By Ryan Dittrick
EDMONTON – Professional hockey players are used to life on the road, but when Devan Dubnyk learned he’d been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Nashville Predators, a modest, four-game trip quickly turned into one of the longest of his NHL career.
Too bad he didn’t pack for it.
"I’ve basically been wearing the same clothes for two weeks straight," Dubnyk said, chuckling at his own mild misery.
For a family man like Dubnyk, though, laundry truly was the least of his worries. The 27-year-old left home three days earlier, expecting to be back in time for dinner with his wife, Jenn, and six month-old baby boy, Nathaniel, on Saturday.
The 18th. Not the 25th.
"I was exactly one week late," said Dubnyk, who was swapped for abrasive forward Matt Hendricks. "It was so nice to get home and see them."
And yes, he packed a bigger bag this time around.
"They’re going to come out and visit for a while in Nashville, so we’ll see where it takes us."
Dubnyk, drafted 14th overall in 2004, spent 10 years with the Oilers organization, posting a career record of 61-76-21 in 171 games dating back to the 2009-10 season. In last year’s lockout-shortened campaign, he set new career highs in save percentage (.921) and goals-against average (2.57) but struggled mightily this season behind of the National Hockey League’s worst defence cores.
His slow start was punctuated by a career-low, sub-.900 save percentage, leading to the arrival of veteran Ilya Bryzgalov about a month into the season. Dubnyk did perform better for brief stretches after that, but it wasn’t enough to reestablish himself and gain any traction as the losses piled up.
"This is a great opportunity for me," said the 6-foot-6, 210-pound netminder, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. For now, he’s a stopgap co-solution to the absence of star goalie Pekka Rinne, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left hip earlier this season.
The other half of Nashville’s revamped tandem, Carter Hutton, got the start in goal on Sunday.
"It’s been a big change, obviously, but that’s what happens when you’ve been with one organization your whole life," Dubnyk said. "There are a lot of things to get used to, but overall my time here so far has been great."
Dubnyk debuted for the Predators on Jan. 18, making only 24 saves in a 5-4 home ice loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Unimpressed by the performance of their new acquisition, Predators coach Barry Trotz recently told a Nashville radio station that Dubnyk, who arrived with a record of 11-17-2, had picked up some "bad habits" in Edmonton this year.
"I started the interview by saying, ‘We got Devan from Edmonton…’ and it went viral, with people saying I was indicting Edmonton. Not at all," Trotz said. "I know the quality of people they have in management, in their coaching staff, and I apologize for doing that."
Dubnyk, responded well this past Friday, but the end result was a 27-save, 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames. Indeed, it’s a work in progress.
"I talked to him about it, and I think it was taken out of context… He didn’t mean anything [personal] by it, and I agree," Dubnyk said.
"If you look at the way the year has gone, it doesn’t have anything to do with Edmonton. It’s certainly been the most difficult year of hockey for me to date. I think anytime things aren’t going your way, you start to overthink things because you’re so caught up in what’s going on around you. You want to win, of course, but you’re not quite as focused on the technical aspects as you should be.
"I know without [Oilers goaltending coach] Freddy Chabot, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I know that, 100 percent. There was no shot there."
Trotz, who has a history with Dubnyk, having coached him at last year’s world hockey championship, knows he can be better.
Dubnyk is spending a considerable amount of time with Predators goalie coach Mitch Korn, looking to "connect the dots" and correct some concerning trends, spurred in part by yet another grim, mid-season death march.
"We went back and studied some old film, then looked at some newer stuff and saw some changes in his game," Trotz said. "It’s the responsibility of the player to recognize when you’re struggling and if you are, sometimes you have to change a few things.
"He’s been a No. 1 goaltender in this league before. He’s got all the tools to be successful.”