In the locker room afterward, Dumba called himself out for poor play the first five games of the season, which have made a promising rookie season seem like the distant past.
But in addressing the concerns that surround his game, Dumba remained confident and delivered a simple message regarding the Wild’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at the Xcel Energy Center.
“Come Columbus, you’ll see a different Matt Dumba,” Dumba said.
Although the Wild are 3-1-1 to open the season, problems on the blue line — expected to be the team’s strength — have caused concern following a 1-1-1 West Coast road trip. Dumba, a combined minus-3 in those three games, is chief among those concerns.
Because he is one of two right-handed shots on a team with three left-handers among their top five defensemen, it’s imperative that Dumba plays like the second-pair defenseman he showed he can be last season. If not, the Wild would be forced to play three lefties among their top-four defensemen and use an inexperienced third pair, something they’ve hoped to avoid.
The offensive potential Dumba flashed last season has led to just one assist this season. Perhaps most troubling is coach Mike Yeo’s insinuation that the 21-year-old defenseman hasn’t always respected opponents this season.
When asked how Dumba can avoid a sophomore slump, the coach said, “For me, the biggest thing is the respect for the league. This is the NHL. It’s the best league in the world, and you’re on the ice against the best players in the world.”
While Dumba spent extra time Tuesday working with coaches, Yeo said much of the onus to improve is on Dumba.
“We can talk to him about some of the things we talked to him about before the year, and we can show him things on video,” Yeo said, “but to me, it’s more about him. It’s about how he handles it.”
The Wild have two games at home this week and play in Winnipeg on Sunday and, as Dumba pointed out, if he plays well in those games, the struggles will quickly be forgotten.
“All this could go away after this weekend if I play three good games, and then it’s all cleared up,” Dumba said. “And that’s my plan. I’m going to use these next two days to get myself focused, get my mind ready and just go play good hockey like I know I can.
“I believe in myself. That’s going to be it, that’s going to be the conversation afterward. I’m not too worried about it.”
Last season, Dumba made the team out of training camp but spent time in the minors. Before a long stint with the AHL’s Iowa Wild in December, Dumba had four points and a minus-4 rating in 20 games.
After a mid-January call-up, Dumba looked like a different player, recording seven goals, five assists and a plus-17 rating in 38 games.
A trip back to the AHL is something the Wild and Dumba hope they can avoid; because of his age and the year he signed, he is waiver-exempt for 74 more games.
“I think it’s important for him to have that idea (that he could be sent down),” Yeo said. “(But) that would not be a decision that we made easily, let’s put it that way. We’re counting on him to perform at the level that he performed at last year. We know that he’s capable of doing it.”
The Wild have three off days between their 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Sunday and Thursday’s game with the Blue Jackets, who entered Tuesday night with an 0-6 record. Dumba said that time will be spent learning from the young season’s mistakes.
“I might have been trying to force a little too much; I see that,” he said. “I’m going to go over video and work out those kinks. This is all part of a process. I don’t think one or two games has ever made a career out of anyone.”