Sunday’s display against the Blackhawks wasn’t good by just about every definition of the word. To cap it all off, the Wild’s top pairing defensemen were the ones that let them down. Needless to say, Matt Dumba struggled mightily in the game that ended with him contributing to all three goals being scored against his team.
Dumba is a lightning rod for criticism. While he’s a gifted goal scorer, his defensive play can become shaky for stretches. While the magnitude and amount of Dumba’s turnovers has been vastly over-exaggerated, it has led some fans to become impatient with the 24 old defenseman. Though no matter how many times you can write an article about the positives of one Matt Dumba, he can have a game that will do nothing but confirm that bias. Such as the game on Sunday.
However, Ryan Suter hasn’t been that great either. In fact, he falls below 50 percent (48.28%) in the even-strength Goals For percentage. That’s well below fellow Wild teammates Dumba (51.72%), Jonas Brodin (51.85%), and Nick Seeler (55.56%), and Jared Spurgeon (61.54%). If you put each of those players side by side with Suter, their Goals Against per 60 minutes is still lower than Suter’s mark of 2.58 GA60. Couple that with Dumba’s 2.40 GA60, and, ok, the pairing isn’t greatness right now.
The struggles these last few games have given head coach Bruce Boudreau some cause to “re-evaluate” the pairing of Suter and Dumba. That might well make sense in this situation. All signs lead to a break-up of that pairing with their struggles. After all, Suter is a top pairing defenseman, Dumba is being groomed to become a top pairing defenseman by his side, and if them being on the ice together as long as they are is a detriment to the team, then one must make a change.
When Jared Spurgeon and Suter were together last season, they were quite the formidable pair. Even if it sacrificed the play of the other pairs in the process.
But I’m here to say nay.
Like Batman had to endure the Joker wreaking havoc and take the heat for not coming forth with his real identity in the film The Dark Knight, so too should Bruce Boudreau and the Wild endure the Suter/Dumba pairing. The reasoning may be quite as simple as the offensive production that goes on when they’re on the ice.
That pair gets more attempted shots per hour than the other two when they’re on the ice. That pair gets more unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes when they’re on the ice. There’s more pucks on-net per game when that pair takes the ice. Taking this even further, the Suter/Dumba pair has an expected goals for per 60 just a tad over 3, while the next best on the team, is Spurgeon/Brodin with 2.30. That kind of offense from the blue line can’t be broken up.
This goes without saying just how great the Brodin/Spurgeon pair has been. While their defensive acumen individually is high above average, they are becoming a solid two-way pairing. They both skate with the puck well, they are good passers, and while Spurgeon has been one of the better two-way defensemen on this team for a number of years, he is getting Brodin to become more involved with the offense.
Spurgeon and Brodin are starting more of their shifts in the defensive zone, while still maintaining success. This is allowing Suter and Dumba to play more offensively, and the team has been winning on that model.
So while it’s awfully tempting to split the Suter/Dumba pairing up right now, I’m saying endure. Spurgeon and Brodin have a good thing going and we’ve seen Dumba and Suter both play markedly better than they’ve shown so far this season. Need we remind everyone that Suter is coming off a traumatic ankle injury, while Dumba is still just 24 years old. This pairing has such a high ceiling and we should expect it to get better as the season rolls on.