Ellis’ two goals propel Predators past Coyotes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — According to Ryan Ellis, his increased production this season is a combination of opportunity and confidence.
“I’m just trying to keep things going in the right direction,” the Nashville Predators defenseman said. “We’ve got some great forwards on this team, and I’m just trying to help any way I can.”
Ellis did more than help Monday night, scoring a pair of goals to pace Nashville to a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena.
In upping their record to 36-25-11, the Predators snapped a tie with idle St. Louis for third place in the Central Division and won for the fourth time in five games.
Viktor Arvidsson started the scoring with his 27th goal, and Pekka Rinne (28-16-8) stopped 25 shots to earn the win.
But the main storyline was Ellis, who has blossomed into a first-pairing defenseman because of his speed, willingness to pay attention to his end of the ice and the ability to beat any goalie with his booming slapper.
Rinne, who used to have to face Shea Weber’s 108 mph rockets daily in practice, was asked about Ellis’ blasts.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but his shot is a bomb,” Rinne said of Ellis. “It comes really hard and it’s accurate, too. It’s a weapon for us on the power play and in 5-on-5. Personally, I always want to see him shoot it.”
Ellis granted Rinne’s wish at 16:44 of the second period, doubling Nashville’s lead with a one-timer from the left faceoff circle that beat goalie Mike Smith high to the glove side. Craig Smith teed Ellis up with a feed from the right point.
The same combo did work again at 6:35 of the third period. Craig Smith slipped a pass back to Ellis just inside the blue line and he ripped a slapper through Mike Smith’s legs for his career-high 14th goal that gave the Predators an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
“That’s the guy you want hammering the puck,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said of Ellis.
With Rinne sharp in net, there was no way Arizona (26-37-9) was erasing a three-goal deficit with the NHL’s 28th-ranked offense. It did manage to avoid a shutout on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s power-play marker at 16:05 of the third period, but the Predators were never in any real danger of losing their lead.
In fact, Rinne felt secure enough about the issue that he tried to score into an empty net with less than two minutes left, but his length-of-the-ice attempt was played with a high stick by defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
“I thought it was going in,” Rinne grinned. “Come on, give me a break.”
The Coyotes were gunning for a season sweep of Nashville, having won the first two meetings at home during the 2016 portion of the schedule. They almost grabbed the early lead near the end of a drab first period, which saw the teams combine for just nine shots on net, but Rinne denied Jamie McGinn on a backhand in the final 15 seconds.
Arvidsson supplied the game’s first marker at 5:00 of the second period. He pounced on a giveaway in the slot by Christian Dvorak and chipped the puck over Smith, giving him a goal in his third straight game and extending his point streak to five games.
Ellis and a solid defensive effort took care of the rest as the Predators moved another step closer to the Western Conference playoffs while eliminating Arizona from playoff contention.
“We couldn’t seem to get anything going through the middle,” Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. “We didn’t get the start to the road trip that we wanted, but hopefully, we can come out with a better effort tomorrow.”
Smith (18-22-8) finished with 28 saves for Arizona, which started a five-game road trip.
NOTES: Arizona RW Shane Doan (lower-body injury) missed his second straight game after playing in the team’s first 70 contests. ... Nashville RW Craig Smith, a healthy scratch Saturday night, drew back into the lineup in place of PA Parenteau. Smith hasn’t scored a goal in 21 games, dating back to Jan. 26. ... The Coyotes scratched D Kevin Connauton, C Laurent Dauphin, D Anthony DeAngelo and C Alexander Burmistrov. ... The Predators’ other scratches were D Anthony Bitetto, D Brad Hunt, LW Harry Zolnierczyk and LW Vernon Fiddler.