NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When David Legwand became the first player ever drafted by the Nashville Predators in 1998, he was expected to become the leader of the young franchise.
He's beginning to play up to those expectations.
Legwand had the second three-goal game of his career to help the Nashville Predators beat the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Saturday night.
"It was great for David to get such a chance to express himself offensively," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "We're not going to judge one game, but David's growth has been pretty steady."
Last season, after many observers had decided he might be nothing more than a highly-skilled role player, Legwand had a breakout year with career highs with 27 goals, 36 assists and 63 points.
"With every young player, the growth is never a straight line," Trotz said. "The line has moved up for David. I think he has higher expectations for himself. I trust David in all situations on the ice."
The Predators have opened the season with a 2-0 record. Last season they were 0-3 in their first three games. The last time they opened with two straight wins was 2005, when they won the first eight games of the season.
"The season is a marathon, but we can sprint out to the lead," Legwand said. "It's a long season with another big week in front of us. I have to keep it going and the team has to keep it going."
For the second game in a row, Nashville struck first. At the 6:37 mark, Martin Erat skated around behind the goal and passed the puck to Legwand at the edge of the crease. Legwand made a high shot to beat Dallas goaltender Mike Smith to his right side as he sprawled on the ice.
J.P Dumont gave Nashville a 2-0 lead at 5:22 of the second period on the power play. He fired a one-timer from the inside of the right face off circle that went high above the left shoulder of Smith.
Legwand scored his second goal of the game at 9:23 of the second period. Erat found him skating down the slot for a breakaway shot over the left pad of Smith.
"It's a different game for us when we score early like we have in the first two games," Jason Arnott said. "If it doesn't happen we have to be able to stick to our game plan. For the most part it is going pretty well.
"We can't be too high on ourselves though. It is only two games."
Nashville goaltender Chris Mason missed his bid for a second consecutive shutout at 13:14 of the third period, when Krys Barch skated in all alone on a breakaway and blasted a shot that went between Mason's right pad and arm.
Martin Gelinas scored an empty-net goal for Nashville at 18:46.
Five seconds later, Legwand scored from the left side of the goal to complete his hat trick.
"A lot of our offence game from good defence," Trotz said. "All of those goals were transitional-type things that got us back into their zone. Solid defence leads to good offence. That is the right way to play."
Dallas outshot Nashville 29-22.
"I got outplayed," Smith said. "You've got to make big saves at the right times in the game and I didn't do it. The goalie has to be the backbone of the team. This game showed that the goalie can win or lose hockey games for you."
Dallas coach Dave Tippett refused to put all of the blame at Smith's feet.
"I don't think you can blame the game on Mike," Tippett said. "But certainly a couple of big saves wouldn't have hurt our cause. It was more our execution as we tried to create any type of chances."
Notes: Ville Koistinen made his NHL debut replacing Shea Weber, who is out three-to-six weeks with a dislocated patella (knee cap) sustained in the first 2:19 of the first period of Thursday night's game with Colorado. ... Announced attendance was 13,079, approximately 4,000 below capacity. ... Arnott was one of the contributors who bought tickets, so 250 families could attend the game. ... Erat had three assists for Nashville. ... This was the second game in a row that Nashville has faced an opponent that played a game the night before.