Rise of Ryan Ellis Helps Predators Get Back on Track

Trading Shea Weber is easy when a player like P.K. Subban – a No. 1 defenseman as dynamic a player as any in the NHL – is one the other side of the transaction wire. Replacing Weber – a rugged, take-no-prisoners, do-everything, play-in-every-situation, no-nonsense big voice in the room, and oh by the way one of the best blue liners in the game – is another story.

The Nashville Predators learned just that early in the season as they stumbled off the starting blocks to a 2-4 start to the season. The once-airtight defense patrolled by Weber in Nashville allowed five-plus goals in three of those games.

Since a 6-1 loss in Anaheim on October 26 that rendered Nashville its fourth loss in six games, its been a return to normalcy for the Predators. The Preds have picked up points in nine of 12 games (6-3-3), allowing 27 goals in 12 games (2.25 per game) after giving up 21 through six (3.5). They’ve allowed just one powerplay goal on 33 chances over the last 10 games, in which the Predators have gone 6-2-2.

The 12-game stretch in which Nashville has climbed back on the map – now one point behind Minnesota in the Western Conference wildcard picture with two days to go before the world famous Thanksgiving Checkpoint – has come hand-in-hand with the expansion of the role of defenseman Ryan Ellis in Peter Laviolette’s gameplan.

Ellis has heavily factored into the Nashville’s lineup all season. He’s part of a heavily-relied upon top-four that also includes Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm, in which at least one has been on the ice for 84.5 percent of the Predators 1,082 faceoffs this season, according to PuckBase. Two have been on the ice for 82.5 percent.

 

In the last 12 games, there’s been a slight uptick in the ice-time of the defenseman who plays much bigger than his 5-10, 180-pound dimensions suggest.

While his usage over that span remains third among Predators defensemen behind Josi and Subban, Ellis has averaged 24:02, up from 23:11 over the first six games. In Monday’s 3-1 win over Tampa Bay, he averaged a game-high 25:30 while assisting one all three goals. It was the second time Ellis has led the Predators in time-on-ice this season, an honor that has largely gone to either Josi or Subban, as expected prior to the season.

In addition to the 23:44 overall average of ice-time for Ellis this season, he’s playing a team-high 2:48 shorthanded, on the ice for 62 of the 102 shorthanded faceoffs, according to PuckBase. That’s a similar rate as Weber’s dependency in the situation last season, on the ice for 292 of the Predators 442 man-down draws.

When Ellis and Josi are paired together on the ice, the Predators have outscored opponents 9-7 in five-on-five situations in 223 minutes together, according to corsica. Subban and Ekholm, the other pairing that has seen a bulk of five-on-five time (228:42), have been outscored, 9-6.

Ellis is a much different player than Weber. Weber is a 6-4, 232-pound behemoth who uses his size to set a physical tone among a bevy of other good things he does inside the glass. Ellis comes up short size-wise by six inches and 52 pounds. Any physical shortcomings he makes up for with good positioning, speed, and a good stick. Ellis doesn’t have the responsibilities Weber was pegged with for much of his time in Nashville.

When it comes to replacing Shea Weber, the Predators haven’t done so with adding more meat to the plate of Josi, or making Subban play outside his strengths of risk-taking and aggressive play. It’s been a quartet of strong blue liners starting with the two heavy-lifters followed by Ellis and Ekholm. It’s a new-age corps that predicates itself on speed, puck movement, and being a part of the rush.

The transition started with the trading of Weber for a player in Subban whose play suited that new style, having faith in Josi being an elite No. 1 defenseman.

The rise of Ellis is the latest step in making it complete.

 

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Thoughts Are My Own: Night of Statement Wins

Thoughts after a rare Monday night of games and big wins.

*Start with the New York Rangers. Going into Pittsburgh’s building and coming out with a 5-2 win. Coming off a second loss in a row, losing Mika Zibanejad, it was all Blueshirts after a sluggish first period. We’ll see if they can keep it up.

*Who had Edmonton beating Chicago, 5-0? I’m sure even fewer had the Blackhawks being held to just three shots in the third period.

*Nice win by Nashville, topping Tampa Bay at home. The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10.

*Matt Tkachuk with a goal and assist while playing 15:52 in the Flames 4-2 loss to Buffalo. That’s his second multi-point game in the NHL and now has five goals and eight points in 17 games. He’s been one of Calgary’s few bright spots.

