The value of preseason games was put into perspective when Nashville Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette called them the No. 1 evaluation tool of a player’s place on the roster and NHL-readiness. The bench boss, entering his second season with the Preds, explained that a player is graded on a variety of fronts during training camp, but that nothing compares to what can be gleaned from game action.
For 40 of the skaters on Nashville’s current 51-man roster, their first test came on Sunday when the Predators hosted the Panthers in a doubleheader at Bridgestone Arena. The Preds emerged with a 5-2 victory in the afternoon tilt before falling in overtime in the nightcap.
“It was nice to get a win, that first game is always a little sloppy and there were a lot of penalties and special teams,” said defenseman Anthony Bitetto, who skated alongside Victor Bartley in the matinee contest. “You have to try to take little parts from game one and try to put it all together. By game two you need to be going, by game three, even more so...You get your feet wet in the first game and then you have to keep building off of each game going into the year.”
That second preseason game for Bitetto now stands a little more than 24 hours away with the Predators facing Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (CT), and then again at home on Wednesday (at 7 p.m. CT).
“I think my biggest thing is to build off of the game I played against them last year,” Bitetto said of facing Tampa Bay. “I think they’re a fast team, they’re a young team and they have good goaltending. They’re one of the top teams in the East, and I think it’s going to be a good matchup.”
“It’s important [to be] physical against their smaller guys, they’ve got guys like Tyler Johnson, [Ondrej] Palat that can move around on the ice,” Bartley said. “The way you stop that is by being really physical, pinning and being hard to play against.”
Note: Both of the Predators upcoming games versus the Lightning (Tuesday at Tampa, 6:30 p.m. CT and Wednesday at Bridgestone Arena, 7 p.m CT) will be broadcast on 102.5 The Game.
Rosters and Injury Updates:
The Predators will dress 20 players for Tuesday’s game in the Sunshine State; their lineup can be seen here.
Forward Cody Hodgson was absent from Monday’s training camp session and is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Laviolette said the forward, “should be back soon.”
Barret Jackman (day-to-day, upper-body injury) skated with group two for the majority of the unit’s session.
Every player on Nashville’s roster was anxious to get into game action against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, the first opportunity for a preseason appearance of 2015-16, and perhaps no one was more excited than Eric Nystrom, who skated in his first NHL contest since early March of last season due to injury.
In fact, when asked about the experience on Monday, Nystrom’s happiness was still palpable.
“It was great to get back in there,” Nystrom said. “It definitely took a little bit of time to see the plays and stuff, but I thought I had some good puck touches and banged into some guys. We were good on the penalty kill and felt good to be back out there with the guys.”
The veteran forward served as an assistant captain in the second half of the Preds doubleheader against Florida on Sunday, registering one hit and a blocked shot in 12:19 of ice time. Nystrom says it always takes a moment for the timing to come back after the offseason, but he was satisfied with how he adjusted as the game went on.
“It definitely takes time; the first time a puck comes around the wall and you get a defenseman pinching down on you, you can’t replicate that in the summertime,” Nystrom said. “But my legs felt surprisingly good in that game, and I thought I made some good plays with my head up. There are some plays you don’t see because you’re looking down a little more, but it was great to get back out there and get in the battle and be on the bench with the guys.”
Laviolette was pleased to see No. 24 back on his bench once more, emphasizing the different attributes Nystrom can provide in the lineup.
“Nye can bring physicality and a little bit of sandpaper to our lineup and we need that from him,” Laviolette said. “He brings leadership in the locker room and certainly played a big part for our team last year in the role that we played him in, so it’s nice to get him back.”
Laviolette, Nystrom and the rest of the Preds are hoping Sunday’s appearance for the veteran forward was just the first of many to come once the regular season commences in just over two weeks.
“It’s the worst skating by yourself,” Nystrom said of being injured last season. “It’s good to be part of a full team practice, being in the locker room around the guys and being in the game. I’ve been waiting a long time for that, even if it is a preseason game.”
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