Ryan Ellis

Predators
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NHL on NBCSN: Time for Predators to make their move

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This season has not gone as planned for the Nashville Predators.

They enter Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 10th place in the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot, and in the middle an ugly stretch that has seen them lose three out of their previous four games.

It is all very unfamiliar territory for the Predators. After being one of the league’s best teams over the previous five years but always falling just short of climbing to the top of the NHL mountain, they tried to shake things up this season. They dealt from their depth on defense by jettisoning P.K. Subban‘s contract to create salary cap space to add another impact player at forward. Matt Duchene ended up being that player.

On paper, the roster looks like a contender. They still have a deep defense even without Subban thanks to the presence of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. And while they may not have a superstar forward, but they are very deep and have seen their offense dramatically improve from where it was a year ago. They are sixth in the league in goals per game, and even though the power play is still not very good, it is not as historically inept as it was a year ago.

The two big issues that have held them back are a lack of a consistency, a struggling penalty kill, and a shocking decline in their goaltending.

The latter issue is no doubt a big driving factor in the first two.

Entering play on Sunday the duo of Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saraos has the second-worst all-situations save percentage in the NHL, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings’ duo of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier. In no situation are they worse than on the PK where they have stopped just 79 percent of the shots they have faced, a mark that is by far the worst in the NHL and well below the league average.

Goaltending is always going to be the one position that makes-or-breaks team’s season, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that if Rinne and Saros had spent the first half playing up to their normal levels that the Predators would be in a dramatically different in the standings. That’s also something that should give Predators fans optimism that this season isn’t yet lost. Even though they find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture at the halfway point and a few points back, they still have games in hand and have a lot of key ingredients in place to win. This is a team that is probably significantly better than its record indicates. If their goaltending can ever get itself back in track in the second half this is a team that may not go away quietly given the improved offense.

Now would be a pretty good time for that to start happening.

A four-point deficit in the playoff race may not seem like a huge gap to make up, but only about 20 percent of the teams facing such a deficit at this point in the season actually end up overcoming it. Points are hard to make up in the standings, and games in hand don’t necessarily equate to “wins” in hand. So it’s time for the Predators to try and build on Saturday’s big win in Los Angeles and try to stack some wins together to begin making up that ground, and the schedule certainly creates quite an opportunity for that.

Starting with Sunday’s game in Anaheim, seven of the Predators’ next 10 games for the rest of January are against teams that currently reside in the bottom half of the league standings.

If they are going to get back in the playoff picture and gives themselves a chance to make some noise, that process has to start now.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Corey Perry suspended five games for hit on Ryan Ellis, no Anaheim reunion

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The NHL suspended Corey Perry five games for elbowing Ryan Ellis during the 2020 Winter Classic.

The Dallas Stars fell into an early 2-0 hole thanks in part to Perry’s mistake, as he received a five-minute major and game misconduct. The Stars eventually rallied for a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday.

The Department of Player Safety explained its reasoning in the video below:

 

As you can see in the video, the league acknowledges Perry’s explanation that he didn’t intend to elbow Ellis in the head, but explains that Perry was “in control of this hit at all times, and solely responsible for the end result.”

Perry described the exchange as “an awkward play” and said he “didn’t mean to hurt” Ellis. The injury factors in, and it’s worth noting that Ellis recently landed on IR.

Eventful times for Stars

This suspension continues a whirlwind month for the Stars.

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery as head coach on Dec. 10, vaguely citing “unprofessional conduct.” Montgomery finally commented on the matter on Friday, stating that he checked into rehab for alcohol abuse and supported the Stars’ decision. Rick Bowness stepped in as head coach during a process that probably felt like a trial by fire.

Dallas began 2020 on a high note by hosting a successful Winter Classic, an event that wasn’t just a success on the ice.

The Stars stand as the Central Division’s third seed among all of this turbulence.

