According to the Star Tribune, Minnesota Wild No. 1 defenseman Ryan Suter is listed as day-to-day with a “body” injury as Head Coach Mike Yeo puts it. With eight games to go in the season, and the Wild just three points ahead of 9th place Dallas, 10th place Phoenix and 11th place Columbus, it would be understandable for Wild fans to go into panic mode. That said, tonight’s game against a rising Blue Jackets squad is doubly important as Minnesota seeks to gain points, and take two from a team almost immediately behind them in the standings.
While the offense has run dry in recent games, it’s been defensive breakdowns that have led to goals against on rock solid No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom. The absence of Ryan Suter leaves a gaping hole in an already troubled defensive corps. No other Wild blue liner is even close to logging as many minutes as Suter can. He’s the team’s defensive leader, No. 1 power play quarterback and has simply become Minnesota’s backbone in a season that has made him a serious Norris Trophy candidate as the best defenseman in the NHL.
Aside from Suter, Head Coach Mike Yeo can nearly always rely on youngsters Jared Spurgeon and Swedish Sensation Jonas Brodin to get the job done on the back end. However, behind them are five defensemen that have struggled terribly this season.
Tom Gilbert started out the season on a tear, scoring three goals and four assists for seven points in the first 10 games of the season. In the 25 games since, Gilbert has gone ice cold, chipping in two assists and a team worst negative-14 rating. He’s clearly been off his game and will need to find it if Minnesota is going to make the playoffs. Due to Gilbert’s struggles, Clayton Stoner has had to fill his minute-munching role on the second pairing. Yeah; that’s worked out great, hasn’t it, folks? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Stoner is a good 5th-6th defenseman—he isn’t a top-4 defenseman and doesn’t excel in that role.
Justin Falk adds some good physicality, but often goes too far out of position to chip in on the offense or lay a big hit. Free Agent signing Brett Clark just needs some time to adjust to Minnesota’s system and develop chemistry with defensive partners; a lockout-shortened season is no time to just naturally let that develop, especially with eight games to go.
Nate Prosser—I love this guy’s game—he gives a great radio interview and is just a quality guy, but his right-shot, right-side defensive positioning makes him the odd man out. The guy provides grit, rarely makes any defensive mistakes and is hardly noticeable—meaning he’s doing his job correctly. If Gilbert keeps struggling, don’t be surprised to see Prosser get more ice time.
As you can see, Minnesota’s secondary defense is in a sorry state. If Suter misses any amount of time, the Wild’s chances of making the playoffs could drop faster than a bag of wet cement. The good news is that Suter wasn’t pulled from Thursday night’s game because he couldn’t go back out and play. After yesterday’s practice, Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “Why run the risk of hurting yourself worse? It wasn’t quite good enough yesterday. This is a tough guy. He is a tough, tough guy. So again, having part of that game and all of today to rest should help.”
You can bet Wild fans will be waiting with baited breath to see if No. 20 takes the ice for pregame warm-ups before tonight’s 7pm matchup with the Blue Jackets. If he doesn’t, Minnesota could be heading for a fifth straight year outside the playoff picture.