With his two-game suspension over, Ryan Suter took part in Monday's optional morning skate to get ready to play tonight against Columbus at Xcel Energy Center. The defenseman said he is rested and ready, though he did get into one game while he was off: a knee hockey battle with his son, Brooks, which took place in a suite at Xcel during the Wild's victory over Arizona on Saturday.
"(Thomas) Vanek's kids didn't show up, so I had to play hockey with them,'' Suter said. "I was the goalie.''
Trying to stop pucks himself, Suter said, made it hard to watch that game. He also wasn't in the best of moods as a forced spectator; Monday, he was still irked by the suspension he got for elbowing Pittsburgh's Steve Downie in the head. "I was very surprised (to get suspended),'' Suter said. "I don't hit that often. That was probably my first hit, and it cost me two games. I probably won't be doing that any more.''
Still, it was much easier to watch a team that pulled itself up from the floor and won its past two games. Suter said the time off recharged his battery, though he and coach Mike Yeo also were happy to see development in the Wild's defensive corps. Suter said he's content to keep logging huge amounts of ice time--he's averaging an NHL-high 29 minutes, 34 seconds per game--but the improved play of other defensemen means those minutes can be spread around.
"The guys, over the last couple of games, have really shown they can take on more minutes,'' Suter said. "I think that will bode well for our team moving forward. Honestly, personally, I feel fine. But guys have shown they can take on more, and that’s a huge thing for our team, to be able to have more guys playing more.''
Yeo plans to pair Suter with Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba with Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella with Christian Folin to start Monday's game. The combinations, though, will be adaptable, changing with the circumstances of the game. Nate Prosser will be a healthy scratch.
"If everyone is on their game,'' Yeo said, "that gives us the possibility for the first time in a long time to almost roll three (defensive) pairs, or at least to get a little more consistency in pairings going out on the ice. These things are always fluid, but that’s the initial plan.''
Devan Dubnyk will start his third consecutive game in goal. Niklas Backstrom will be the backup tonight. Yeo said he believes Darcy Kuemper is healthy enough to play Tuesday at Detroit; it's possible Kuemper could get in, to prevent wear and tear on Dubnyk as the Wild plays three games in four nights. All three goalies will go on the trip.
"Right now, we're just going day by day, and this is the way we're going into the game tonight,'' Yeo said. "After the game, we'll determine what we need for tomorrow. We're bringing everybody (to Detroit), at the very least to get the workload. If we don’t feel that Devan can play tomorrow, then we'll make that decision.''
Yeo sounded much more certain about getting Mikael Granlund back into the lineup. The center wore a yellow no-contact jersey at Monday's morning skate, his second practice since he had wrist surgery on Dec. 29. Yeo would prefer that players have a full-contact practice before rejoining the lineup, but in Granlund's case, he said he doesn't want to wait any longer than necessary.
"I think there's a chance (that Granlund plays Tuesday),'' Yeo said. "We have to see how that goes. He was skating for a good amount of time before he rejoined the group.
"Obviously, we would make sure we have full confidence based on what we hear from doctors and full confidence that he's fully healed and ready to get in there. But this is a guy that is a huge part of our lineup, a huge part of our team, and certainly, we've missed him while he's been out. We don’t have that luxury (of taking more time). I think it's just something we're going to have to deal with. We're lucky we're talking about a guy who’s very smart. The conditioning part, I think, will be a challenge for him as much as anything else, because when you're not in the corners and you're not battling, that’s certainly a different type of conditioning you're dealing with. But unfortunately, it's not like we have three or four days here to give us that opportunity.''
Dubnyk happily talked to the media after the skate today, a bit of a shocker for those of us used to goaltenders who routinely refuse game-day interviews. He's really an affable, modest guy. He spoke about how grateful he is to have the chance to play regularly, downplayed his role in the Wild's recent revival ("I don't think I'm a savior of any sort,'' he said) and mentioned that after Sunday's practice he found a place to live, meaning he will not be a permanent hotel guest.
A reminder from Mike Russo: He will be hosting a live chat Tuesday at 1 p.m. at www.startribune.com. Get those questions ready!