The Wild is four games into a stretch of 20 games in 37 nights. In the first three games, defenseman Ryan Suter topped 31 minutes in two and logged 34 minutes, 12 seconds in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
That was the sixth time Suter topped 34 minutes this season and 33rd time he hit the 30-minute mark.
Suter’s ice time continues to be eye-popping. He averages a league-leading 29 minutes, 56 seconds a game — 2 minutes, 35 seconds more than anybody else in the NHL.
Mike Yeo is asked often about Suter’s ice time. Lately, there have been mutterings in NHL circles that Suter’s exorbitant ice time is hurting his effectiveness.
The Wild coach didn’t go as far as saying that Thursday morning, but Yeo agreed that with the amount of games the Wild has coming up, “we have to make sure we’re monitoring” Suter’s ice time.
“Suts is accustomed to playing big minutes,” Yeo said. “I think [the Oilers] game was still a lot for him.”
The Wild looked to lower Suter’s minutes Thursday in a 2-1 win over the Rangers. He logged 28:55, a ton for most NHLers but Suter’s second-lowest in the past 13 games.
Yeo also indicated that the career-high 30 minutes, 40 seconds Suter’s defense partner, Jared Spurgeon, played against Edmonton was too much. Spurgeon was down to 25:13 Thursday.
One reason the ice time for Suter and Spurgeon has been so high is because the defensemen on the Wild’s third pair have been playing 10 minutes or less per game.
Not only is Suter fine with his ice time, he routinely tells assistant coach Rick Wilson, who makes the defense changes from the bench, that he wants to play this much. He feels the more you play, the more rhythm you get into.
“Honestly, I feel good,” Suter said. “When I came back from the Olympics, mentally, I think I was a little drained. Last two games, I felt good and felt like I had a lot more jump and was back on track.
“It’s mental. Some games are harder than others. [Against Edmonton], we weren’t playing a lot of defense, and when we were in our end, we were getting it out quick. Those are easier games than when teams are hounding you and all over you, like Dallas in the first period [Saturday]. But I feel fresh now.”
D-men healthy again
Marco Scandella’s return from a sprained knee last week gave the Wild seven healthy defensemen for the first time in weeks. In four consecutive games, Yeo has rotated his third defense pair, scratching Nate Prosser, Clayton Stoner or Keith Ballard. Thursday against the Rangers, it was Prosser’s turn to sit.
Asked why he just doesn’t pick six defensemen and ride it, Yeo said: “I don’t think that anybody deserves to just come out of the lineup and stay out of the lineup. We have to go by more than just a one-game sample size. That’s the way we always do it here. Those guys played really good hockey for us for a long time. You look at how we counted on them when Spurgeon was out of the lineup, how we counted on them when Marco was out of the lineup. Those guys not only got us through those [injuries] but really helped us take our game to another level.”
Harding puts on the pads
Two days after skating for the first time in two months, goalie Josh Harding put on the pads for the first time. Harding, out since Dec. 31 because of complications from multiple sclerosis, took shots and did puck-handling drills with goalie coach Bob Mason on Thursday morning.
“It’s a great sign that he’s feeling much better, and he’s focused and motivated to try to get back with us,” Yeo said. “With that said, we’re still a few steps away. It’s not like he’s a week away from rejoining us here, but it’s a good first step.”