*Jake Guentzel the latest kid to splash on the scene in what has been the Year of the Kids so far in 2016. The young Penguin scored on his first career shot 1:02 into Monday’s game against the Rangers in Pittsburgh, the first of two first period goals for Guentzel in the 5-2 loss. A third round pick by the Pens in 2013, the 22-year-old forward had been a force at AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with 17 points in 16 games this season. He had 14 points in 10 playoff games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season after he went pro following his junior season at Nebraska-Omaha, where he led the Mavericks to a Frozen Four appearance in 2015 as a sophomore.

*Latest on the Craig Cunningham front. Nothing new but Bob McKenzie had a great piece on Cunningham, his journey to the NHL, and the relationship he holds with his mother, his lifelong friends, and his current peers. McKenzie writes Cunningham is ‘literally battling for his life.’

Game to Watch Tuesday Night

St. Louis at Boston: David Backes faces the team he captained for five years before leaving the Blues for a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency this past summer.

Hat Trick Pick

Victor Rask: The Hurricanes leading scorer has four goals in his last five games, and eight overall this season.

Thoughts Are My Own: Lots of Highlight-Reel Stuff

Thoughts as we sit exactly one week away from Black Friday:

*He didn’t get much help, but James Reimer turned in what will likely be one of the more putrid goaltending performances of the year. Sometimes it’s just about making that save. He made none of them.

*On the other hand, great night for Steve Mason in the Flyers 5-2 win over Winnipeg. Thirty-save effort, his stoning of Nikolaj Ehlers midway through the second period was game-changing.

*A nice goal by Sean Couturier got things going for the Flyers, as Couturier walked right in after puck-carrying Mark Scheifele lost his feet, leading to the turnover. It looked like Jakub Voracek got away with a trip on the play.

*The Flyers have won six straight against the Jets. Winnipeg hasn’t won in Philly since January 2012, a 2-1 shootout win.

*A play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Matt Read’s diving pass to set up a Michael Raffl goal. Read, in a puck battle with Winnipeg defenseman Josh Morrissey, makes a great read (no pun intended) on the play, seeing Raffl streaking down the middle of the ice, left alone after Morrissey gave chase to the puck after Dustin Byfuglien made a bad pinch that led to the two-on-one. Read’s dive shuffled the pass over to Raffl, who went in and beat Connor Hellebuyck for the easy score.

*Nice gesture by the Senators to acknowledge Mike Fisher’s 1,000th career game (which he did this past March, to clarify). The Predators captain played 675 of those games in Ottawa, from 1999 to 2011. Fisher was a key piece in those great Senators teams of the 2000s, and was integral in Ottawa’s run to the Stanley Cup in 2007.

*Nashville is 5-1-2 in its last eight. Pierre LeBrun wrote earlier this week the Preds appear to be hitting their stride. It would seem that way.

*Devan Dubnyk might be the best player in the NHL nobody talks about. Dubnyk’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Boston was his 14th since joining the Wild. He has a .952 save percentage and 1.47 GAA this season.

*Another play you missed gazing over Mitch Marner’s highlight-reel goal: Ben Bishop makes a diving save on a Kyle Okposo shot that looked like a no-doubter goal. That said, it was Bishop who threw the puck out into the big ice from behind the net, which met the tape of Okposo. It’s like he wanted the Sabre to score.

*Predators top goaltending prospect Juuse Saros made 35 saves in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win over Cleveland on Thursday night. Saros had a 1.74 GAA in eight games for the Admirals, which trails only Michael Leighton (1.62) in the AHL. His .940 save percentage is bested only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Casey DeSmith, who has a .963 save percentage but has played only four games.

*A big win for No. 6 UMass-Lowell, who went out to visit ninth-ranked Notre Dame and came out with a 4-1 win. The River Hawks are on the back end of a two-weekend stretch that includes trips to Orono and Indiana.

Mitch Marner’s Goal

As nice a goal as you’ll see. He does a good job getting a step on Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson as he gets the pass from James van Reimsdyk breaking out of the zone. From there, he’s able to create space for himself while outmuscling the big, strong Matheson as broke for the net, dancing around James Reimer and burying the puck.

Game to watch Friday night

N.Y. Rangers at Columbus: A pair of teams that account for two of the three-highest goal differentials so far this season; the Rangers leading at plus-34 while the Blue Jackets are third at plus-14. The Blueshirts do it by scoring (league-high 72 goals) while the Jackets play good defense (Eastern Conference-low 33 goals allowed).

Hat Trick Pick

Sidney Crosby: Sid has 96 points in 55 games against the Islanders, the Penguins opponent on Friday night. Crosby’s 30 goals against the Isles are second only to the Flyers (35). He has 10 goals through 10 games, the closest he’s ever come to a goal-per-game in his NHL career was in 2010-11, when he had 32 goals in 41 games.