No Anaheim reunion with Perry suspended

Both Perry and his former Ducks teammates probably circled Jan. 9 on their calendars, as that was set to be his first game in Anaheim as an opponent. Instead, Perry will sit in the press box.

The five-game suspension sidelines Perry through a Jan. 14 road game against the Avalanche. After that, Perry is eligible to return during a Jan. 16 home contest versus the Sabres.

Perry got off to a bumpy start with the Stars, breaking his foot before the season even began. So far, Perry only has three goals and 13 points in 34 games. That’s a similar output to the paltry 10 points he managed in 2018-19 with Anaheim.

This now marks Perry’s third suspension, although it’s his first since 2013.

Predators in peril, now lose key defenseman

Nashville dropped its third consecutive loss by falling to Dallas on Wednesday. Now, with Ellis out, things look bleak. The Predators face a potentially harrowing run of five of their next six games on the road, which will only be tougher without Ellis.

All things considered, it’s not too surprising that Perry will sit five games.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL injury news: Good for Bruins, bad for Jack Hughes and others

Bruins injury news Krug Krejci McAvoy Hughes
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The 2020 Winter Classic began the next decade of NHL action, and that action included violence, a comeback, and Texas-sized fun. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 feels more like the first full round of hockey in this new decade, though, and it’s not surprising that there’s plenty of NHL injury news to consider, from returning Boston Bruins to less positive developments for the likes of Jack Hughes.

Let’s get to the tidbits like Brian Boucher seeking fried Snickers.

Plenty of good Bruins injury news updates

The Bruins hold a significant lead in the Atlantic Division, but can’t be happy about a 4-2-4 stretch, and their generally mediocre end to 2019.

That said, as much as the Bruins rolled with the punches over the last few seasons, you can only hold off injuries for so long. Boston buckled after a while, so the Bruins must be heartened to start 2020 a little bit healthier. It certainly looks that way right now.

The Bruins’ website shared plenty of promising updates:

Even if McAvoy can’t quite return, that’s quite the slew of returning players. Danton Heinen is also expected to be back in the mix after being a healthy scratch.

More bad breaks for Blue Jackets

The Bruins face the Blue Jackets on Thursday, and Columbus stands on the other end of the spectrum. The Blue Jackets keep finding ways to earn standings points, even as injuries pile up, and John Tortorella receives more fines.

The Blue Jackets placed intriguing young forward Alexandre Texier on IR on Thursday with a lumbar stress fracture. “Lumbar stress fracture” translates to a back/spine injury, so it’s no surprise that Texier is sidelined indefinitely.

Texier adds to an increasingly ridiculous Blue Jackets injury list that also includes:

Combine injuries with all of those free agent loses, and Columbus deserves credit for hanging in there. Sadly for Torts & Co., they face tough odds to actually persevere to the playoffs, though.

Setback for Jack

Jack Hughes looked like he was heating up with three points in his last four games, but now he’s hurt. The top pick of the 2019 NHL Draft suffered an upper-body injury, leaving him day-to-day.

Considering the sorry state of the New Jersey Devils, there’s no sense in risking Hughes’ long-term health by rushing him back. Honestly, Hughes might benefit from a break.

The Devils face the Islanders as part of NBCSN’s doubleheader on Thursday, with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Click here for the livestream link.

[MORE: Devils – Islanders preview]

Assorted injury news

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stars’ Perry on Winter Classic ejection: ‘It was unintentional’

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(UPDATE: Perry will have a Friday DoPS hearing.)

DALLAS — Corey Perry repeatedly described his elbow to the head of Ryan Ellis that got him ejected from the 2020 Winter Classic as “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”

The Stars forward played all of 38 seconds before the hit put him out of the game 2:44 into the first period. The Predators defenseman did not return to the game. Perry was assessed an elbowing major and a game misconduct.

