It’s one thing when a player misses time with an injury. It’s something altogether different when a player the caliber of Ryan Suter is out, which will be the case for at least the next three games.
Replacing Suter, one half of the Nashville Predators’ top defense pairing, is not as simple as plugging one player – in this case Alexander Sulzer – into the lineup.
The fallout from Suter’s injury, sustained in the opening minutes of Tuesday’s 1-0 overtime loss against Calgary, is a reshuffling of the entire defense corps. None of the three pairings that have been used during the 3-0-2 start will be together Thursday when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).
“When you have you’re number-one pairing … somebody has to move up in the top spot,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ll play them accordingly after that. … It really puts the onus on everybody to stay on top of their game.”
The pairings at Wednesday morning’s workout included Francis Bouillon in Suter’s normal spot alongside Shea Weber. Also, Shane O’Brien moved from his spot on the third unit and with Kevin Klein with Sulzer in O’Brien’s place with Cody Franson.
The strength of those couplings will be put to an immediate test given that Pittsburgh has an elite offensive player – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – on each of its top two offensive lines.
In fact, Pittsburgh had four players among the league’s top 19 in scoring at the start of play Wednesday – and Malkin wasn’t even one of them.
“It’s easy to play with a guy like (Weber),” Bouillon said. “… It’s a big step to take for me because (Suter and Weber) are our best pair here. But everybody has to step up now and contribute where they can.”
In addition to being productive, the Weber-Suter pairing has been remarkably healthy.
Suter played every game of the past two seasons and in three of the last four. He missed just six games in 2007-08.
Weber never has played all 82 games but missed just one in 2008-09 and only four more last season.
“Obviously, anytime you lose a guy like (Suter) it’s going to hurt your team,” O’Brien said. “He does so many things well for us. At the same time this gives other guys opportunities to play a little more and prove to the coaching staff that you can put me out there in all different situations and against top guys. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it.”
• Suter has been put on injured reserve, which means the earliest he can return is the next home game, Oct. 28 against St. Louis.
“It’s just something I have to deal with,” Suter said. “Hopefully (it will be) a week.”
• Sulzer has been a healthy scratch for the first five games of this season. Last season he was recalled seven times, appeared in 20 games for the Predators and was scratched in 27 others.
“(Sulzer) will get into the lineup and … play his way to maybe staying full-time,” Trotz said.