The Nashville Predators are blessed with two pairs of first line defensemen.
The Nashville Predators have always been known for two things these last 17 seasons; being a hard-working team and having one of the best defensive cores in the NHL. Only recently have we shown the league we can also score goals thanks to the uptempo system Peter Laviolette has brought to the Music City.
Nashville’s defense has been anchored by our Captain Shea Weber for several years with the partnering of either Bryan.. er.. I mean Ryan Suter or now most notably Roman Josi. That top pairing has been stellar for us not only during the regular season, but also the ever so entertaining, and heart attack inducing playoffs.
As much as I could gush over our captain’s hardest shot or the emergence of a highly skilled and speedy Roman Josi I would like to turn our focus on the second defensive pairing. A second line consisting of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.
Quick back story; Ellis and Ekholm were both drafted in the 2009 Draft, first round and fourth round respectfully. They each, through their own channels, earned spots on this roster for their abilities not only on defense but also through their offensive touch.
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Ellis has always been regarded as an offensive force all the way back to his junior hockey days, but people worried about his 5’9″ frame and wondered if that would hinder him in this league. Ekholm, however, has proven his offensive talents thanks to our new system.
Laviolette allows his defensemen to not only attack but also join the rush, and through his philosophy, Ekholm has truly blossomed into a scoring defenseman. During the playoffs, someone will rise to the occasion, whether that’s a star player or just a role player, and help spark their team through the trench battle of best of seven series. So far in six games both Ekholm and Ellis and provided sparks in their own ways.
Let’s start with Ellis in game 1. After a hard-fought first period ending in 1-1; Ryan Kesler scored a tough angle shot, that Pekka Rinne might not have even seen, making it 2-1 Ducks. Almost midway through the second, Ellis takes a stolen puck, races down the ice and into the offensive zone, and having Colin Wilson just ahead of him he lays the puck just in Wilson’s reach to tap the puck behind John Gibson.
Oh, and don’t forget his teamwork with Pekka in that same game to make a big save
That was a much-needed play by both Pekka and Ellis to keep the Ducks from breaking the tie. Our defensemen work hard at helping Pekka when he needs it, and Ryan showed right there what I mean.
Now Ekholm’s two goals in game 2 and in game 6 provided two different sparks for our team. Ekholm took a great feed from Wilson that set him up for a wicked backhanded shot on Gibson that tied the game late in the first period.
That’s huge. No one wants to go into the locker room down a goal. Breaking through like that lite a fire under our guys and helped them build from that into a 3-2 victory.
Game 6’s goal was just as important. As I’m sure you’re all aware game 6 was a do or die moment for our boys in gold. Win and force game 7 so we can live and fight another day. The last three games we allowed the Ducks to score early and often, and we were playing catch-up the rest of the time.
So heading into game 6 we had to score first and set the tone. In the second Ekholm took a pass from Calle Jarnkrok, skated around the net, and once he got close to the red face off dot he threw it on net.
Ekholm has two goals and eight shots on net in six games and Ellis has two assists and 11 shots on net, according to the stats on the NHL website. In the playoffs, you need to have solid defensive work and offensive sparks and Ellis and Ekholm are providing the Predators with both.
I truly believe that these two guys could play top minutes on other teams, and I’m so happy to have them taking some pressure off Josi and Weber. Having two defensive pairings like the Nashville Predators have is what keeps them in games, it’s what keeps them so competitive, and it’s what forces a Game 7 matchup. Let’s Go Preds!