PITTSBURGH -- His game legs weren't quite there, and his body still hasn't quite caught up to his new time zone. It's been a furious week of change for Alexander Radulov, who has switched teams, leagues and continents in very little time.
What was very much in evidence in his first game with the Nashville Predators in four years was the scoring touch that made Radulov widely recognized as the world's best player who wasn't in the NHL.
The decision to play Radulov in Pittsburgh wasn't made until a few hours before the Penguins' 5-1 win against the Predators on Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. Only the day before, Radulov was being re-introduced at a Nashville news conference, and he managed only one practice and an optional morning skate before pulling on a Predators jersey again.
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But in a game that was a start-to-finish disappointment for Nashville, Radulov stood out with his size, as well as his ability to get free around the net and be a constant offensive presence. He scored the Predators' lone goal by skating hard to the net, finding the puck after it deflected off two Penguins players and wristing it past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 12:01 into the second period. Hal Gill and Patric Hornqvist picked up the assists.
"I didn't even see it," Fleury said.
Radulov's first goal for Nashville since April 14, 2008, was his 45th in 146 NHL games – all of which, before Thursday, were played during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, when he was in his early 20s.
He is 25 now, and he is certain that his best days are still to come in his No. 47 jersey. He is also confident there are much better days ahead for the Predators (42-24-8), who remain in contention to gain home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs despite losing their last two games.
"We've got to regroup – we've got a big game coming up at home (Saturday against Winnipeg)," Radulov said. "We've got to score more. We had chances and we've got to bury them."
Much like Radulov did on his goal.
"I thought he was OK. With all he's gone through in the last 10 or 12 days, he hasn't skated a lot," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "But I thought he was fine."
Since ending his fourth Kontinental Hockey League season, Radulov worked out the details of his return to the NHL, flew across nine time zones to get to Nashville, rejoined his former team and, almost within hours, resumed playing for them. With only eight more regular-season games remaining, he didn't want to wait until Saturday to resume playing.
"My legs were little bit burning, but it's not excuse," Radulov said. "It was a loss so it doesn't matter. "
The Predators obviously believe Radulov is a player who will matter a great deal, especially when the playoffs arrive.
"He's polished," Trotz said. "For a guy who hasn't played over here in four years, I thought he was OK. The game is a lot different here, but I thought he is adjusting quite well."
He started the game by playing left wing on a line with center David Legwand and right wing Hornqvist. But on a night he took two shots, had two hits and was a minus-2, Radulov wasn't the best Russian star on the ice; NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin had two goals. Malkin's scoring skills haven't changed during the time Radulov has been away.
"He's unbelievable. What do you want me to say? He's one of the best in the NHL," Radulov said. "When they won the Stanley Cup (in 2008-09), he was playing the same. He was playing the best. I've always said he's a good and a big player."
Just like the player the Predators expect Radulov to be.