LUKE SCHENN laughed when told coach Peter Laviolette described him recently as a "cagey veteran."

Schenn, 23, is nearly 11 months younger than fellow defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who is still trying to earn a permanent spot in the NHL. After next Saturday's season finale in Ottawa, Schenn will have 356 career games under his belt.

With any luck, he's on pace to hit the 1,000-game mark by the time he is 31 - which would be 84 more games played than the NHL's all-time leader, Gordie Howe, played by the same age.

"I certainly don't feel like a young guy or nothing like that," Schenn said with a grin. "I'm the same age as a lot of the younger guys, the guys getting called up, but it's my fifth year already."

Schenn certainly is feeling the wear and tear this week. By the time the buzzer sounds in Carolina on Saturday night, he's likely to finish a 7-day stretch with more than 125 minutes played; he compiled 103:40 from last Saturday in Buffalo through Thursday's loss to New Jersey. Six times in the last month, Schenn has exceeded 25 minutes in a game.

"I don't know how he does it. He's out there hitting people, too," Gustafsson said. "He's got to be pretty well conditioned."

Some of that, as Laviolette pointed out, has been through necessity. Kent Huskins, Braydon Coburn, Bruno Gervais, Nick Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros are all sidelined with injuries.

But it's also been out of merit. In his first season as a Flyer, Schenn has rallied into a strong candidate for the team's Barry Ashbee Trophy, awarded to the best defenseman. With James van Riemsdyk slumping in Toronto after a hot start, Schenn's play of late has provided a much more even look to last summer's one-for-one swap.

(Most people forget: Schenn is actually 6 months younger than van Riemsdyk.)

In a tough, up-and-down season - which has included plenty of warts for Schenn, too - he's been one of the true bright spots over the past month of the season. Schenn is a player around whom general manager Paul Holmgren can help rebuild a defense this summer.

"I think his year has been a strong year for him," Laviolette said. "He's taken on more minutes, by necessity, based on certain situations and line matchups that have to happen for us. That's an opportunity for him. He's played well."

The minutes are one of the big reasons Schenn wanted a fresh start in Philadelphia. He averaged 21-plus minutes per game over two seasons in Toronto - and just over 16 minutes per game over his last season under Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle.

"It's real nice getting the chance to play that much," Schenn said. "Any player will tell you, they love more ice time. The odd time you make a mistake, you don't really have to think about it too much, because you're going right back out there. You just get into a rhythm a little bit more. I really enjoy it.

"You kind of learn, at certain times, when to pick your spots to jump up in the play."

The amazing thing about Schenn's uptick in ice time is that he has ramped up his physical game in the process. He is perhaps the Flyers' only defenseman - aside from temporary partner Oliver Lauridsen - who can lay the lumber on any given shift.

Schenn leads the Flyers with 161 hits in 43 games - just shy of four checks per game.

"He plays hard," Lauridsen said. "We're hoping that people get really sick and tired of dumping the puck into our corners by the end of the night. By the third period, hopefully, they're not as interested in coming to the crease and the front of the net."

Jake Scora-cek

Lost in the shuffle this week was Jake Voracek setting a new career high in goals, even with the shortened season. Voracek, 23, has 19 goals in 44 games, besting his total of 18 in 78 games in his first season with the Flyers.

Voracek is only one point away from a point-per-game pace, with 43 in 44 games.

"It'd be better if I had 15 points less and we were sitting in a playoff spot," Voracek said. "But there is nothing you can do about it."

Slap shots

The Flyers have $24,217,658 in salary tied up on their injury list, with 11 players sidelined. That number can only grow in the last week of the season, with none of those 11 close to returning . . . New Jersey went 25 days in between wins, before shutting out the Flyers on Thursday night . . . Coach Peter Laviolette said he may tinker with lines and/or personnel over the final four games of the season.

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