An unlikely cast of characters led the Nashville Predators to their first shootout win of the season on Thursday night.
Going winless in their previous five shootouts this season, the Predators decided to call an audible when they went to the skills competition against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
The first two spots on Nashville’s shootout lineup card weren’t anything out of the ordinary, but three out of the next four names were far from traditional.
“We threw a couple wrenches at them with Ryan Ellis and then Roman Josi,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “We’d gone with so many of the forwards in the past [...] we’d used a plethora of guys and hadn’t won one yet. We just wanted to do something different and change things up.”
Defensemen Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi all took turns going one-on-one with Flyers netminder Steve Mason and goals by Ellis and Josi brought Nashville the win.
“Yeah we got it going with Jones, and then [Matt] Cullen went, but then it was Ellis and me as defensemen,” Josi said. “We had all forwards before and we hadn’t won a shootout yet. I think they wanted to try something different and it worked out.”
Experience in the shootout for Ellis and Josi in other leagues during the early portion of their careers gave the defensemen confidence, while their lack of shootout attempts at the National Hockey League (NHL) level gave them the element of surprise.
“In juniors I was pretty good at shootouts, and then I had a couple more times in the American Hockey League (AHL),” Ellis said. “But it was just my third up here in the NHL, so it was nice to finally score one. It was good to give our team a chance to win and obviously Josi finished it off.”
Josi cites his experience in Swiss hockey leagues and AHL as proof that he can score in the shootout when needed.
Ellis pulled several flashy dekes before using a backhand to tally on his opportunity, and Josi pump-faked Mason out of position before rifling a wrister through the five hole. Skillful moves–usually only expected from forwards.
“I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do,” Ellis said. “I’ve worked on a bunch of moves before and the backhand was just the right one at the time.”
After defensemen were the key in claiming the extra point in the shootout for Nashville, it’s hard to brush off that the Predators may have stumbled upon something great.
“I don’t know if we’ll get used again,” Ellis said, “Obviously we scored and all that, but we still have some pretty good forwards that can really put the puck in the net. It’s just been a stretch of bad luck for them. But maybe they do call our number again, we’ll see what happens then.”
Josi, too, remained noncommittal on whether or not the defensemen have earned first right of refusal the next time the Predators find themselves in a shootout.
“I don’t know; that’s up to the coaches,” Josi said. “Matt Cullen (forward) did score too, but then Ellis and I did as well. We finally had huge goals when the game was on the line. There’s always a lot of pressure when you have to score. But as for defensemen going again, that’s up to the coaches I guess.”
The lack of tape available on the Predators defensemen and their strong play in the prior 65 minutes led Nashville’s blueliners to find success in the shootout.
“I thought the D had a really strong night so we put them out there in the shootout,” Trotz said. “It got an elephant out of the room. We’ve lost so many games that we’ve played really, really well in. You could just see the joy on all the guys’ faces after the game.”
Whether a new Nashville tradition or not–defensemen in a shootout–might be something worth trying again.