Should Minnesota keep starting Kuemper?

24 Comments

Heading into this year, Darcy Kuemper was the No. 3 goalie in the Minnesota organization, parked firmly behind Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding in AHL Iowa.

Today, he’s the club’s No. 1 — and feeling the pressure that comes along with it.

Kuemper suffered his second poor outing in a row in Thursday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis, which came 24 hours after he was hooked in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov for allowing three goals on 12 shots against Vancouver. Suddenly, the Wild — who were in good shape for the first wild card berth in the West — are just one point up on eighth-place Phoenix, and six up on ninth-place Dallas.

“I’ll be honest, I feel bad for [Kuemper]. I do,” head coach Mike Yeo told the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “This is a guy, we wouldn’t even be sitting here in the position that we’re in if he didn’t give us the stretch of hockey that he’s given us.”

On the year, Kuemper’s numbers are solid — 12-8-4, .915 save percentage, 2.43 GAA — but his recent performances have been bad. He’s allowed at least three goals in each of his last four starts, all losses, while posting a ghastly .851 save percentage.

Unsurprisingly, the heat of the playoff chase seems to have gotten to Kuemper. At 23,  he’s got a very limited body of NHL work — just six games last year, 26 this year — and it’s important to remember that two years ago, he was in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears.

The inexperience might be starting to show. On Thursday, Kuemper appeared somewhat flustered after a series of altercations with Blues captain David Backes.

From the Star-Tribune:

[Backes] cross-checked little Jared Spurgeon, crushed little Mikael Granlund and ruthlessly trash-talked goalie Darcy Kuemper from the bench.

Kuemper initiated things with Backes by cross-checking him at the goalmouth, then got in his face.

“That’s where I’ve played a long time,” Backes said. “When I feel disrespected, I’m going to stand my ground and see if there’s any response.”

Backes’ verbal abuse of Kuemper wasn’t done there, either:

The issue Minnesota’s facing now is much more than a question of whether Kuemper or Bryzgalov should start for the rest of this season and the playoffs.

If Kuemper’s the goalie of the future — and by the way people within the Wild organization talk, they believe he is — there has to be some consideration to protecting him, and keeping his confidence from getting shattered.