Anthony Bitetto

Predators lose Roman Josi in victory over Bruins

By Jim Diamond

Entering Thursday night’s game against the visiting Boston Bruins, the Predators were a banged-up team. Exiting the game, the injury picture is worse, possibly much worse depending on the status of star defenseman Roman Josi.

At the 15:31 mark of the first period, Josi was hit high, hard, and late by Boston’s Anton Blidh in the left corner of Nashville’s defensive zone. Exacerbating matters was the fact that Josi’s stick was up, hitting him in the face as Blidh finished his hit.

Josi fell to the ice immediately and stayed there for several seconds before skating off the ice to Nashville’s dressing room in great distress. Josi did not return to the game, with the team announcing he was out with an upper-body injury.

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was succinct when asked his opinion of the hit postgame, “I thought it was late and dirty,” he said.

In the oddly rough game played between two teams who don’t see each other very often, Josi’s minutes were divided among the Predators other blueliners, most notably to Mattias Ekholm, who played 29:11 and Anthony Bitetto. Bitetto’s 20:08 of ice time Thursday night is nearly double his season average.

When your name is called every other shift, getting a quick breather on the bench is key.

“It’s more a bit of getting on the ice and getting off the ice and really get the rest going as soon as you can,” Ekholm said. “You know you are either going to get out there right away or within a minute or so. It’s different, especially when you lose a guy that logs about 26-27 minutes a night. It wasn’t great for us, but we managed that and it was a great win for us.”

Bitetto has had a tough season to date, sustaining two long-term injuries and just returning to the lineup in the last week.

“This was a good test,” Bitetto said. “I think the more I get involved in games like that, the better I am going to feel. I think tonight was a good test for me, and I think I felt really well, especially down the stretch.”

Laviolette was impressed with the response he saw from Bitetto’s increased minutes.

“Even for Tony to get more minutes and get back into it,” he said. “A game like that can be good for Tony where he starts to push the minutes and he’s counted on more.”

With the Predators headed out on a five-game road trip that starts Saturday in Colorado, the health of their blue line is of significant concern. With P.K. Subban still sidelined with an upper-body injury of his own, playing a significant number of games without their top two defensemen will be a difficult test for their remaining blueliners.

Anthony Bitetto caps an arduous day of travel with a victory

By Jim Diamond

More than a day’s worth of work went into trying to get Anthony Bitetto to Nashville for Tuesday night’s game against the visiting San Jose Sharks, and all that work finally came to fruition, albeit just a little late.

Bitetto was needed back in Nashville for the Predators’ tilt against the Sharks because Anton Volchenkov was unable to go and newly acquired defenseman Cody Franson still does not have the green light to suit up for the Predators due to immigration issues.

Now there are no direct flights between Milwaukee and Nashville, and with weather systems wreaking havoc all over North America, including the one that dumped ice on Middle Tennessee Monday, getting between the two cities was not exactly easy.

After a Monday afternoon flight cancellation, he arrived at the airport at 5:30 Tuesday morning ready to fly to Nashville.

“I had a flight at 6:15 yesterday, cancelled, and then 7:00 am, cancelled,” he said. “I had a flight at 11:15 just delayed forever. It was ridiculous. Sometimes you have to go through adversity like that. It was a long day.”

With a 7:00 pm start time to Nashville’s game, there was little margin for any further delays. He said that Tuesday was the first time he ever had to eat his pregame meal in an airport.

Bitetto landed in Nashville in time to make it to Bridgestone Arena, but his gear, not so much.

“I made the flight and I got to baggage claim, and right now it’s probably 5:15 and the meeting is about to happen and I’m stressing out not sure what’s going on,” he said.

Eventually, the bag was retrieved.

As the team’s warmup skate began, Bitetto was not on the ice. In fact, forward Viktor Stalberg was taking line rushes as Seth Jones’ defensive partner. Bitetto was present on the roster card for the game, but when it began, he was not on the bench.