Thoughts Are My Own: Trouba Has No Leverage

Thoughts as you realize it’s the first day of November. Woah, it’s the first day of November.

*Jacob Trouba is being Jonathan Drouin-ed. And will continue to be. The Jets want what no team will give for his services. He’s a solid, top four defenseman at 21 years old. He has the size, he has the projection of being a top defenseman. Winnipeg will let the situation ride itself out until the December 1 deadline, where which Trouba will forgo a full season should he not be signed then, which only hurts his value. Ball is in the court of Kevin Cheveldayoff and company.

*Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid facing off for the first time ever is the headliner of Tuesday’s games, and rightfully so; they’re special talents, the two most recent first overall picks, and two of the best in recent memory. But here’s some other matchups that might catch your eye: Tampa Bay at Islanders, Steven Stamkos vs. John Tavares in another showdown of first overall picks; Washington at Winnipeg, Alex Ovechkin vs. Patrik Laine, the greatest goal scorer of the post-lockout years against what looks like the next great goal scorer the game bears witness to; and Anaheim at Los Angeles needs no explanation.

*The matchup (not Tuesday, obviously, but down the road) I find most compelling is Toronto vs. Buffalo. Matthews vs. Jack Eichel in a showdown of the two top American youngsters, two guys who are among the faces in U.S. hockey as teenagers. This is only made better by the natural geographic rivalry that exists with the two franchises fighting for the love of southern Ontario.

*Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that there will be no changes to the All-Star Game voting format, which if true is the right decision. Last year’s game was as successful as it had been in quite some time, no need to overthink it. The league has bigger fish to fry.

*Nothing wrong with Mikhail Sergachev, the ninth overall pick in this past June’s draft, being sent back to Windsor. He’d played just three games in Montreal, might as well get another year of OHL experience under his belt. He’ll be on a Spitfires team that features fellow first rounder Logan Stanley on the back line and 11th overall pick Logan Brown up front. Sean Day was a third round pick.

*Ohio State hockey is out to a 5-0-2 start to the season, moving up to No. 11 in the USCHO.com poll. The Buckeyes should only expound on the strong record, with doubleheaders against Robert Morris, UConn, and RPI awaiting in the next three weekends. The big challenge doesn’t come until after Thanksgiving, when Ohio State travels to Minnesota to open its Big 10 schedule.

Links

Dave Tippett has a motorcycle shop in his house.

Bruce Boudreau was ‘grumpy’ at the Wild practice on Monday as Minnesota rode a short bench for multitude of reasons.

The latest in the class-action lawsuit that faces the CHL and threatens to change the landscape of major junior hockey in Canada.

Teams led by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin benefitting from questionable offseason transactions the two general managers made for the respective organizations, the Edmonton Oilers (Chiarelli) and the Montreal Canadiens (Bergevin).

Jay Bouwmeester reflects upon his career to date as he approaches his 1,000th career NHL game.

Coyotes rookie forward Christian Dvorak gets sent down to the AHL. The 20-year-old had three assists in seven games while averaging 13:45 of ice time per night.

A question nobody has asked, or even thought of – could Matthews/McDavid be the next great NHL rivalry?

In case you missed it: Episode two of the Bobcast with Bob McKenzie. He does a really good job with these, really offers a bit of everything; from inside information to the sharing of knowledge of the game to even veering outside the game. Worth the listen.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: Never Too Early to Start Comparing Laine to Selanne

Here’s what I’m thinking as we watch these kids have all the fun.

*First career goal for Kyle Connor in Winnipeg’s 4-1 win over Dallas. He put up 71 points in 38 games last season in his lone campaign at Michigan. The same point total Jack Eichel put up in 40 games a year prior.

*The two previous NCAA scoring champions prior to Connor last year: Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau.

*Patrik Laine now has six points in seven games, for those of you keeping score at home. His shot is absolutely lethal.

*Teemu Selanne had six goals through seven games for Winnipeg during his historic rookie season of 1992-93, when he scored 76 goals, which remains a freshman record to this day. It’s never too early to start dropping the Selanne comparisons.

*The Canadiens win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was Carey Price’s first win over the Lightning since December 2013. He’d been 0-5-2 in seven previous regular season starts. However, he was 6-4 in the playoffs in that span; backstopping the Habs to a sweep in the first round in 2014 before the Bolts returned the favor in 2015, dispatching Montreal in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.

*Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined for a .960 save percentage while allowing just eight goals during the Red Wings winning streak, which moved to six with a shootout win over St. Louis on Thursday.

*Jakob Chychrun going after Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid a big hit on Michael Stone in the neutral ice. That’s a big boy play by an 18-year-old rookie, who continues to impress.

