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Updated: January 22nd, 2013 11:15pm
Zulgad: Ryan Suter fails to get desired result in first game vs. ex-team

Zulgad: Ryan Suter fails to get desired result in first game vs. ex-team

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild had just lost their first game of the season Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center when Ryan Suter was asked if it would be nice to go on the road for a two-game trip this weekend.

"Yeah," Suter said, "it's too cold here."

Suter was joking about the subzero temperatures that have hit Minnesota in recent days, but he might as well have been talking about the cold shoulder he had gotten from his former teammates.

Suter joined winger Zach Parise in making headlines last July by signing matching $98 million, 13-year contracts with the Wild. While Parise won't have to face his former New Jersey teammates this season because the Wild will play all of its games in the Western Conference, Suter was not so fortunate.

After spending seven seasons with Nashville establishing himself as an upper-echelon defenseman, Suter angered some members of the Predators organization, and certainly all of its fans, by bolting town as a free agent.

On Tuesday, the Predators got a small amount of revenge by beating the Wild, 3-1.

Suter logged a team-high 26 minutes, 56 seconds of ice time and was on the ice for both of the Predators' even-strength goals. This included the game-winner, which came at 11:45 of the third period when Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom had a moment of indecision on whether to race Martin Erat for a loose puck near the blueline and ended up putting the puck on the right winger's stick.

Erat went around Backstrom and buried the puck in the net much to the dismay of an announced crowd of 17,540 who had seen the Wild win its first two home games.

Predators coach Barry Trotz called it a "very strange" experience to see his team go against Suter, who was the seventh-overall pick in the 2003 draft.

"Ryan is one of those special defensemen," Trotz said. "As I said when Ryan was in Nashville, with Ryan and Shea (Weber), that's one of those once every few decades that you see two premier defensemen coming up together. (They) were friends, were drafted the same year.

"We had something special for a few years when they were together, but obviously he chose to come here. It seemed strange. I haven't even seen Ryan other than on the ice. But he was a great player, one of the great ones that we've been able develop in Nashville and he's here (now). He'll always be a big part of Nashville, but now he's a Wild (player) and when we come in there's no friendship there."

Said Erat: "(Suter's) a great kid and it's nice to play against him, but on the ice you have to always play him hard. He's a good player, and you have to be hard on him."

Truth be told, Suter likely would have much rather faced the Predators later in this 48-game lockout-shortened season. The veteran, who turned 28 years old on Monday, is still trying to fit into the Wild's system after a brief training camp.

Suter attempted to downplay any talk that facing the Predators was a big deal, saying, "it wasn't that big of a deal."

"Obviously, the media makes it more than it is," he said. "I still have friends over there, but I have friends on a lot of teams. You have to go out and play hockey. Unfortunately, they were the better team tonight."

Wild coach Mike Yeo, however, said he talked to Suter before Tuesday's game and knew it was emotional for him to see so many familiar faces.

"There were a lot of emotions going into this game for sure," he said. "I'll say that our guys really wanted to win for him, too."

The Wild looked sharp early and took a 1-0 lead when Danny Heatley beat goalie Chris Mason with a long shot at 6:02 of the first period. The Wild outshot the Predators 12-5 in the opening 20 minutes, but Nashville tied the score on Nick Spaling's second-period goal.

"I thought we had them on the ropes early and Mase made some pretty good saves for them," Suter said. "Then they got their game back."

Asked to assess his play in the first three games, Suter said: "I think the first game (on Saturday against Colorado), I was really sloppy. I wasn't really sharp. The second game, I played a little better and (Tuesday) I felt good. I'd like to chip in more, help out offensively, but I think that will come as I get more comfortable."

Suter, who has no points in the first three games and is a minus-3, admits this is a work in progress.

"I'm finally feeling halfway comfortable," he said. "Now it's time to get the system down and really play the system that I'm supposed to."

How long does it ordinarily take a player to get a system down when he joins a team?

"I'm not making excuses, but it probably takes a while," Suter said. "Probably 10 games at least, I would say. Hopefully, I can figure it out a little faster."

While the stats might not show it, Yeo said Suter is figuring out things just fine.

"This was a tough game emotionally for him, and I do think maybe there was a couple of times where he was really trying to create something and that's to be expected," Yeo said. "That's his job and it didn't work out.

"But overall you can see what he does defensively, you can see what he does offensively. His execution, his ability, especially to capitalize off turnovers and make plays through the neutral zone. Again, defensively, I thought he did a really good job for us (Tuesday). So he's getting there for sure. It doesn't take much with guys like this." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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