“It was an awkward play,” Perry said after the Stars’ 4-2 win. “I went to the bench to get a stick and came back. I reached out to try to deflect the puck or whatever. It was unfortunate. I’ve played with Ryan before. I know him personally. It’s very unintentional. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I hope he’s OK. This is a big event. I’m sure he had family in here. I had some family here. It’s unfortunate. I just hope he’s OK.”

The hit will be reviewed by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to determine if supplemental discipline is necessary. As James noted earlier, a suspension of at least three games would take Perry out of the Stars’ lineup ahead of their visit next week to Anaheim, where he played 14 seasons.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s just one of those things that happen in the course of a game,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “Corey Perry’s a great competitor and is a wonderful, wonderful player. Sometimes in hockey when you go to make a hit you get into some unfortunate situations and that’s all I can see with that. Corey Perry would never try to hurt anyone. He would play hard, but intentional? No, that’s an unfortunate hit. That’s all.”

Perry said there were a lot of things running through his head as he watched the remainder of the game. Frustration at not being able to take part in the Stars’ comeback was one of those things on his mind. He also said he plans to reach out Ellis, who he knows personally having played with him at the 2016 World Championships with Team Canada.

“Hopefully it’s not too long,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette of Ellis’ status, “but he got banged up pretty good.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars rally to win 2020 Winter Classic, leave Predators in peril

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The Dallas Stars refused to let a terrible 1-7-1 start ruin their season, and didn’t allow a big early mistake to derail them against the Nashville Predators. After falling behind 2-0 thanks largely to Corey Perry’s ejection, the Stars rallied to beat the Predators 4-2 to win the 2020 Winter Classic.

Plenty of bad blood between Stars and Predators

Perry played a big part in the Dallas Stars falling into a 2-0 hole to begin the game. Mere minutes into the contest, Perry picked Ryan Ellis‘ head with an elbow, getting thrown from the contest.

The Stars made the situation worse by adding a delay of game penalty, and the Predators eventually took advantage with those two goals. That start left most of the crowd of 85,630 — the second largest audience for any NHL game behind only the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium — muttering, if not booing. The Stars made sure that the non-Predators contingent ended up going home happy.

Happy is not the right way to describe the mood on the ice, though.

Perry elbowing Ellis was far from the only violent moment during this outdoor game. Few were safe during the first NHL game of 2020. Notice that even aggressors were wounded, as Radek Faksa showed when he was shaken up following a questionable hit on Mattias Ekholm:

Stars win third in a row

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery not that long ago, throwing Rick Bowness right into the deep end. Bowness inspired early critics, and probably will absorb more gripes as the season goes along. But maybe this Stars team will be able to rally around their unexpected veteran coach more often than not?

Dallas improved to 23-14-4, winning their third game in a row. The Stars put themselves in a decent position to possibly get the Central Division’s third or even second seed with this run.

Instead of caving after Perry put the Stars in a bad position, they rallied. Starting with a Blake Comeau goal with a little bit more than a minute remaining in the second, Dallas rattled off four unanswered goals. After that Comeau goal, the Stars scored their three third-period goals in a 6:14 burst. One cannot help but wonder if the Stars should be more aggressive, more often.

This marks the Stars’ league-leading seventh win after trailing following a second period.

Predators in peril

When the Predators were nursing a 2-0 lead, it seemed like the headlines would be about this being a costly win. Then the Stars erased even that silver lining.

Ryan Ellis left Wednesday’s game and did not return. For a team that needs to make every game count, losing a key defenseman ranks as a brutal blow, especially if Ellis misses extended time.

The Predators saw their losing streak fatten to three games, and now stare down the barrel of a stretch where five of their next six games are on the road. For a team that’s wobbling, could that stretch push them off of a cliff?

Both teams, especially the Predators, really wanted these two points. The Stars, too, face a tough stretch soon (five of six on the road, beginning on Jan. 8). While the Predators have wilted under pressure — including this afternoon — the Stars keep showing they can roll with all sorts of punches.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.