With Shea Weber and Kevin Klein out of the lineup in Nashville’s 4-1 loss to Detroit on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators had to field an exceptionally young defensive corp against the Red Wings.
All night long, the part of the right-side defenseman was played by a rookie. Jonathon Blum, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were paired with Francis Bouillon, Ryan Suter and Jack Hillen respectively.
“The guys stepped up,” Suter said. “I thought everyone played well. We beared down defensively like we had to, but we weren’t able to get any pucks by (Jimmy) Howard.”
Ellis stepped off the plane in Nashville at around 5:45 pm, roughly an hour before gametime. While he was held off the scoresheet in his NHL debut, he was credited with two hits, led both teams with two blocked shots and was seen at times directing the veteran Hillen.
“All things considered, (Ellis) coming in after a bunch of days off and being thrown right into the fire against the Red Wings, I thought he looked pretty good out there,” Nashville forward Jerred Smithson said. “He’s a poised kid. He’s great with the puck and he looked great out there tonight.”
Nashville’s lone goal of the night came from Blum, the most senior of the rookie defense corps. Having perhaps his most complete night of the year, Blum ended Jimmy Howard’s chance at a shutout at 17:48 of the third period.
The third rookie, Roman Josi, made his impact by playing the second-most minutes of any player in the game, spending 22:07 in the game. Only Ryan Suter, with 26:24 of ice time, played more.
While all three defensive pairings were on the ice for at least one goal, the youth of the pairings was never apparent.
“The other guys, they’ve been around long enough now,” Smithson said. “They’ve got a few games under their belts so there’s nothing new to them. They know every night that there are good hockey players that are going to challenge them. Every day is a learning day for them and it’s an opportunity for them to step up.”
Ellis credited the team’s veterans for helping him meet the task set before him in his debut.
“The guys made it really easy on me,” Ellis said. “They talked me through a lot of plays and different situations and it made my game a lot easier.”
Suter, meanwhile, gave Ellis a small bit of advice before the game.
“Just keep it simple,” Suter said. “When you’re young, you try to do too much. Just keep it simple.”