by Forechecker on 09/18/08 at 01:15 PM ET
Last year at this time, Dan Ellis was attending the Nashville Predators training camp just hoping to land a steady gig, most likely in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. By the end of the season, however, he was the toast of Music City, leading the team on an improbable drive into the playoffs, posting the NHL’s longest shutout streak and highest total save percentage along the way. So what does Ellis have in store for this season? He now comes to camp as the #1 goalie, with a two-year contract and a shot at stardom with a team that expects to improve.
One shouldn’t, however, read Ellis’ story from last year as a simple, straightforward rise from perennial backup to everynight starter. As then-#1 goaltender Chris Mason struggled during the middle of the season, Ellis didn’t fare much better, and for a couple months it was unclear if either of them would step forward to carry the team. As late as March 22, the team was preparing to call up Pekka Rinne to see if he might answer the challenge and provide stability in the crease. What happened instead was one of those freak occurences that becomes a part of franchise lore, and ultimately turned the Predators season around.
A snowstorm in the Midwest prevented Rinne from flying out of Milwaukee for a game in Nashville against the Blackhawks, so Ellis one more chance. Apparently goosed by the signal from management that they were willing (and trying) to make a change, Ellis made 37 saves and led the Preds to a crucial 2-1 shootout victory. From that point on, he proved up to the task and relegated Mason to the bench, and ultimately a ticket out of town.
Dan Ellis stops Jonathan Toews in the critical 3/22/08 game against Chicago
Photo Courtesy Paul Nicholson
Looking ahead to 2008-9, one certainly can’t expect an NHL-leading performance, as Dan will face new, significant challenges. Opponents will now start game-planning around his relative propensity to give up rebounds, and it remains to be seen how well he’ll hold up over the long grind of an 82-game season; last spring there were concerns about maintaining his playing weight and stamina (my recommendation to have team sponsor Cracker Barrel provide a sausage gravy drip has fallen on deaf ears). Ellis definitely won’t be a candidate for a Evgeni Nabokov-like “play ‘em till he drops” season, he’ll probably get somewhere around 55 starts instead. After all, the organization wants to get a good look at Pekka Rinne at the NHL level as well, since this will be his first year as a Nashville regular.
On the positive side, it will be interesting to see how the defense corps adapts to having Ellis as the main man in goal; unlike previous his predecessor, Ellis loves to come out and play the puck, and often tries to catch other teams in a line change by firing a pass up through center ice (a trait developed during an earlier stint in Dallas). He might just contend for the league-lead for assists among goaltenders; sure, it’s a very minor aspect in overall team performance but it will be interesting to watch nonetheless. The fact that Barry Trotz knows what he’s dealing with this fall (compared to last year’s roster upheaval) should also help in developing the team’s overall defensive system, and I expect that Shots Against per game will decline slightly. So in a nutshell, I expect Save Percentage to decline, and Shots Against to decline as well. On balance, I look for Ellis to have a largely successful campaign that takes Nashville back to the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
So, for the official Forechecker’s Forecast…
|Forechecker’s Forecast, 2008-9 NHL Regular Season|
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