NEW YORK – Defenseman Ryan Suter already had been on the ice for two minutes, 25 seconds when the Wild iced the puck, relieving the pressure from the Ducks that hemmed it in its zone but also ensuring the same five-man unit had to stay on patrol.
It was another 11 seconds before Suter could retreat to the bench for a break in the second period of last Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss, concluding the marathon shift in an eye-popping 2:36 that included that icing and a TV timeout as his only reprieves.
But this was nothing new for the Wild’s top minute-muncher.
“I still feel great,” Suter said.
As his games-played tally continues to rise, along with his age, Suter’s ice time hasn’t varied much — clocking in somewhere in the upper 20s ever since he joined the organization in 2012.
This dependability has become his trademark in the NHL, a responsibility the 33-year-old relishes and a contribution that undoubtedly helps stoke the Wild as it pursues a postseason spot.
“I feel the more you play, the more you’re into the game,” Suter said. “I like being out there. I think it’s hard when you’re sitting on the bench and just hard to get into a rhythm.”
After logging 30:04 in the 5-3 win over the Islanders Monday, Suter boasted a 26:52 average on the season, which leads the league, the seventh consecutive campaign he’s slotted in the top three.
He’s eclipsed 30 minutes seven times and while his plus-minus (minus-4) has taken a hit in 2017-18 compared to the NHL-best plus-34 he posted just last season, Suter remains a go-to anchor on the blue line.
“You get the experience level that he’s at, he knows how to play, when to go, when not to go, all those things,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So it’s not like he uses a lot of wasted energy out there.”
What makes the minutes even more impressive is many of them come in critical times (on the penalty kill, during a power play or in the waning minutes of a close game) and against the opposition’s best; Suter regularly was on the ice against the Islanders’ John Tavares Monday — just two days after he was tasked with containing the Ducks’ top trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. Before that, he faced NHL-leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.
“I like that,” Suter said. “I like the challenge of playing against the other team’s top lines. It’s fun when you’re playing at home and they try to change quick to get off your matchup.”
Not having to defend every shift, however, is a trend of the elite, and Suter certainly helps the Wild spend time in the offensive zone when he’s on the ice. His 32 assists pace the team and sit tied for the seventh most among NHL defensemen. Two of those came Monday, as he sprung center Matt Cullen for a breakaway and handed off to winger Jason Zucker for a one-timer.
Overall, with 38 points through 59 games, he’s on pace to surpass his current career-high of 51 set in 2015-16.
Suter hasn’t noticed a change this season that could explain the potential jump; he also doesn’t feel any difference in the heavy minutes he skates now compared to when he was younger.
And that’s an encouraging sign for the Wild as it tries to prolong its season.
“Since I’ve come [to the Wild], we’ve made the playoffs every year and they didn’t make the playoffs for a long time before that,” he said. “I take pride in that. That’s something you always want as a player is to always give yourself a chance to get to the playoffs and to have a chance at going further.
“We haven’t been able to go further. But the first challenge is getting into the playoffs, and it’s going to be a dogfight here down the stretch. It’ll be a tough challenge, but I feel like we can do it.”