*Devan Dubnyk with 34 saves in the 4-0 Minnesota win over the Buffalo on Thursday to make it back-to-back shutouts for the 30-year-old netminder. His save percentage is up to .943, allowing just 10 goals in six games. Looks like he’s back to his 2014-15 form.

*Funny to think the consensus was Erie would take a step back this year in the OHL. Only 8-0-1 in their last nine, with the best offensive duo in the league in Taylor Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat.

*Raddysh (10-17–27) and DeBrincat (12-11–23), are one-two atop the OHL in scoring, and account of 50 of the 154 points Erie has recorded this season.

*A big win for UConn over No. 7 Notre Dame in Thursday night Hockey East action. Don’t undersell the Huskies. The main attractions, of course, are Maxim Letunov and Tage Thompson, but there’s plenty more around those guys. Robbie Nichols, who didn’t play Thursday night but is UConn’s ace, might be one of the most overlooked players in the country. Mike Cavanaugh has been a bulldog on the recruiting trail.

Links

The Ducks and Hampus Lindholm finally come to terms, agree to a six-year, $31.5 million pact.

Of course, a mention of Lindholm must prompt a Jacob Trouba story. It’s a rule

Ray Ferraro believes the Predators are missing the bite that Shea Weber brought to the ice in Nashville – and now does in Montreal.

A great piece by Alex Prewitt of SI on Kerry Bubolz, the president-to-be of the Las Vegas franchise.

Pierre LeBrun reports in his rumblings column that the Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to negotiate with pending free agents – restricted or not – left unprotected by teams.

Greg Wyshynski: The Chicago penalty killing unit ‘worst thing in the NHL right now‘. Hard to disagree.

ESPN’s Hockey Today podcast, the unexpected goaltending issues across the league are discussed.

NHL Power Rankings: Tampa Bay is Still the Best

Toronto was flying so high.

That, of course, was before Tampa Bay came to town. Led by Steven Stamkos who ‘spurned’ Toronto as an unrestricted free agent over the summer (actually, he decided to re-sign with the team that drafted him), the Bolts came into Air Canada Centre and ravaged the Maple Leafs, 7-3.

Stamkos, who finished with two goals and four points, was booed every time he touched the puck (or so it seemed that way). He also scored or set up a goal every time he touched the puck (or so it seemed that way). The 26-year-old now has nine points on the season and 571 for his career. He’s staring at the likelihood of recording his 600th career point before his 27th birthday.

It couldn’t have happened any better.

Stamkos had been primed to sign with Toronto, and Tampa was playing in a window as a result. Then Steve Yzerman worked his magic and kept the star in Tampa Bay. Suddenly the Lightning remained a team primed to compete for years to come. The Maple Leafs remained a team of the future.

Toronto will be a good team in short time; with Auston Matthews, Morgan Reilly, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner already playing big NHL minutes. Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic await in the wings.

Tampa Bay is a great team right now. Out to a 5-1 start, the Bolts show no signs of slowing down. Goaltender Ben Bishop is a likely candidate to be traded at some point this season, which would garner a return that could make the Lightning an embarrassment of riches.

And it all began with Stamkos choosing to stay and not go sign with his hometown team.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens have allowed just nine goals in six games. Carey Price played in three of them.

3- Washington: The Capitals are tied for 23rd on the powerplay, connecting at a 12.5 percent clip. Conventional wisdom suggests that will rise rapidly at some point.

4- Pittsburgh: The Penguins will benefit from the return of Sidney Crosby, who is playing the best hockey of what will be a Hall of Fame career.

5- San Jose: Sharks allow the lowest shots on goal per game in the Western Conference (24.9).

6- St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester is sitting on 997 career games.

7- Florida: The Panthers are third in the league with 4.73 penalties drawn per 60 minutes

8- Chicago: Blackhawks goaltending has stopped pucks at a .898 clip with a 3.13 GAA.

9- Edmonton: The Oilers are 5-1 for the first time in 30 years.

10- Minnesota: The Wild have 16 different goal scorers this season. Last year, they had 22 all season.

11- Dallas: Devin Shore tied with Tyler Seguin for the team lead with six points, which ranks third among rookies.

12- N.Y. Rangers: Rangers check in at third in the league with a 53.4 percent faceoff percentage.

13- Detroit: In the Red Wings two losses to begin the season: 10 goals allowed; in five games since, al wins: seven goals allowed.

14- N.Y. Islanders: The Isles are the class of the league on the penalty kill, they’ve killed off 22 of 23 man-advantages.

15- Nashville: Predators are tied for last with New Jersey and Columbus in five-on-five goals, with six.

