agreed there needed to be more urgency in the third-year pros game, and Fontaine agreed he needs to take a step in his career arc.
"It's complacency," Fontaine said. "Every player goes through ups and downs, and there are times when you have a stretch of good games, and then you're kind of lackadaisical here or there.
"You just have to prepare yourself before the game, be ready to go, and next time I get in I'll be ready to go."
Similarly, the Wild is hoping to put a performance from Saturday it was not proud of in the past. Minnesota came out of the holiday break with a 3-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and finishes a four-game homestand on Monday at Xcel Energy Center against the Red Wings.
"That was one game, but it's kind of a trend: Our game hasn't been where we want it," Carter said. "We've found a way to get points, and win some games, but it hasn't been in a dominant fashion.
"The focus is to put those things behind us, learn from it, but build our game, make our game better, try to find our identity and do what we do well, and see how it translates into a win, or good hockey."
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Thomas Vanek – Mikko Koivu – Jason Zucker
Zach Parise – Mikael Granlund – Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter – Erik Haula – Charlie Coyle
Chris Porter – Jarret Stoll – Ryan Carter
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella – Matt Dumba
Nate Prosser – Jonas Brodin