The Nashville Predators have sorely missed defenseman Ryan Ellis since he took an elbow to the head while playing in the Winter Classic against the Dallas Stars on New Year’s Day.
On Friday night, Ellis could make his return — and boost the Predators’ playoff chances in the meantime — when Nashville visits the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ellis, 29, has missed 20 games but took part in practice Thursday alongside fellow defenseman Roman Josi, marking another step forward in his gradual recovery.
Before his injury, Ellis had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) and a plus-15 rating in 39 games.
“We wanted to push him (Thursday) in practice and put him on a D-pair and play in the situations he could possibly play in,” Predators coach John Hynes said to reporters. “(We gave) him a real good look on the power play, and then we had a little bit of some battle drills in there.
“We’ll see how he responds (Friday) and probably make a decision (Friday) morning.”
For his part, Ellis spoke with reporters for the first time since Dec. 31. The team has been vague about his injury, but Ellis confirmed that he had dealt with a concussion and its aftermath.
Stars forward Corey Perry drew a five-game suspension for the hit, but Ellis said he was not bitter about the incident.
“(I’m feeling) much better,” Ellis said. “(It’s been a) long road, and I’ve never really been down that one, so it’s nice to be feeling more like myself.”
Although Monday’s trade deadline is fast approaching, the Predators hope Ellis’ return serves as a key acquisition.
Nashville and Chicago are both trying to crawl into playoff positions, but the Blackhawks’ journey seems especially daunting.
The Blackhawks are 1-5-2 in their past eight games and could turn into sellers before the deadline.
A 6-3 loss on home ice against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night was the latest blow to Chicago’s hopes.
“We didn’t prepare well enough,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said to reporters. “This time of year, it’s about 90 percent mental. Physically, you are who you are. You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally to do what you need to do, and the body will kick in.”
Although the Blackhawks have struggled of late as a team, a couple of players have achieved individual milestones.
Patrick Kane recently tallied his 1,013th career point, tying him with Pat LaFontaine for eighth all-time among American-born players. Next on the list is Brian Leetch at No. 7 with 1,028 career points. Mike Modano is the all-time leader with 1,374.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Dominik Kubalik became the eighth Blackhawks rookie to score at least 25 goals in a season. Steve Larmer holds the franchise record with 43 goals as a rookie in the 1982-83 campaign.
Nashville’s options in net include 37-year-old Pekka Rinne (18-13-3, 3.04 goals-against average) and his 24-year-old counterpart, Juuse Saros (11-10-4, 2.96 GAA). Saros boasts a slightly higher save percentage (.903) than Rinne (.898).
Chicago also has featured a timeshare in net this season. Robin Lehner is 16-10-5 with a 3.01 GAA but has struggled as of late, while Corey Crawford is 10-16-3 with a 2.89 GAA. Lehner’s save percentage (.918) remains well ahead of Crawford’s (.912), although Crawford has posted an impressive .931 save percentage over his past seven contests.
–Field Level Media