16- Anaheim: The Ducks have dished out a league-high 200 hits.

17- Philadelphia: Matt Read has five goals on 19 shots.

18- Colorado: A 3-2 start through a brutal five-game stretch to begin the season. Not bad.

19- Boston: Another stinker for Malcolm Subban. He’s allowed six goals on 22 shots in two NHL games.

20- Ottawa: The Senators are off to a very quiet 4-2 start. This was a team nobody seem to know what to expect at the start of the season. In fact, we still may not particularly know.

21- Calgary: The last two games, wins over St. Louis and Chicago, is what kept the Flames from flirting with No. 30.

22- New Jersey: Taylor Hall accounts for five of the 13 goals the Devils have scored this year.

23- Los Angeles: Only defensemen Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Alec Martinez have played more minutes than Anze Kopitar, who is averaging 22:04 per night.

24- Columbus: Since the Jackets’ 6-3 loss to Boston in its first game – one-goal loss to San Jose, wins over Chicago and Dallas, an overtime loss to Los Angeles.

25- Toronto: The Maple Leafs offense has generated 56 points. Auston Matthews and William Nylander account for 19.

26- Winnipeg: The Jets have yet to win a game in regulation.

27- Buffalo: Rasmus Ristolainen 12th in the NHL with 24:57 ice time per game.

28- Vancouver: The Canucks are 0-2-1 since beginning 4-0.

29- Carolina: Eddie Lack and Cam Ward have combined for a 4.01 GAA.

30- Arizona: The Coyotes allow the most shots on net per game.

Thoughts Are My Own: Hello, Seattle!

Here’s my thoughts as we think about good nicknames for the NHL Seattle franchise while thanking Las Vegas for setting the bar so low in the category of nicknames.

*Will Seattle be the next NHL outpost? Feel free to put money on it. From a business standpoint, the league has no presence in northwestern United States (i.e. Oregon, Washington state) and Seattle is a growing city with a strong young professional base. Lots of corporate opportunities, lots of millennials with money to spend and socializing to do. Free agents will want to play there, and most importantly, players will want to live there. It’s the 14th-largest television market in the U.S., and would be the 12th-largest should it become one of the what would be the Original 32. From a logistical standpoint, the conference balance (including Las Vegas) is 16 east, 15 west. So it would make sense just to put a 16th team out west. That being said, it would be just as easy to put either Columbus or Detroit back in the Western Conference.

*One other expansion note – it’s time to give serious consideration to Houston as a potential NHL city.

*Hockey’s collective breath stopped just a couple weeks ago when it was learned Sidney Crosby suffered another concussion. The worst was feared. We hoped for the best. Thankfully, it appears – for now – we got what we hoped for, with Sid back on the ice on Tuesday night, a 3-2 Penguins win over Florida. It didn’t look like he missed a beat. His first goal of the season helped key the rally from 2-0 down to win the game.

*Poor Leafs fans. Riding the high of highs, its self-esteem as a fanbase as high as it had been since the days of Mats Sundin. Then once-primed-to-wear-a-Toronto-uniform Steven Stamkos comes into ACC and puts up a four-point night as the Lightning beat the Maple Leafs, 7-3.

*Stamkos now has 18 goals and 38 points in 31 games against Toronto.

*Calgary has wins over Chicago and St. Louis following a 1-4-1 start. The Flames will want to make it a habit of playing good teams hard; Ottawa (4-2 to start), Washington, Chicago, and San Jose await on the horizon.

*Patric Hornqvist does work down below the goal line. It was his strength on the forecheck that set up Crosby’s goal. A lot of Pittsburgh’s offense is generated by winning puck battles down low. It’s a big part of what makes him such a good asset.

*Nice to see Travis Konecny get his first career goal.

*Joel Eriksson Ek had three assists in Minnesota’s 5-0 win over Boston on Tuesday night, the second-youngest player to score three points in a game for the Wild, according to Elias. The youngest was 19-year-old Marian Gaborik in October 2001.

*Taylor Hall accounts for five of the 13 goals New Jersey has scored this season.

*Vancouver is 0-2-1 since jumping out to a 4-0 start to the season.

Links

The latest hurdle cleared in the bid to get an arena built in Seattle, bringing the hopes of an NHL team in Seattle that much closer to a reality.

For those of you awaiting a team in Seattle – go check out the Thunderbirds of the WHL.

Elliotte Friedman shares his 30 thoughts of the week on all things hockey.

Another look into the early uptick in scoring across the league and what is causing it.

Ben Bishop continues to sit in limbo down in Tampa Bay.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander are finding instant chemistry in Toronto.