After the Wild’s 3-0 victory over the Oilers on Monday, coach Bruce Boudreau gave a small admonishment mixed in with the praise he had for defenseman Matt Dumba.
“We got to a point in the second period where I think Dumbs was trying to do a little too much,” Boudreau said. “Then he got back to being really simple … and he was really good.”
That would be sound advice for the Wild in the post-Ryan Suter era of this season.
The Wild needs nobody and everybody to replace Suter as it gears up for the playoffs. No one player is going to fill all that Suter, second in the NHL in minutes per game, does for the Wild. The mantra coming out of the dressing room was that everybody on the blue line was going to have to step up their game, especially Dumba and Jonas Brodin, who took over top-pairing responsibilities with Suter out and Jared Spurgeon still on the mend.
Spurgeon should provide a lift when he returns from a partially torn right hamstring. From a numbers standpoint, it appears Dumba, Spurgeon, Brodin and others will have a lot of offense to replace with Suter out.
At 33, Suter may have some wear on his skates, but he was still the Wild’s top playmaker during 5-on-5 play along the blue line. Perhaps no statistic better illustrates that than looking at Suter’s assists.
Suter had a career-high 45 assists, 18 during 5-on-5 play, and the website Naturalstattrick.com broke down Suter’s assists into primary or secondary.
Suter had 14 primary assists during 5-on-5 play this season, a career high and easily tops on the Wild among defensemen. Dumba and Brodin have eight and seven, respectively.
If you add in all strengths, Suter had 24 primary assists, second on the Wild behind only Mikael Granlund.
Suter had a big hand in Eric Staal’s born-again season. Staal has scored 22 of his 40 goals during 5-on-5 play with Suter providing the primary assist on five of those 22 goals, the most of any other Wild player assisting Staal’s goals.
As a team, the Wild has succeeded the second half of the season preventing opponents from getting shots in the high-danger area (around the net and the slot). It tends not to allow breakaways and does a good job of playing its system to protect that area before trying to break out of its zone. It may not always be pretty, up-tempo hockey, but it has been effective for the Wild.
“You just stick to your system with five guys in the zone and in the picture to keep guys to the outside,” rookie defensemen Nick Seeler said.
The temptation for Seeler and others might be to do more offensively to compensate for Suter. That could leave the Wild vulnerable to opponents getting good shot attempts because few in the league can do what Suter can.
Maybe the answer for the Wild isn’t to try to replicate Suter’s production but to double down on what it already does well — and don’t try to do “too much.”