The Nashville Predators begin their season with a loss in Boston. Many factors played a role in the defeat but some healthy scratches stand out.
Pontus Aberg, Anthony Bitetto, and Samuel Girard all started off the season in the press box. Healthy scratches are can be tough decisions for coaches to make, especially on deep rosters like the Nashville Predators. Thursday night’s game in Boston wasn’t pretty, but I can’t help but think about some of the impacts that these healthy scratches may have had if they were playing.
For myself at least, Pontus Aberg being a healthy scratch comes as a surprise. You may remember his electrifying postseason that included a go-ahead goal over Anaheim. He’s now a household name, albeit still as a youngster.
Aberg’s absence from the regular season opener most likely comes from coach Peter Laviolette expecting more of him. Laviolette touched on the subject of Aberg’s readiness for the lineup before the Boston game, per Thomas Willis of the team website:
In such hostile territory like a road game against Boston, you have to make sure your entire roster from top to bottom is ready to go. Aberg didn’t shy away from the spotlight in the postseason, but something must be going on behind the scenes that kept him from playing opening night. Expect him to play Saturday night against Pittsburgh, especially after a loss to Boston. Some adjustments are needed before the return to Pittsburgh on Saturday, and you can’t leave his talent on the bench.
Not as surprising is Bitetto being scratched. He narrowly made the roster to begin with, and past injuries have not helped his case to stick on the roster. Bitetto was a healthy scratch for the entire postseason run last year. When he does get his next game opportunity, he’ll really have to shine to get more playing time.
The fact is that the defense is already deep, even with the current absence of Ryan Ellis. Bitetto has to really fight to supplant even the likes of Yannick Weber or Matt Irwin. He’s viewing this season as a second chance to become a mainstay for the Nashville Predators defense, per the team website:
"I’m happy with the progression, and I have to continue to progress and hopefully be a guy that’s relied upon this year…..I have to put the last year behind me. It’s over with. I’m just excited about the opportunity this year.”Don’t be shocked if Bitetto becomes more of a regular participant in games. Especially if injuries continue to rear their ugly face."
This kid is really taking everyone’s full attention. He’s 19-years-old, putting him on a short list of some of the youngest players in franchise history. His preseason was a productive one that put him on the opening night roster.
Girard being a healthy scratch for such a big game is the right move. Even if he is performing well to this point, he still has a lot of development before he’s ready for such a big spotlight. You can’t move more proven defenders like Weber or Irwin out of opening night for an inexperienced 19-year-old. Even so, Girard is getting a ton of praise from Laviolette:
A better debut for Girard will be for the home-opener in front of Smashville. That crowd will be roaring as always, and the youngster should feed off of that. We will get a chance to briefly see what Girard can do before he goes back down to juniors. If Girard really impresses, then maybe he stays for the full season. Although it is unlikely.