All of the talk heading into the Nashville Predators’ season centered on the new defense pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi. But the other four defensemen in the lineup are also trying to get acclimated to new defense partners as soon as possible.
The pairing of Hal Gill and Ryan Ellis, separated by 15 years in age and nine inches in height, makes sense on the surface. Gill’s stay-at-home style complements the offensive-minded Ellis, who scored a power play goal in Saturday’s season opener.
“I always trust him to be back there and be the defensive-minded guy,” said Ellis. “Obviously I need to be stronger defensively, but he gives me a chance to jump in the play knowing he’s going to be backing me up.”
Gill and Ellis played minimal minutes together late last season, but they at least know each other’s tendencies.
“We work well together. I know him a little bit from last year, so I know what to expect from him,” said Gill, who mentioned a normal preseason usually gives defense partners time to figure each other out. “With this being a shortened jump at it, we’ve only played together a few times. It’s going to be a learning curve, but we just have to accelerate it.”
Unlike Gill and Ellis, Scott Hannan and Kevin Klein had never played together prior to last week’s training camp. Hannan, an NHL veteran of 13 seasons, said there’s no real textbook to getting used a new defense partner, that it’s different with each individual.
“With Klein, he skates so well and reads the ice and talks out there,” Hannan said. “He’s vocal just like I am and talking through plays. Obviously we’re going to get better every game the more we play together.”
Klein believes getting to know tendencies is the most important thing about meshing with a defense partner. In that sense, Klein said they have a good feel for each other.
“I think we’ve jelled pretty quickly. We both play a simple game. We try to get back quick for each other and make a hit to make a play, and the talking aspect helps.”
Although this defensive foursome feels good about where they are in terms of chemistry at this point, head coach Barry Trotz explained it’s all a work in progress.
“[Saturday] gave us clarity to where we are,” he said. “The clarity that the game gave us is that we didn’t have a lot of support in a lot of areas of the ice. As a group our forwards didn’t help complement the defense, therefore there were way too many forwards.
“We know it’s going to be up and down, we know it’s going to be a process.”