When defenseman Ryan Suter
was injured on his first shift of the game against the Calgary Flames, many Preds fans grew concerned about the state of the team’s defense in Suter’s absence. However, Alex Sulzer has stepped right into the lineup and been a steady addition on the ice.
“It’s always tough not playing for a few games and then coming back,” Sulzer said. “But we were only five games into the season and I had played regularly in the exhibition games, so I just tried to stay in shape and keep myself sharp in practice so I could play well when given the chance."
Suter is a special player, so in no way is Sulzer expected to “be Ryan Suter
.” But Sulzer has quietly done the little things well. Through three games he’s averaging 17:48 of ice time, including 2:11 per game on the penalty kill. Primarily paired with Cody Franson, Sulzer’s yet to be on the ice for a goal against – posting a +2 plus/minus rating on the season – and as a team the Preds have killed all 12 shorthanded situations in those three games.
“He’s done a great job,” Nashville Head Coach Barry Trotz said of Sulzer’s play. “I was concerned; I’ll make no bones about it. I was concerned about Sulz this year coming into the year; I thought he finished poorly last year. (At the end of the season) we sat down and looked at some film and I gave him what I really thought he needed to do coming in to training camp and he went out and did it. I think he’s had a very consistent training camp, he didn’t start in the lineup, but he did a really great job of staying ready in practice. He prepared himself as well as anyone we’ve had here in terms of being ready to jump right in. His play and his preparation has been solid. He’s playing very, very well right now.”
Franson and Sulzer were a defensive pairing in Milwaukee during their stints in the AHL, so they had experience playing together, something Trotz hinted was a reason why they were paired up after Suter’s injury caused the line-up juggling. Playing along side Franson has made the transition easier for Sulzer.
“It’s really easy playing with him since we’ve played the last two, two-and-a-half years together,” Sulzer said. “We know where the other guy is on the ice in different situations, so sometimes it’s just a blind pass and you know he’s there. It’s fun and it’s easy to play with him.”
Franson has seen benefits of the pairing as well. He’s scored two goals and posted a +3 rating in the three games since being match with Sulzer.
“If you can get that kind of chemistry with your partner where you just kind of look and know how he’s going to play, it makes a world of difference,” Franson said. “You don’t have to second-guess anything, you can just go out and make plays and know how your partner is going to respond. We enjoy playing with each other and feel that way on the ice.”