Roman Josi

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.

Subban and Josi not for sure the Predators top pairing, but look out if they are

By Jim Diamond

Granted, it was just a couple of hours after the team he coaches swung a blockbuster trade with the Canadiens that was anything but “typical, Montreal typical,” Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was noncommittal when asked if newly acquired blueliner P.K. Subban would be paired with Roman Josi on the team’s top defensive pairing.

Shea Weber, sent to the Habs in exchange for Subban, has been a mainstay on the Predators’ first pairing. When former partner Ryan Suter left for Minnesota via free agency in 2012, Roman Josi stepped into the role on Weber’s right side. Now that Josi is the incumbent top pairing player, who will join him there is up in the air.

“The thing about our defense, especially the top three not including P.K., is that they are moveable parts,” Laviolette said. “They all can skate. They all can move the puck. I think he’ll fit right in with them and we will have a very mobile top four defense.”

Along with Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis round out that top three. With Predators management and coaches pretty staunchly on board with keeping a right and a left-handed defenseman on at least the top two pairings, it would seem logical to assume that Subban, a righty, would go with either Josi or Ekholm, leaving Ellis with Ekholm or Josi. Ekholm and Ellis have played significant minutes together and have made up a solid second pairing for the Predators.

But Subban and Josi are both outstanding puck carriers, so having them on the same pairing may be somewhat redundant. If they were to be split, good luck to opponents hoping to match up their top checking line or D pairing when Laviolette and Predators defensive coach Phil Housley have the ability to roll out Subban and Josi on separate shifts.

“I think from there we will figure it out as we go,” Laviolette continued. “That could be a possibility. It could be a possibility to split them up and play him with Ekholm. Either way, the top four remain very strong.”

Last season, Josi and Weber logged the most ice time among Predators blueliners at 25:29 and 25:22 per game. Ellis and Ekholm followed at 20:53 and 20:14 respectively.

Another benefit to having Subban and Josi split is the ability for the Predators to spread out their ice time, possibly reducing some wear and tear as minutes add up over the course of the season.

Nashville general manager David Poile, the man who swung the rare Predators trade with Montreal that does not involve a Kostitsyn, was bordering on giddy at the acquisition of Subban. He thinks that Subban gives Laviolette more options with regard to pairings and ice time.

“I think the coaches will have a lot of flexibility in how they use our defense,” Poile said. “I know again since we’ve had Peter and we’ve changed our style a fair bit, that it is players like P.K. Subban that are going to make the difference going from defense to offense, rushing the puck, carrying the mail as I like to say. I think he’s a fantastic player.”

They can also reduce some usage on their top four defensemen by relying more on their third pairing to kill penalties. The Predators do not take a lot of penalties, but if Barret Jackman and Tony Bitetto, likely the third pair, can absorb a fair share of the shorthanded minutes, the other four will be that much better off.

It’s not a given that Subban and Josi will play together on the Predators top defensive pairing, but if they do, the team’s forwards may just be turned into spectators as these two supremely talented puck carriers work their magic on the ice.

Nashville’s defense loses Weber but helps team tie series

By Jim Diamond

As the first period neared its end Friday night, Predators defenseman Roman Josi picked up the puck in his own end near the blue line on the left boards. Josi carried the puck into the Chicago zone, seemingly dancing across the blue line before unleashing a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford high to the stick side, aided by a screen from Mike Santorelli. Just 3.4 seconds showed on the clock.

Goals scored in the last minute of periods are often referred to as momentum goals, and with the difficulties the Predators have experienced in the second period recently, they needed all the help they could get.

“He picked up the puck in our end with less than 10 seconds left on the clock and you’re thinking the period is probably just going to run out,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “But Roman has carried the puck so many times for us this year. Cutting through the neutral zone, but even then with less than six seconds on the entry to cut it across the ice and find a little bit of wiggle room to get a shot off. Santo made a nice screen in front of the net. That was a big moment in the game as well.”

