Predators take injury hit ahead of meeting Coyotes (Jan 04, 2018)

BY AP • January 4, 2018

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One top player is back in for the Nashville Predators, one top player is out.

Just as the Predators are welcoming back defenseman Ryan Ellis, who missed the first 38 games of the season following offseason knee surgery, they learned Wednesday they'll be without leading scorer Filip Forsberg for 4-to-6 weeks. He has an upper-body injury that was sustained Sunday at Minnesota.

Forsberg missed Nashville's last two games, including a 3-0 loss at Vegas on Tuesday night -- the first games he's missed since the 2013-14 season. He'll also sit out Thursday night at Arizona, and the windup to a three-game road trip Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings.

"Filip is a player we've counted on for a lot of years now to be a guy that leads us offensively," Predators coach Peter Laviolette told the team's website. "When you remove that from the lineup, it's tough."

Forsberg's injury is coming at an inopportune time for last season's Western Conference champions, who are fifth in the conference standings with a 23-11-5 record but have lost five of their last seven games. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, who has ranked among the league leaders in multiple statistical categories all season, has dropped four of his last five starts.

Forsberg is leaving the lineup just when Ellis is returning. Playing alongside usual defenseman partner Roman Josi, Ellis played 18:27 in Las Vegas and, he said, "kind of found my legs and felt better and better and more comfortable out there."

"I thought he was great," Josi said. "It's not easy coming back after such a long time."

But, Ellis added, "At the end of the day, we didn't win, so my game isn't good enough right now."

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet can relate to that. He put his team through its third practice in as many days Wednesday, saying, "We need to practice" -- and thought they did well.

"That was a positive," Tocchet said.

One reason Tocchet didn't give his players off is because they're in the midst of their least amount of activity all season. After playing the New York Rangers at home Saturday, they'll enjoy their so-called bye week with five consecutive days off.

The Coyotes haven't played since a 5-2 loss at Anaheim on Sunday in which they saw a game that was tied midway through the third period quickly get away from them as the Ducks scored three goals in the final eight minutes.

Their 10th loss in 12 games left the Coyotes with a 9-27-5 record halfway through the season, their worst such record since they moved to the Phoenix area from Winnipeg in 1996.

"We just want to flush the first half, and come into the new year with the right mindset and play the best hockey we can play," said Arizona rookie center Clayton Keller, who scored Sunday to extend his points streak to eight games (three goals, six assists, nine points).

Keller, who is only 19, has a team-high 14 goals and ranks second in the NHL in rookie goal scoring to right winger Brock Boeser (21 goals) of Vancouver.

"I'm playing him 18, 19 minutes (a game) against the best of the best, on the power play, lately on the PK (penalty kill) ... and that's a lot of pressure," Tocchet said. "But he loves it, and that's what I love about him."

Arizona could welcome back defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has been out since Nov. 28 with an upper-body injury. He has sat out 24 of 41 games with injuries, but Tocchet said he could be ready to go against Nashville, which lost two of three games to Arizona last season.

Rinne is 16-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and 2.03 goals-against average in his career against Arizona. Coyotes goaltender Antti Raanta is 1-2 with a 3.28 GAA in four career games against Nashville.

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