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Predators Facing Tough Blue-Line Decisions With Luke Schenn Off IR

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Luke Schenn
Photo of Luke Schenn courtesy of the Nashville Predators

It’s been nearly seven weeks since defenseman Luke Schenn dressed for the Nashville Predators.

The 34-year-old blue-liner was removed from injured reserve on Sunday, and head coach Andrew Brunette hinted there’s an outside chance Schenn could return to the lineup for Sunday’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets at Bridgestone Arena.

“He’d be an option (to play); seeing how he does this morning (during morning skate),” Brunette said Tuesday. “If not, hopefully this week here at some point.”

Schenn played 15:11, including 2:04 on the penalty kill, during the Predators season-opening 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s been sidelined for the last 18 games with a lower-body injury.

Nashville placed him on IR in mid-October and filled his spot in the lineup with a combination of Marc Del Gaizo (5 games, 3 points, 8 hits, 7 blocked shots, 16:22 minutes per game), who’s since been reassigned to the Milwaukee Admirals, and Spencer Stastney (4 games, 1 goal, 6 blocked shots, 16:13 minutes per game).

If Schenn were to return Sunday night, Stastney makes sense as the logical choice to be scratched, but it would be awfully difficult to sit him given how well he’s played and how well the defense as a whole has performed with him in the lineup — Nashville has won all four games Stastney has played in after suffering losses in six of its previous seven games.

“I love [Stastney’s] mobility,” Brunette said. “I think the way he can break a puck out by himself and his skating ability is elite. He’s been a fun guy to watch develop here a little bit. Some things away from the puck we still have to work on, but he’s been a real good player for us recently.”

Schenn’s potential return will also force Brunette’s hand beyond just Sunday’s game. Five spots on the blue line are already claimed between Roman Josi, Ryan McDonagh, Alex Carrier, Jeremy Lauzon and Tyson Barrie, leaving Schenn, Stastney and Dante Fabbro vying for one spot.

Fabbro, who leads Predators defensemen in defensive-zone giveaways (10) and lowest percentage of starts in the defensive zone (7.2%), per Money Puck, has been a healthy scratch the last two games. Despite his issues with giveaways, Fabbro has the lowest expected on-ice goals against per 60 minutes of any defender on the team (2.22), and he ranks third among blue-liners in blocked shots (31) and hits (14).

Stastney and Barrie have been one of the Predators top defensive pairings the last four games, combining for three goals, one goal against and 13 blocked shots, and the team has on-ice save percentage of 96.6 when the duo are paired together, per Natural Stat Trick.

Conversely, Lauzon and Carrier have been one of Nashville’s more physical defensive pairings, combining for 32 hits and 24 blocked shots over the last nine games.

“They complement each other very well and they like playing together,” Brunette said of the Carrier/Lauzon pairing. “They’re probably besties so they read and communicate with each other. I think their gaps have been tremendous and they’re both competitive guys. Different statures for sure. … They have fun playing together and when you have fun playing together you have more success.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_

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