Predators find bench is a good place to go in search of points

Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 12:36am

Typically, the bench is the last place a player wants to end up. Lately, though, it has served as the start of something good for the Nashville Predators.

“That’s the whole trick to this year — I hold someone out and they score,” coach Barry Trotz said following Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. “[I’ll have to] keep holding guys out.”

Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis is the latest example of this phenomenon.

A healthy scratch Saturday at Boston, he had the game-winning goal as well as an assist against Chicago and was the only player for either team who had multiple points. That matched his point total from his previous 10 appearances combined.

It was not the first time the tactic worked with the 2009 first-round draft pick either.

Saturday was the second time since he made his NHL debut in late December that he was scratched. After the first, Jan. 5 against Dallas, he had a goal and an assist in each of his first two games back in the lineup, and one of his goals was a game-winner.

“I think taking that game off in Boston was a good thing,” Ellis said. “I was a little cold these last few games and it allowed me to get refocused. I know that I have to play hard every single night, and it was a good shakeup for the team as well.”

Matt Halischuk is the most prolific example of what a brief respite can do for a player.

The second-year forward was the only Predator who had appeared in each of the first 47 games when he was a healthy scratch Jan. 21 against Chicago. He was back in the lineup the next game and scored a goal that started a streak of four straight with at least a point (two goals, three assists), which matched his career-high.

Rookie forward Gabriel Bourque played 16 straight games beginning with his NHL debut Dec. 28 but then sat out two in a row late last week. He returned to action last Thursday at Ottawa and scored a goal.

It’s not necessarily Trotz’s call that makes a difference either. A month ago, rookie forward Craig Smith missed two games due to illness then had two goals and three assists over his next seven appearances. He had two points (one goal, one assist) in his last 12 games before he got sick.

Jerred Smithson’s last point, an assist Jan. 19 at Columbus, came after an injury sidelined him for the previous five contests.

Trotz’s power to influence such things decreased slightly on Wednesday when the team announced that tough guy, forward Brian McGrattan, was placed on injured reserve. Plus, Patric Hornqvist, who sat out the game against Chicago with an upper body injury, was listed as doubtful for the next game, Friday at Detroit.