Defensive struggles helped drop the Nashville Predators out of playoff position in the Western Conference. The promotion of a minor-league goalie might provide the motivation to get them back in the race.
Nashville (37-31-8) pulled into a tie for seventh place in the West with a 2-1 overtime win over Calgary on March 7, but stumbled to a 1-5-0 record in their next six games, with goaltending problems largely to blame.
Ellis was 1-3-0 with a 3.06 goals-against average in five starts during that stretch, and was pulled from consecutive losses against Washington and Detroit. Backup Chris Mason didn’t fare much better, going 0-2-0 with a 3.07 GAA in three games - one start.
Determined to mix things up, the Predators called up Rinne from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League to start Saturday’s game against Chicago. But Rinne’s equipment was still in transit when the game started, forcing Ellis back into the starter’s role. He delivered 37 saves and held the Blackhawks scoreless in the shootout as the Predators won 2-1.
“The coaches said they needed someone to make big saves,” Ellis said. “They needed someone to erase mistakes up front. That was our approach going in.
“As goaltenders we have taken a lot of criticism. It’s a team game, but all of a sudden it became an individual sport. A lot of fingers were being pointed at us. It was motivating, disheartening and frustrating that they felt the need to call up Pekka.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz insists Rinne’s promotion wasn’t a motivational tool, and he plans on keeping the 25-year-old with only two NHL games under his belt.
“This was done to get results,” said Trotz, whose team is in 10th place in the conference, four points behind eighth-place Colorado. “Both of our goaltenders knew Friday that they weren’t going to be starting. Pekka will remain on the roster. We are in a time where we need to get solid goaltending. We needed solid goaltending, and we got it from Ellis.”
The Predators also got a timely shootout goal from Alexander Radulov, who had missed his first seven shootout attempts this season.
“Sooner or later I knew Radulov was going to score in a shootout,” Trotz said. “We are going to need his hands and his shootout ability down the stretch.”
Trotz hopes his club can put together another strong defensive effort when it meets Columbus (33-31-11), which is 29th in the league with only 179 goals.
After averaging 3.8 goals during a 3-1-0 stretch, the Blue Jackets totaled only two in losing consecutive games to conference-leading Detroit on Wednesday and Saturday. They managed a home franchise-low 12 shots in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat, which left Columbus in the 13th spot in the West - nine points behind the Avalanche.
Rick Nash scored the Blue Jackets’ lone goal Saturday, and has three goals and seven assists during his six-game point streak. The left wing, however, hasn’t recorded a point in his last nine games against the Central Division rival Predators.
It’s unclear which Nashville goalie will start Tuesday. Only Mason has faced the Blue Jackets before - he’s 9-1-1 with a 1.79 GAA and one shutout in 11 career games against them.