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Lightning counting on veteran Luke Schenn for valuable minutes

The defenseman hasn’t played much this season, but an injury to Erik Cernak has opened a door for him.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) joins a face-off during the first period of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Jan. 15, 2020, at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) joins a face-off during the first period of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Jan. 15, 2020, at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 29

Lightning coach Jon Cooper has talked a lot about depth, and he’s quick to point out that defenseman Luke Schenn played valuable minutes during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup last season.

And as a 13-year veteran who has played with seven teams, Schenn has plenty of value as a right-handed defenseman, and with Erik Cernak out with an upper-body injury, he has inherited a larger role.

This season he has shuffled between the active roster and the taxi squad along with rookie defenseman Cal Foote, but with Cernak sidelined, Schenn and Foote skated on the right side in Thursday night’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.

Schenn entered the game averaging 8:02 of ice time in two games. In the playoffs last year, he played in 11 games, averaged 10:52 of ice time and was plus-2.

He played a season-high 15:30 Thursday and had a team-high seven hits.

Cooper said before the game he hoped Cernak could return for Saturday’s home game against the Predators. Cernak has been out since going hard into the boards in the first period of Saturday’s loss to the Blue Jackets.

But Schenn has Cooper’s trust.

“He’s been as advertised,” Cooper said. “He’s a big, strong body. I think it took us a little bit of time to put Luke in the spots he needed to be to succeed. But he’s a veteran back there. He knows the league. He knows the players. I think he holds other teams accountable in case there is a situation where guys start to run around.”

This has already been an interesting season for Schenn, 31, who passed through waivers before the season opener so he could be placed on the taxi squad, not because of anything he did, but because carrying Foote on the opening-night roster created salary cap and roster flexibility.

His physicality is valuable, and he showed he’s willing to scrap when he engaged Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno in a fight in the teams’ Jan. 21 game.

Schenn said he has had to evolve over the course of his career and attention to detail has helped him maintain his game.

“I would love to go out there and be Victor Hedman and change my game that way, but obviously that’s not the case,” Schenn said. “I think that I continue to find ways to evolve and work on different things. You know you’re not going to reinvent the wheel.

“Maybe it’s your skating stride, certain things like that but I think, there’s different ways to put yourself maybe in better positions on the ice, and where you’re not in a foot race every single shift just because you’re in better position or different ways to think of the game.”

Cooper: Extra practice a benefit

The Lightning went into the game with a lot of time to think about their disappointing performance in their last game, Saturday’s ugly 5-2 loss in Columbus that Cooper called their worst game since before the league shut down last season for the coronavirus.

The postponement of Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes because of Carolina’s virus issues allowed the Lightning extra practice time at home, which Cooper said they benefitted from. He has lauded their effort since Saturday’s loss, which was marred by poor puck possession and costly turnovers.

“I thought we had a couple of good practices which we needed,” Cooper said. “We needed a little readjustment with our team, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if we were playing right away. For me, we needed that. We clearly were not our best last game. But we adjusted some things and probably the most part, our mental makeup.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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