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VOL. 44 | NO. 9 | Friday, February 28, 2020

Ellis, teammates glad he’s back on the ice

By Chip Cirillo

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Ryan Ellis had been out of the lineup with a head injury since New Year’s Day. Dallas’ Corey Perry was suspended five games for the injury that sidelined Ellis.

-- John Russell/Nashville Predators

Ryan Ellis is back in the lineup as the Predators make a late-season push for the playoffs.

The Nashville defenseman missed 20 games with a concussion before returning in an overtime loss at Chicago last week.

“It was a long road, and I’ve never really been down that one, so it’s nice to be feeling more like myself,” Ellis says. “It’s not like a typical injury, like a broken leg or broken whatever or a ligament. It’s day to day.

“It’s literally one day good, one day bad and you never know what the next one brings, so it’s been a process and I’m glad to be feeling a bit better.”

Ellis has six goals and 23 assists in 41 games through Saturday.

His defensive partner, Roman Josi, is glad to see him back on the ice.

“It’s huge,” Josi says. “I mean, he’s such a big part. I’ve played with him for a long time, so I’m definitely very happy to have him back, and I think the whole team is.”

Ellis hopes he can give his team a spark as it tries to reach the postseason for the sixth straight season.

Nashville is one point out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

“I think just pick up where I left off, help this team,” Ellis says of his return. “We’ve been making a push, and guys have been playing really well, much better. Just kind of jump in and catch a moving train and help them do what we’re always trying to get to.”

Ellis was injured when Dallas’ Corey Perry elbowed him in the head in the Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. Perry was suspended for five games for the hit.

“To be honest, it’s a hockey play, and I’m not bitter at him,” Ellis acknowledges. “Obviously, I’d like to catch him with a nice open-ice hit as I would anyone on any other team. I get where he was at, I get what he was thinking.

“Looks bad, the one I did to the kid in New York (Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich on Dec. 16) obviously looked bad, and I feel like I hit a lot and I definitely don’t hit dirty. I’m not bitter, it just sucks not playing.’’

Peter Laviolette was Nashville’s coach the last time Ellis was on the ice. He was fired Jan. 5 and replaced one day later by John Hynes, the former New Jersey coach.

“Yeah, just a different philosophy, but more or less same message,” Ellis points out. “We were talking to Titans coach (Mike Vrabel) the other day and he kind of said, ‘More or less, you could stick anyone back there, it’s how hard you work’ and I think in that respect the guys have been more committed. The guys are working harder … and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Ellis’ return should bolster Nashville’s defense, which is tied for 23rd in the NHL with 3.17 goals against average.

“He’s so solid,” Josi says. “He never makes a mistake, he’s always reliable, he always does the right things, Not just defensively, I mean, offensively, too. He’s a huge help for us.”

Just seeing Ellis go through drills at Centennial Sportsplex last week gave the Predators a lift.

“Even just having him back on the ice practicing – he means so much to our team,” Predators center Ryan Johansen says.

“He’s a huge presence every day for our group and a big-time difference maker in the games.”

Nashville missed the versatile defenseman’s contributions during the past six weeks.

“It changes a lot of things,” Johansen notes of Ellis’ return. “It’ll be an adjustment for our power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5. He’s a big impact player. It’s a great time to have him back.”

Ellis, who plays on a power-play unit with Johansen, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok, missed Nashville’s first 38 games two seasons ago when he was recovering from offseason knee surgery.

Hynes says he is glad to have him back in the lineup.

“He’s a great player,” Hynes says. “He’s really smart, plays in all situations, he’s certainly someone that I think when he’s out of the lineup it’s tough to have one or two guys take the minutes that he plays. You have to do it by committee, so I’m really excited to see him come back.”

The 29-year-old Ontario native averages 23:24 of ice time this season. Only Josi (25:55) and defenseman Mattias Ekholm (23:32) have averaged more for the Predators.

“I think when you’ve been off as long as he has there is a period of adjustment as you’re going right into game speed and then especially this time of year where the intensity level is probably at the highest and it gets higher and higher as the season goes on,” Hynes explains.

“I think sometimes for a guy like him with his experience you put him in and play him and play him in situations he should be in.

Usually, like all good players, they find their way pretty quick.”

A veteran of 519 career games, Ellis is in his ninth NHL season.

He’s easy to recognize with his thick, red beard.

Nashville began the season as a Stanley Cup contender, but the Predators have struggled with inconsistency. But there is still time to make a run.

“I mean, the belief is high,” Josi says.

Nashville swept the defending Cup champions, St. Louis, on the Feb. 15-16 weekend, and it looked like that might be a turning point for the underachieving team.

But they lost their next two games to Carolina and Chicago to lose the momentum.

“It just shows that you’re not going to win games if you don’t play with that same intensity as we did on the weekend against St. Louis,” Josi says.

“Everything is so good in this league, so your intensity level has to be high every game.

“Otherwise, you’re not going to be successful, especially down the stretch. Every team is playing a little harder with a little more intensity. The games mean a lot more, so we need that every game.”

With only 21 games left in the regular season, each one is important.

“We need to find a way to get points every game,” Johansen adds.

The Feb. 16 win against St. Louis gave Nashville its first three-game winning streak since October and a four-game season series sweep of the Blues.

“It was a big emotional, competitive series against St. Louis,” Hynes says. “You always fear after the day off – it’s family, friends, media. Everyone’s congratulating you. You feel good and it’s hard to get that out of your system when you’ve got to go right back into a game on Tuesday.

“Every game is its own entity. When you go down the stretch, you can get too low after a loss. You can get too high after a win because you think every point matters. It’s really about staying consistent in your mindset.”

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