How long can the Nashville Predators ride on the shoulders of goaltender Dan Ellis?
A couple of weeks ago Ellis stressed that hockey was a team game. His comment came at a time when he and fellow goaltender Chris Mason were being criticized on several levels. There was so much concern about the goaltending situation that Pekka Rinne was recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. But Rinne, who missed a scheduled start against the Chicago Blackhawks due to flight problems, has not played a minute.
Ellis was in goal Sunday afternoon as the Predators loss 1-0 in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings on a goal by Johan Franzen at the 3:21 mark of the overtime period. The goal ended a franchise-record 233:39 straight minutes by Ellis without allowing a goal. That streak is also the longest in the NHL this season.
“When we have had a less than outstanding game or we have played poorly on a shift Ellis has been outstanding,” said Predators associate coach Brent Peterson. “We played better defense in front of him against Detroit, but he played another great game.
“He has been the goalie. We needed good goaltending down the stretch, but we have had great goaltending with Ellis. We are going to keep playing him.”
Vancouver beat Calgary 6-2 late Sunday night, pushing the Canucks into fourth place and knocking the Predators to ninth place in the Western Conference. Only the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.
In his last four games, Ellis has the overtime win over Chicago that was originally scheduled for Rinne. He has twice shutout the Columbus Blue Jackets. And he held the Red Wings scoreless in regulation to help the Predators pick up a much-needed point. He has also stopped 151 of the last 153 shots he has faced.
Ellis is expected to be in goal Tuesday night when the Predators travel to St. Louis. The Blues are out of the playoff hunt, but would love to play the spoiler role.
“We need to win our last three games,” said Peterson of the playoff hunt. “That would mean Vancouver would have to win four. St. Louis has been playing very well. It will be a tough game for us.”
While Ellis is almost a 100 percent certainty in goal, Peterson didn’t know if the Predators would play seven defensemen again like they did against Detroit.
“We wanted to get Kevin Klein some playing time just in case we are in the playoffs,” Peterson said. “We also wanted to keep Ville Koistinen in the game. He has struggled in five-on-five situations, but he has been very good on the power play.”
The Predators played with only 11 forwards, using double shifts on the fourth line. However, center Rich Peverley left the game early in the second period with a shoulder injury and did not return.
“We’ll let the doctors look at him and tell us what we can do,” said Peterson. “We won’t know what to do until then.”
The Predators have only one concern, trying to make the No. 8 spot.
“We are chasing people and we want to get in,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “The goaltending has stepped up huge for us.
“We played well without the puck which is one thing we have to make sure we keep doing. We can’t have anything less than our best the rest of the way.”
ON THE MEND: Center David Legwand remains sidelined with a foot injury. Defenseman Greg de Vries has missed the last four games with a broken rib, but could be back on the ice for the St. Louis game. De Vries skated Saturday.
Left winger Darcy Hordichuk is out for at least two games with a knee injury. He sustained the injury at Columbus Friday night and returned to Nashville.
THE NUMBERS: The Predators have not given up a goal on a power play in their last four games. They have stopped the last 17 power play attempts by opponents. The penalty kill has been perfect in 45 of 78 games.
They stopped all five power-play attempts by the Red Wings, a team that feeds offensively off of the power play.
The Predators are 3-1-1 in afternoon games this season.
They have equaled the Red Wings in points since Jan. 1. Both teams have 49 points since the dawning of the new year.