The third time was the charm for the Nashville Predators in extra time as they captured their first win after regulation with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis notched the game-winning shootout goal off a deking forehand to go along with the career-high three points (1g-2a) he recorded in regulation. The 23-year-old blueliner factored into every goal the Preds scored on Tuesday night, including a neutral-zone chip that helped set up James Neal’s tying goal with 11:57 remaining in regulation.
“We had a good gap in the neutral zone, and I just tried to get a stick on the play,” Ellis said. “It wasn’t intentional to get it to Ribeiro, but he just read the play and got over there. Then he had that awesome drop pass and kind of faked everyone out to help Neal get the tying goal.”
Ellis wasn’t done with his offensive contribution after the third-period horn sounded, however. He also pushed the home club over the hump in the shootout.
“We had trouble last year in the shootout, we lost a lot of points and probably would have made the playoffs if we’d gotten a couple more wins,” Ellis said. “I think that any extra point you can get is key going forward.”
“Ellis makes great plays coming out of our end; he’s a talented kid,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “To use a defenseman in the shootout is a [big deal], there are several guys upfront that are also talented. It really helps to generate offense when you’ve got your defensemen contributing.”
The win for Nashville was their fourth in six games to begin the 2014-15 season, a campaign that’s seen them capture at least a point in every contest. The club has now skated in extra time in half of their games this year and managed their first post-regulation win on Tuesday.
On a night where Nashville was outshot and went through what Laviolette described as “peaks and valleys,” the Preds needed production from their defensive corps in order to force overtime. Ellis’ two assists were both on tying goals scored by the club in the first and third periods.
In the opening frame, Nashville forward Mike Ribeiro slid a puck five hole off a four-on-one rush to tie the contest at one in the first period. Ribeiro suited up in 80 games for Arizona in 2013-14, recording 52 points. The center signed a one-year deal with Nashville this summer after having the remaining three years on his deal bought out by the Coyotes.
“I was actually trying to pass it, but I fanned on it,” Ribeiro said. “At the beginning, I was planning on passing it to Neal, but once we entered the zone I saw two righties coming so I ended up steering it on the goal and it went in.”
Arizona’s second lead of the game came early in the third period, but Neal’s tally evened the contest just 21 seconds later. The Coyotes rebounded after giving up the quick equalizer but failed to take the lead again despite over 90 seconds of power play time in overtime.
“You don’t like to lose in a shootout, especially when you have a power play in overtime,” Arizona defenseman Keith Yandle, who played in his 500th NHL game on Tuesday, said. “But I think collectively we were a lot better at executing the way we need to play.”
Finally capturing the second available point in extra time for the first time this season was important in Laviolette’s mind. He was quick to affirm the play of his team during their hot start, but the bench boss also knows claiming OT or shootout wins when available can make an important impact in the standing late in a season.
“The points are so important, you’ve got to keep collecting them even now,” Laviolette said. “We left one on the table in Chicago. We were on the power play ourselves in overtime in that game and didn’t execute. We moved on, but we didn’t want another point to slip us by. The shootout has been another thing we’ve been working on in practice [...] it’s a work in progress, but it was nice to get some rewards in the shootout tonight.”
The Preds win moves them to 4-0-2, remaining atop the Central Division. The club will skate in part two of a three-game home stand on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.