LOS ANGELES – The Nashville Predators received a huge offensive boost from defencemen Francis Bouillon and Cody Franson, who played a solid two-way game in front of goalie Dan Ellis.
Bouillon and Franson both scored goals along with right wing Joel Ward, and Ellis made 27 saves to lead the Predators to a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles on Saturday. The trio had combined for only two goals through the team’s first 14 games.
“That’s a big thing for our team. We need our defencemen to score,” Ellis said. “We don’t have an abundance of talent and we don’t have a surefire sniper. Jason Arnott is the closest thing we’ve got, so we need to score by committee and we need to score with grit. That’s what we’re starting to do.”
Ellis made his first start since Oct. 28, when he was pulled by coach Barry Trotz early in the second period after giving up three goals on 10 shots in a game the Predators rallied to win 4-3 at Minnesota.
“I deserved to be pulled from that game because I let in three goals on three (consecutive) shots,” Ellis said. “I just tried to practise hard and see the puck well, which is the most important thing for a goalie. You’ve got to find ways to keep your game sharp. I think I was able to accomplish that in practice, and I felt good tonight.”
The Predators, who came in averaging only 1.9 goals, opened the scoring at 16:38 of the second period while Raitis Ivanans was off for hooking Jordin Tootoo.
Franson fired wide on a one-timer from the right point, but Bouillon – playing in his 500th NHL game – beat forward Wayne Simmonds to the loose puck after it caromed off the end boards and beat Jonathan Quick from a sharp angle on the power play for his 22nd goal in 10-plus NHL seasons.
“I was looking for that goal for a long time,” Bouillon said. “It was a really important goal and I was at the right spot at the right time. We faced a great team today, and it was a good win.”
Franson, playing in only his ninth NHL game, scored his second goal of the season on a slapshot from just inside the blue-line with 15:08 remaining to give the Predators a 2-0 lead after Martin Erat circled the net with the puck and fed it out to the right point. Erat returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury.
“When our D contributes on the back end, it gives us a much better chance to win, obviously,” Trotz said. “I thought we had good energy today, and we stayed on the puck real hard.”
The Kings got on the board with 11:35 to play as Dustin Brown scored his sixth of the season during a power play.
But Ward restored Nashville’s two-goal margin just 80 seconds later when he tucked the puck inside the right post after Quick and teammate Anze Kopitar got tangled up with David Legwand outside the crease.
The Predators again played without defenceman Shea Weber and forwards J.P. Dumont and Colin Wilson because of injuries. But they still managed to beat a team that had recorded standings points in its previous eight games (6-0-2), the longest such streak by a Kings squad since November 2000.
“They came into the building short-handed with some players out who are important players for them, but they came in with an attitude and a game plan that was based on hard work and grit. And it worked for them,” Kings coach Terry Murray said.
“They beat us from the dots to the boards in every area of the ice. You can’t just play this game on skill alone. It’s about hard work and digging in for 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play. And emotionally, we didn’t find it here today.”
Murray expected some sort of an emotional letdown by his team after the victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions on Thursday. So after the first 10 minutes, he burned his only timeout.
“I was prepared to do what I did if we were not playing the right way, emotionally. I was looking for it,” Murray said. “The first shift, they win the faceoff and we were in our end for about a minute and 10 seconds, and we weren’t able to really establish any kind of different trend after that. That’s why we addressed it at the 10-minute mark. But the challenge has to come from within the locker-room.”
NOTES: Luc Robitaille, who scored 557 his 668 career goals in a Kings uniform and is currently the club’s president of business operations, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. The only other members of the Hall who played their first NHL game in a Kings jersey are G Billy Smith and D Larry Murphy. … The Kings begin a five-game road trip Monday night at Chicago. It will be their longest of the season.