Predators prepared to scramble defense pairs without Suter

Monday, February 21, 2011 at 2:22pm

Barry Trotz has not put a lot of thought into his defense pairings this season. He simply has not needed to.

The three sets he put together at the start of the season have functioned well enough, and injuries rarely have sidelined more than one of them at a time. When someone has gone down, the Nashville Predators coach simply plugged somebody — usually Alexander Sulzer — into that spot.

All of that likely will change Tuesday when the Predators play the Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), their first road game in two weeks.

Ryan Suter will be out with an upper-body injury sustained in Saturday’s loss to Phoenix. It also will be the 15th game Francis Bouillon misses due to a concussion he sustained a little more than a month ago.

The team plans to recall a defenseman later this afternoon from Milwaukee (Jonathon Blum, Roman Jossi, Teemu Laakso and Aaron Johnson all are possibilities), and Trotz figures his best plan is no plan when it comes to facing the Blue Jackets, who have won six of their last eight and have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 15.

“We’ll probably play everybody with everybody,” Trotz said. “… We’ll probably have a certain rotation coming out of timeouts and at the start of the game. When you get in the flow of the game — penalties, power plays and all that — it’s going to be on the fly.

“We’ll probably just look at having what we consider our top four defensemen, as much as possible, against their top two lines.”

Suter is the team’s leader in plus-minus rating with a plus-19, well ahead of second-place Martin Erat (plus-12). He also shares the team lead in assists at 25 with defense partner Shea Weber.

When Suter missed 11 games in October and November with a knee injury, Nashville went 4-6-1 and Weber managed just two points (one goal, one assist) and had a minus-9 rating.

“It’s definitely different,” Weber said. “Playing with Ryan, we kind of know what each other is doing out there. It’s more read and react than anything, I think. Now there’s got to be a lot more communication with other guys and sort things out that way.”

This injury ensures that Suter will play fewer games this season than at any time during his six-year NHL career. He missed 11 games as a rookie in 2005-06 then played all 82 in three of the next four seasons. He missed just six games in 2007-08.

He was injured Saturday when he was checked hard to the ice by Coyotes forward Shane Doan well behind the play.

“He’s been hurt twice this year by hits and it’s tough to see,” Weber said. “He’s a big part of this team, and we’re looking forward to getting him back when we can. Until then, we have to play well without him.

They don’t expect to be without him for long. Trotz originally classified Suter’s status as day-to-day and did not change that assessment following the day’s workout, which did not include Suter.

“I was really encouraged [Monday],” Trotz said. “If everything goes well, I expect [Suter] to play Thursday [at home against Chicago].”

Briefly

• Sergei Kostitsyn, Nashville’s highest scoring forward (16 goals, 18 assists) also sat out the day’s practice.

Trotz called it a maintenance day for the 25-year-old, who has played 55 games this season (one short of his career-high) and who has eight points (four goals, four assists) in nine games this month. Kostitsyn did have his right arm in a sling for a time during practice.

Trotz said he expects Kostitsyn to play against the Blue Jackets.

“As of right now, yeah,” he said. “Unless he tells me different.”