And some adversity did appear in the second. At 9:17, Brandon Saad ran into Nashville captain Shea Weber at the end boards. The hit didn’t appear all that rough, but Weber collapsed to the ice. He got up quickly and skated off, putting no weight on his right leg. The team announced that he would not return to the game due to a lower-body injury.

Losing Weber meant the Predators had to go with five defensemen the rest of the way, a challenge since they did not have the traditional three pairings.

“Lot of talk, talk is always big in any type of situation, especially in the playoffs,” Cody Franson said. “It’s so loud out there and things happen so fast, that communication is just as important as anything else. When you go down to five guys like that, you try and keep your shifts short, don’t get overextended, and keep your energy levels high.”

Later in the second, Patrick Kane tied the game 2-2 on a goal that appeared to come with six Blackhawks on the ice. Running the risk of losing the first two games at home, the Predators rallied after the Kane goal, scoring the final four to win going away 6-2.

Josi had to adjust to multiple partners down the stretch. He got an opportunity to play some with Seth Jones, who was playing in just his second career NHL playoff game.

“He did great,” Josi said. “I thought he did great in the first game too. He’s such a confident guy with the puck and he makes those little plays. I thought he was awesome those two games.”

For his part, Jones retuned the admiration in Josi’s direction.

“It’s unbelievable some of the stuff he does,” Jones said. “It’s a pleasure to play with a guy like that. He makes the game so simple. We kind of had to rotate pairs a little bit this year, so it’s pretty easy playing with anyone on our D corps.”

The Predators did not have any further updates on Weber’s condition after the game.

Jones, Josi anchor 5-on-3 kill in Predators win

By Jim Diamond

At 8:33 of the third period of Thursday night’s game against the visiting Winnipeg Jets, Predators defenseman Victor Bartley was whistled for an interference minor. 29 seconds later, at 9:02, fellow blueliner Shea Weber was sent off for cross-checking, giving the Jets a lengthy two-man advantage of 1:31.

The old adage is that a goaltender is a team’s best penalty killer, but the effort displayed by the two defensemen and two forwards used on that PK was more than impressive in support of Pekka Rinne.

It is fairly customary for teams down two players to use a one forward and two defensemen formation, and that is exactly what Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette did in sending out Mike Fisher up front and Seth Jones and Roman Josi on defense.

After one shot on goal and two more attempts blocked, Gaustad was able to get off in favor of Mike Fisher at 9:48, but Jones and Josi were unable to change. Fisher did his part in the penalty kill, recording three consecutive blocked shots on Winnipeg’s hulking defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in the span of 21 seconds.

“That was a huge kill,” Jones said. “Just try to get in some shot lanes and Mike, and Goose, and Jos did a great job as well getting in shot lanes. We didn’t give them really anything, and Pekks made a huge save there in the crease as well.”

Josi, who started his shift after the Bartley penalty at 8:33, came off at 10:35 after Rinne stopped and covered a shot from Andrew Ladd. The shift of 2:02 was just the third-longest of the night for Josi, who also clocked shifts of 3:04 and 2:13 in the game en route to a game-high 28:00 of ice time.

“Fish had a couple of great blocks and we just tried to take the passing lanes away and obviously Pekks in net made a couple of huge saves,” Josi said. “You obviously try to talk a little bit, but it happens pretty fast on the 5-on-3, so you just try to read off each other, try to read off the forward too. Pekks has the shots and we just try to take the passing lanes away.”

Jones’ shift finally ended at 11:06, a lengthy 2:06 from start to finish. With injuries to Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, Jones has inherited much more ice time lately.

“He’s getting an opportunity now with the injuries,” Laviolette said. “He’s got one of those endless oxygen tanks that seems like he could stay out there for two minutes, he could stay out there for a long time, one of those guys that can take on a lot of minutes.

“He’s played great, but now in an expanded role, you really get to see who he is. I’m sure he’s loving it.”

Longs shifts are one thing but penalty-killing shifts that exceed two minutes are exhausting. The young duo of Josi and Jones battled through their long shifts and helped preserve Nashville’s fourth consecutive win.

