Souhan: Suter still working for breakout game

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2013 - 1:14 AM

Predators center Colin Wilson and the Wild's Ryan Suter battle for possession.

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Associated Press

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During the first two games of the season, the Wild kept checking inspiring moments off the marketing department's to-do list.

Winning in Zach Parise's homecoming? Check.

Parise scoring his first goal? Josh Harding winning in his first game since being diagnosed with MS? Pierre Marc-Bouchard scoring after his long layoff due to concussions? Mikael Granlund scoring his first NHL goal? Check, check, check, check.

Tuesday night, Ryan Suter was supposed to take his turn.

In his first two games with the Wild, as Parise starred and so many others had reason to save commemorative pucks, Suter didn't play particularly well, by his standards and by his own admission.

The native of Madison, Wis., who became Parise's co-star on the most celebrated day in franchise history, faced his old team on Tuesday. He didn't pick up the check.

Like the Wild, Suter played well at times but couldn't finish. He's used to witnessing Predators goals, but he had hoped to change that while wearing the Wild's generic rodent on his chest. Instead, he was on the ice for all of Nashville's scores in a 3-1 loss at Xcel Energy Center.

"I talked to him earlier and there was a lot of emotion going into this game, for sure," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I want to say: Our guys really wanted to win for him, too.

"This was a tough game emotionally for him."

While Parise has immediately and visibly made the Wild better, Suter seems to be feeling his way, like a jet-lagged traveler in a dark hotel room.

"I think, the first game I was really sloppy, wasn't really sharp," Suter said. "The second game, I played a little better. And then tonight I felt good.

"I'd like to chip in more and help out offensively, but I think that will come as I get a little more comfortable."

Through three games, Suter has yet to register a point, and his plus-minus is minus-3. While Parise is in a position to play with maximum aggressiveness, Suter has seemed caught between assertiveness and wariness.

Part of that is the nature of his position. Part of that may be the kind of nerves, or the heightened sense of responsibility and pressure, that causes so many big-money free agents to start slowly with their new teams.

"I do think there were times when he was really trying to create something, and that's to be expected," Yeo said. "That's his job. It just didn't work out.

"But overall you can see what he does defensively. And what he does offensively."

Regardless of outcome, what Parise and Suter have brought in their first three games together in Minnesota is the ability to move the puck. Even when the Wild held the best record in the NHL in December 2011, the game never looked easy for them. Every goal felt like a tonsillectomy.

Now the puck moves as quickly and effortlessly as a cursor.

"It's getting better," Suter said. "Every game, I feel more comfortable. Obviously, it's not the way you want it to end but we can take some good things out of it and know that if you want to beat teams you have to play the full game."

Down the hall, outside the visiting lockerroom, Suter's old coach, Barry Trotz, was describing the vision of Suter in a Wild jersey as "Very strange."

"Ryan is one of those special defensemen," Trotz said. "When Ryan was in Nashville, with Ryan and Shea [Weber], that's one of those once-every-few-decades things that you'd see two premier defensemen coming up together. We had something special for a few years when they were together."

While Suter wouldn't admit it, he has got to be envious of Parise, who got his first goal and first assist out of the way in Wild victories.

Those milestones will arrive soon enough for Suter, but you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and you never get a second chance to play your first game against the team that raised you from a pup.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. •

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