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Predators hold off Senators to win Laviolette's debut

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, who led the NHL in goals by a defenseman last season, picked up where he left off Thursday, scoring the go-ahead goal in a season-opening 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Bridgestone Arena.

Weber scored on a backhand wraparound at 8:53 of the third period, collecting a rebound on the left side and skating some distance with it for the goal that made it 2-1. He scored 23 goals and led the Predators in points last season with 56, an unusual feat for a defenseman.

Weber said the freedom to go below the goal line was a result of the situation and not necessarily a change brought about by the more offensive philosophy of new coach Peter Laviolette. Nonetheless, Weber's goal helped to make Laviolette's debut as Predators coach a successful one.

"That was just the puck went down and I just went down there and got it," Weber said. "I didn't see anyone there. My winger was kind of up so I thought I would try and take advantage of it. [My] initial thought was just to make a play to one of the forwards but, like I said, [Filip Forsberg] kind of backed off that [defenseman], and there was a little bit more room than I expected."

Nashville failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs by three points last season in the Western Conference, and Weber said it was important for the Predators to get off to a good start. From 2003-04 to 2011-12, Nashville made the playoffs seven out of eight seasons, winning a round in 2011 and 2012. However, the Predators have not qualified for the past two seasons, prompting general manager David Poile to change coaches in April for the first time in Nashville's history.

Laviolette, who led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and coached the Philadelphia Flyers to the 2010 Final, downplayed any personal significance to the win.

"Honestly, I'm happy for the guys, I'm happy for Nashville and the Predators fans," he said. "You want to come to your home opener and be successful for everybody. It's a special night because it's the first game, it's in our building, there's new players here. There's a lot of new players, not just a new coach.

"I'm happy for our organization, our fans and our city and I'm really happy for the players."

For a while, it looked like Nashville might not get the result it was looking for. Ottawa nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period despite being outshot 23-14 because Kyle Turris scored 1:15 into second period. Off the rush and with plenty of space to pick his spot, Turris' wrist shot beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne high to the blocker side, just inside the post.

The Predators failed to score on their first two power plays, continuing a slump that saw them score only one power-play goal during the preseason, but they converted on their third try. Forsberg held off Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki with his body and made a perfect goalmouth feed. Craig Smith, who led the Predators last season with 24 goals, tapped the pass into a wide-open net at the far post at 1:36 to tie the game.

Forsberg, 20, was the 11th player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft, and the Predators have big hopes for him. Nashville acquired Forsberg for Martin Erat at the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline. Forsberg, who had one goal and four assists in 13 games last season, said his primary assist on Smith's goal was the kind of play that could give him confidence.

"For sure," said Forsberg, who later made a dazzling move around an Ottawa defenseman that he could not finish. "It was a good entry. [Derek Roy] got the puck and I was just trying to hold that guy off and saw Smitty on the back door and [I was] just trying to give it to him and I know he'll put it in."

Eric Nystrom made it 3-1 with 9:40 left, converting a pass from Paul Gaustad on a 2-on-0 break. Forsberg created the play by generating a turnover at Ottawa's blue line and earned his second assist of the game.

Nystrom was called for boarding at 11:52, and Ottawa capitalized. Alex Chiasson, acquired this summer as part of a trade that sent center Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars, redirected Cody Ceci's shot past Rinne with 6:12 left to make it a one-goal game.

Smith was called for hooking with 1:47 left in regulation. Ottawa pulled goalie Craig Anderson in the final minute to create a 6-on-4 before Gaustad drew a penalty on David Legwand with 10.4 seconds left.

It was the first game as a visitor in Nashville for Legwand, who was the first player drafted by the organization in 1998. During a first-period timeout, the Predators played a video honoring Legwand, who played 956 games for Nashville and remains the franchise leader in goals (210), assists (356) and points (566).

With 5:30 left in the second period, Legwand was called for tripping in the offensive zone but Nashville could not convert. When he came out of the penalty box, he had a partial breakaway but whiffed on his shot. Legwand won 55 percent of his faceoffs and had the four penalty minutes while finishing with an even rating in 16:56 of ice time.

Legwand skated to the wrong penalty box at one point.

"It's tough going to one for 15 years and then you've got to go to the other one," he said. "It's over and done with. I'm happy that it's over and done with and I move forward."

Coach Paul MacLean was unhappy that the Senators let the game get away. Ottawa, which failed to qualify for the playoffs by five points last season, is looking to improve defensively.

"I think they took over the game halfway through but at the same time for us we had some signs of things we've been working on but we didn't stick with it," MacLean said. "We have to make sure we stick with what's having us have success and handle momentum swings a little bit better than we did tonight."

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