Weber: Josi has ‘a fire to win’

By Jim Diamond

After Monday’s surprise on-ice altercation between Craig Smith and Roman Josi, team captain Shea Weber was asked about his defensive partner uncharacteristically dropping his gloves and fighting.

“He’s a real thumping machine out there,” Weber joked.

But then Weber continued his thought, switching from humorous to serious.

“He’s competitive,” he said. “As much as he doesn’t take penalties or do anything stupid, he’s got a fire to win and he’s going to battle out there in any situation.”

Weber is right about Josi’s discipline. In 72 games played in 2013-14, the Swiss-born blueliner was whistled for just 18 penalty minutes. In 172 career NHL games, Josi has only 40 PIMs.

Josi, 24, missed 10 games last season but was still 22nd overall in the NHL in 2013-14 in total time on ice, playing just over 1,902 minutes. Josi was fifth in the NHL in average time on ice per game last season at 26:25, trailing Weber by 29 seconds.

Weber is the person most qualified to speak about Josi’s effectiveness since when one is on the ice, the other is almost always just a few feet away from him. Last season, when Josi was on the ice, Weber was right there with him 83.8% of the time.

With a lot of the other Predators defensemen playing sheltered minutes last season, Josi and Weber drew the tough assignments, often playing against opponents’ top-offensive lines as evidenced by being the only two Nashville defensemen with positive Quality of Competition numbers.

The team’s top defensive pairing also began a lot of their shifts in the shadow of their own goal. Josi started in the offensive zone just 44.2% of the time, while Weber was even lower at 43.7%.

As surprising as it was for Josi to drop the gloves with a teammate in practice, perhaps it was a sign that the still young defenseman is developing more of a physical edge to his game.

Craig Smith and Roman Josi drop the gloves and fight in Monday’s practice

By Jim Diamond

Quick, name two Nashville Predators you would least expect to drop the gloves and fight.

Were Roman Josi and Craig Smith on your list?

Well that’s exactly what happened Monday afternoon at Centennial Sportsplex as the Predators went through practice. During a battle drill, something the team has done a lot of in this training camp, emotions boiled over and Smith and Josi fought in front of the net.

That’s right, the Bern Brawler against the Madison Marauder mano a mano. According to hockeyfights.com, neither player has an NHL fight under their belts. It started out as one of those situations where everyone wondered if they were serious, and as it turns out, they were serious.

When asked about the fight, Smith channeled his inner Bill Belichick at the start of his media availability.

“It was a good practice,” Smith said. “We got some things accomplished and we are getting better.”

Pushed further, he opened up a little more.

“It’s our team,” he said. “Every day we are going to skate together and we’re going to be battling. We are battling hard. I thought we did a good job at getting as close to game-like as possible and ready to go Thursday.”

Training camp skirmishes between teammates are nothing new. In a not so long ago era, players would state their case for making the team based upon how tough they were, and in an attempt to showcase what they had, they would take on any and all teammates. There’s also the fact that after playing against one another for more than two weeks, one extra cross-check here or there could be the final straw in one player having enough of the other.

After the two went to the ice, several others stepped in to break up the fisticuffs.

“We battled and yeah, it was just intense, I guess intensity in practice,” Josi said.

Asked if they two had talked it out yet, Josi said, “We didn’t talk about it and I don’t know if we will, so we will see.”

It’s nothing to worry about according to the head coach.

“It was competitive,” Peter Laviolette said. “It happens. Guys are battling out there. We’re past it, over it.”

While they like to see the intensity that was displayed, some of the peacemakers were worried about two of the team’s star players going at it.

“You don’t want to hurt your own teammates,” Eric Nystrom said. “Sometimes you just have to go in there and calm some guys down, but this is not a lighthearted game. It’s intense and guys are competing hard and trying to impress the new coach and get ready for games. That stuff happens. I like the intensity, but I don’t like seeing those two guys doing that just because we need them. You’ve got to channel it and save it for the other team.”

They won’t see another team until the team’s season opener Thursday night when Ottawa comes to town.