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Central: Lack of offense affecting Preds' defense

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
Dan Ellis didn't see it coming. No one with the Nashville Predators did.

How could the loss of Alexander Radulov this summer affect the team's defense? For sure the Predators would be starving for some offense without the Russian, who scored 26 goals last season, but it's not as if Radulov had a major influence in the team defense, right?

Wrong! And the Predators have found out the hard way by allowing well over three goals per game so far.

"We kind of underestimated the fact that even though we lost players that weren't as defensively responsible as others, in essence it made us stretch ourselves offensively so that defensively we were really struggling," Ellis told NHL.com. "We were giving up breakaways and high-quality scoring chances. When you're a goalie trying to establish yourself, that could be difficult."

Ellis, speaking to NHL.com before Friday's game against Tampa Bay, senses things are starting to turn for the Predators thanks in large part to the final three games of their recent road trip, the longest in team history.

The Predators, who traveled more than 6,000 miles and through three time zones on their six-game trip, which went from Nov. 4-15, swept the California teams for the first time in history. It started with Ellis' remarkable 57-save effort in San Jose in a 4-3 win.

"You know when you are going through a difficult stretch usually it's a game you have no business winning that gets you out of it," Ellis said. "We realized this is our chance to win one we don't deserve and that helped turn things around."

Even Ellis seems somewhat surprised that the Predators, despite giving up 3.33 goals per game entering Friday -- up from 2.73 goals-allowed per game last season -- are in decent shape with the season nearly 25 percent old.

By the end of November they'll have played 14 road games, including three of five to close the month.

Meanwhile, the Predators were breaking in two rookie forwards in Ryan Jones and Patric Hornqvist until sending both to the American Hockey League Thursday. Ellis is a full-time No. 1 for the first time in his career, and four of their seven defensemen are 25 or younger.

"We have a very heavy loaded road schedule for the start of the season, and when you have young players taking pivotal roles you are going to have an adjustment period," Ellis said. "We're further ahead than we were last year, which is huge. We lost a lot of NHL years in losing the players that we did this summer and we didn't pick up a lot of NHL years. That is going to take a toll. To salvage the recent road trip saved us a lot. Now we're starting to play better hockey. If we can continue to battle through we'll be in good place because we'll have a lot of home games coming up."

Seventeen of the Predators 27 games in January and February will be played at home. That critical stretch likely will determine if Nashville once again is a playoff team.

Scary moment -- Monday night Jason Arnott was carried off the ice on a stretcher fearing a neck injury would keep him out for a while, if not forever. Wednesday afternoon the Predators' captain was back on the ice for practice and Friday night he played in Tampa Bay.

Arnott's good fortune (and luck) has everyone in the hockey world, especially his teammates, breathing a sigh of relief.

"It's really scary when a guy you really care about gets carried out on a stretcher," Predators goalie Dan Ellis told NHL.com. "So many horrible things have happened with neck injuries. All things combined, it was very scary. It affected our team for the second period. We had a lull. Personally, I had a lull in my own game. We're happy to see he's perfectly healthy, just a little bit of a neck strain, and that he's back with the group again."

According to The Tennessean, Arnott asked the trainers not to take him to Vanderbilt Hospital. The trainers correctly went by their protocol and against the captain's wishes. Arnott told the newspaper that in hindsight he's happy they did.

Manny being Manny --
St. Louis goalie Manny Legace was in a groove until Sarah Palin showed up at the Scottrade Center on Oct. 24. Prior to Friday's game against Anaheim, the Blues netminder told NHL.com he finally feels he's getting into it.

"I struggled when I came back and didn't play well at all," Legace said. "The last two games have gone pretty well. I felt more comfortable and I am starting to see the puck better."

You all know the story by now.

Legace tripped over the carpet laid on the ice for the former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, who was in town to drop the ceremonial first puck. He played the first period that night against Los Angeles but left the game and missed the next five with a lower-body injury.

Legace gave up four goals on 30 shots in his return Nov. 8, a 5-3 loss at Los Angeles. He then surrendered three goals on only seven shots against Buffalo before being pulled on Nov. 12.

But he stopped 32 of 35 shots in a 4-3 overtime win in Chicago two nights later, and this past Monday gave up only two goals against 26 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to Montreal.

With all the Blues' injuries, Legace and his backup, Chris Mason, know they have to be excellent if St. Louis hopes to stay anywhere near the playoff race.

"We have to stop the puck now," Legace said. "There's no question now."

This and that --
Detroit right wing Jiri Hudler already has five multi-point games this season, including two last week. Hudler had only eight multi-point games last season, and that was in 81 games. He's played in only 18 so far this season. … After hesitating to do it, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock has inserted rookie center Derick Brassard between Kristian Huselius and Rick Nash to make up the Blue Jackets' top line. … One would think the arrival of Brian Campbell in Chicago would mean less ice time for Duncan Keith. Not true. Keith is averaging 27:13 of ice time per game this season, up from his 25:33 last season. Campbell is at 26:07 and Brent Seabrook is averaging 24:14, up nearly three minutes from last season. … The Rookie Report, which has been a weekly segment in these Central Division notes, is on hiatus this week. It'll be back next week.

He said it -- "It's at the point where you just laugh, but when Andy (McDonald) went down in Montreal in the first period, in that second period we were done. Andy has been our best player all year. He's been the nucleus we are all working around. He's a great pro and the speed and all-around game that he brings, it was very disappointing to lose him. You could see our room went whoosh, right down after the first period. It showed. We had Montreal on the ropes and we couldn't get motivated to finish them. It's been some time now and we have to get over it." -- Blues goalie Manny Legace, on the broken ankle suffered by Andy McDonald against Montreal on Monday. McDonald is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
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