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Preds debate Ellis vs. Hillen on defense

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE -- Defenseman Kevin Klein is expected to miss his fourth straight game on Tuesday when Nashville hosts Los Angeles. The team is calling Klein's injury an upper-body injury.

When Klein went down, the Predators called up rookie Ryan Ellis, who has yet to get back in the lineup. Ellis played 22 games with the Predators earlier this season, totaling 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-8 rating. Ellis was sent down after Nashville acquired defenseman Hal Gill from Montreal.

Since Klein got hurt, however, Predators coach Barry Trotz has preferred to go with veteran Jack Hillen. Hillen has played in 49 games this season, but had played relatively sparingly since early January. He had been a scratch for 14 games since the start of the new year. He has played played the past three, going plus-1 in two of them and even in the other.

Trotz would not reveal his lineup for Tuesday, but hinted that Ellis might get in the lineup, saying Nashville might have "one of each" --a new forward and defenseman -- in its lineup.

Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk were the scratches at forward in Nashville’s last game, as the Predators suited up new forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn, both acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline, for the first time in the same game. Gaustad missed his first game afterhis acquisition because of an upper-body injury.

Trotz described the options involved in playing Ellis or Hillen.

"They're a little bit different," Trotz said. "What you get with Jack is a good defender, get some veteran presence. He's a guy that subtly is able to get the job done. He sort of goes under the radar a little bit, but he's pretty efficient.

"With Elly, you get a real good dynamic, puck-moving guy. Competes pretty well. Defends, actually, pretty well, too, so just a little bit different. You get a little bit more of the offense with Ellis than you do with Hillen, but you get a little bit more of the defensive side with Hillen. He'll give you a little more penalty killing. He's a little more of a transporter. Ellis has really great dynamic thought process, stick, passing. Those are all intangible."

With Los Angeles being the League's lowest-scoring team, it will be interesting to see which direction Trotz goes.

The Predators entered Tuesday with the League's No. 2-ranked power play, but they haven't scored a power-play goal in their past three games -- mostly because they’ve only had one chance in each.

"We can't tell if it's any good anymore," Trotz quipped of the unit, "because we never get any" chances.

He thinks with the Stanley Cup Playoffs in sight and so many teams fighting for their lives or positioning, that teams are playing more disciplined.

"I just think everybody's ramped up defensively," he said. "They know the importance of the games … during the playoffs sometimes that's what happens. Everyone's pretty disciplined, but it's good, clean, physical hockey, and no one's taking any penalties."
Projected lines:
Sergei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson-Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo
Gabriel Bourque-Paul Gaustad-Craig Smith
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Hal Gill-Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon-Jack Hillen/Ryan Ellis
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
Out: Brian McGrattan, Matt Halischuk, Brandon Yip
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