“I guess warmups aren’t that important,” Bitetto said with a laugh.

As the game neared its first media timeout, Bitetto appeared and took his seat on the bench. That media timeout came at 6:26, and while the ice crew did their flying V cleaning, Bitetto took a couple of spins to loosen up his legs. 32 seconds later, he received his first shift of the game.

“I had to get out there and do a couple of hot laps,” he said. “I think my first shift I had a 2-on-1 and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m back.’ I’m glad we got the win. That’s the most important thing about it.”

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said that getting Bitetto into Nashville was quite the challenge, and that if needed, Stalberg would have gone into the lineup.

“Well, we had one extra player here,” Laviolette said. “There’s nothing really you can do about it. We’ve been trying for what seemed like 30 hours to get him here. The weather’s got everybody on their heels right now, so the fact that he made it here is great. Once he was in the air, we knew he would be here. We knew his equipment would get here at some point and he would join us in the game.”

Bitetto finished with 13:29 of ice time, not too bad for a guy who had been travelling all day, missed warmups, and even the start of the game.

Anthony Bitetto won both a fight and respect in the locker room Tuesday

By Jim Diamond

Hockey’s anti-fighting crowd may not have liked what Nashville Predators rookie defenseman Anthony Bitetto did at 4:13 of the second period of Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Bitteto’s hockey-playing teammates loved it.

Inside Nashville’s blue line, Tampa Bay’s Brett Connolly was working over Craig Smith enough to draw a delayed holding penalty. As Connolly continued while lying on top of Smith, Bitetto skated over and engaged Connolly.

Both men dropped their gloves and Bitetto won the bout in a more than decisive fashion.

“It is part of the game, and it’s something that at times, it’s needed,” Bitetto said. “It was a situation where a skilled guy like Smitty was getting hit or whatever you want to call it. Sometimes the gloves come off and that’s how it goes.”

Bitetto was given an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, negating the power play that they were scheduled to have.

The unsportsmanlike penalty was the officials’ way of saying that Bitetto instigated the fight, but they did not want to be overly punitive of the Island Park, NY native since an instigating minor also carries with it an automatic 10-minute misconduct. The referees saw Connolly on top of Smith and understood that Bitetto was sticking up for a teammate, so they just evened things up penalty wise, and good for them.

“I thought his fight was terrific, well timed,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He jumped in there for his teammate.”

After his seven minutes of penalty minutes were served, Bitetto retuned to the Nashville bench to his teammates standing and banging their sticks on the boards in approval.

“It’s always cool getting that ‘hoo-ha,’ and whatever,” Bitetto said.

Asked if Bitetto earned some respect in the locker room for doing what he did, fellow defenseman Seth Jones didn’t hesitate.

“Hundred percent, hundred percent,” he said. “Guys obviously want to play with someone that’s willing to put themselves on the line such as a fight. He did a great job, and he played a great game as well.”

Yes, Bitetto cost his team a power play. Yes, he was off the ice for seven minutes, leaving the team with just five defensemen. But Bitetto wasn’t playing first pairing minutes by any stretch of the imagination. He played a grand total of 10:09 in the game. That may be down a little from where he would have been had he not spent those seven minutes in the box, but two of those would have been on the power play and he wouldn’t have seen the ice there anyway. In Bitetto’s NHL debut January 17th in Detroit, he played 11:01, and that was in a game the Predators weren’t in basically from the opening faceoff. In short, the other five defensemen probably didn’t mind picking up the extra shift or two.

Was the fight victory responsible for the two goals Nashville scored later on in the second? No.

Did the Predators win because Bitetto fought? Of course not.

But Bitetto went from being a guy the players saw briefly in training camp and briefly in his one previous game this season to a guy willing to stick up for his teammates. That is a personal victory that won’t show up in any standings other than the database.

Bitetto may be on the next plane to Milwaukee as soon as Mattias Ekholm is cleared to return to the lineup, but whenever he does go back, he knows that he has the respect of his teammates the next time he is in the Nashville locker room.