Craig Smith found Ryan Ellis twice, and that did the trick.
Two goals from Ellis helped lead the Nashville Predators to a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena to give the Preds 36 wins and 83 points on the season, good enough to bump back into third place in the Central Division and ahead of St. Louis.
After a loss in Carolina, in which the Preds were none too pleased, a bounce-back effort on Monday to start a three-game home stand was just what Nashville needed to get their confidence back as the final three weeks of the regular season get underway.
"We weren't happy with our game in Carolina; we did some good things, and we did some bad things," Ellis said. "I thought tonight was more of a complete game. We can always get better, but tonight was a better game. [Pekka Rinne] made some great saves, some timely saves. All around, I thought our team was good."
After a scoreless first period that saw both clubs combine for just nine shots on goal, Viktor Arvidsson tallied his 27th of the season five minutes into the second for a 1-0 lead. Then it was Ryan Ellis who took a Craig Smith feed and doubled the Nashville advantage with a one-timer from the left point that beat Mike Smith to the top corner and a 2-0 score.
Video: ARI@NSH: Ellis rips scorching one-timer past Smith
"I thought Craig had a really great game tonight," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "He had a couple chances to score; it didn't work out for him but certainly made nice plays. I think especially the first Ryan Ellis goal was a really heads-up play to get it at the top there, and you have to put it right in a certain area for Ryan to get it, and Craig did it exactly… Elly's had a terrific year. That's the guy you want hammering a puck from over there."
Smith and Ellis teamed up once more in the third, with the defenseman blasting his second of the game to the twine for a 3-0 lead, and although the Coyotes got one late on the power play, Rinne, who tried to score one of his own into an empty net, made 25 saves on the night for the win.
Video: ARI@NSH: Murphy robs Rinne of potential empty-netter
"It's a huge game for us," Rinne said. "Coming in tonight, I think we all knew it was going to be a difficult game if we all don't show up. It's not going to be a walk through, and it wasn't. Guys played hard. We played solid and it translated. We didn't give up much. It was a good game. Obviously, a good start to the home stand, too."
"It's Still Fun"
No one wants Craig Smith to score more than Craig Smith.
A typical 20-goal man, Smith's nine tallies through 68 games are no doubt frustrating. After being scratched on Saturday in Carolina, Smith returned to the Preds lineup on Monday, and although his goal total didn't increase, his point total did.
Smith recorded two assists on the night - the first being the 200th point of his NHL career - setting up Ellis twice and being one of the better players on the ice for either side in the win.
Video: ARI@NSH: Ellis cranks home slapper for second of game
And as the numbers rise, so too did the confidence level of a player who still loves coming to work every day, and who the Preds could use down the stretch.
"I'm still the same player, I still wear my hair the same way, I still drive the same route on the way to the rink," Smith quipped. "I really haven't changed anything. It's been tough, but it's been great. We got some guys in this room playing well right now, scoring some goals and kind of picking up the slack a little bit. It's been great."
"He's been playing really well for us," Filip Forsberg said of Smith. "I think he's skating well, and he's creating chances for himself and for others. He hasn't been able to finish lately, but he's been working hard and he's always there. He shows up to play hard. It's great to see that. It set up the win for us, for sure."
Laviolette also wants nothing more than to see Smith have success and put up the numbers he's accustomed to collecting. Perhaps Monday's effort was a step in the right direction.
"Confidence is a big thing," Laviolette said. "I'm sure [doubt] does creep in at some point… It was really good to see Craig come back in and play the game that he did today. He had some looks, he used his speed, he's working really hard out there, but it was nice to see him cash in offensively, which he's been able to do for quite a few years now, and it just hasn't bounced his way or gone his way. Confidence does play into that, so maybe a game like tonight plays into that, where he can catch a little bit of fire right now and take the game that he just had and build off of that."
Time will tell if - and when - the goals will start coming once more. But if Smith plays like he did on Monday, it'll only be a matter of time.
"At the end of the day, it's still fun," Smith said. "It's still hockey. Coming to the rink is a pretty great honor, and I'm pretty lucky and excited to be here doing it."
With Craig Smith drawing back into the Nashville lineup on Monday night, P.A. Parenteau was among the Predators scratches against the Coyotes.
Viktor Arvidsson extended his point streak to five games and goal streak to three games, matching career highs in both.
The Preds continue their three-game home stand on Thursday night when the Calgary Flames come to town, followed by a date with San Jose on Saturday as Military Appreciation Week presented by Ford continues in Nashville.