Ryan Ellis' season is only six games old. You'd never know it by the way he's jumped right back in the swing of things for the Nashville Predators.
Ellis has two goals, including the game-tying marker late in the third period of Thursday night's 3-2 shootout win over Arizona, and two assists. More importantly, his presence has helped tighten a defense that has become more vital to Nashville's success with two of its top three scorers on injured reserve.
Ellis will try to help the Predators remain atop the Central Division Saturday night when they play the fourth of a five-game homestand against the Florida Panthers.
"He's coming in after no training camp and not playing games," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said of Ellis. "He's catching a moving train. It might not seem like it, but I'm sure he'd tell you he feels good. I think his game will continue to get better as he plays more and gets more ice time."
Ellis sure looked to be in midseason form on Thursday night. His stretch pass of more than 100 feet hit Scott Hartnell in stride at the Arizona blue line, teeing him up for the game's first goal at 18:17 of the second period.
Then Ellis ripped a slapper by Antti Raanta at 17:24 of the third period, forcing overtime. There, the Predators (27-11-6) won in a four-round shootout, jumping over idle Winnipeg and St. Louis to earn a one-point lead over both in a stacked division.
It was Nashville's fourth straight win, making it 5-1-1 since Filip Forsberg went down on Dec. 29 with an upper-body injury. It's also won both games since Viktor Arvidsson suffered a lower-body injury at practice Monday and joined Forsberg on IR.
"It means we have a lot of depth and a lot of character," Ellis said of the Predators' success without key players. "It seems to be someone different every night, filling in when we need it. That's what championship teams do."
No one is accusing Florida (19-19-6) of being a championship team yet under first-year coach Bob Boughner, but the Panthers will come into raucous Bridgestone Arena with a nice win under their belt.
In its first game after a week off, Florida notched a 4-3 overtime decision over Vegas Friday night, getting the game-winning goal from Aaron Ekblad 40 seconds into the extra period as he collected a rebound in the slot and made no mistake.
"We got a lucky bounce on Ekky's stick. He wasn't going to miss," Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said.
Barkov hasn't missed much lately. In his last six games, the All-Star has four goals and six assists for 10 points. He tortured the Golden Knights Friday with a goal and two helpers, and is averaging nearly a point per game this season in 42 games with 14 goals and 26 assists.
James Reimer (12-12-5, 3.05, .910) made 33 saves against Vegas and usually plays well against Nashville. But Boughner could opt to rest him and give rookie Harri Sateri his first NHL start in a back-to-back situation.
The Predators figure to play workhorse starter Pekka Rinne (22-8-3, 2.41, .925) for his 34th start in 46 games. Rinne stopped 27 shots Thursday night and then went 3-for-4 in the shootout.