NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Brendan Shanahan wasn't sure what to expect Monday night from his first NHL game in more than eight months.
He hadn't practised much with the New Jersey Devils since signing a one-year, US$800,000 contract on Wednesday, and he wasn't sure how much playing time he would get or how he would be used. He still has his scoring touch, though.
Shanahan's power-play goal 1:38 into the second period broke a scoreless tie and helped New Jersey beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 for its fourth straight victory.
"I didn't know if things would come back right away," Shanahan said. "I probably played a little more than I expected. I still think I have a lot of work to do. This is a game that has a lot of adrenaline. It is just one game. There is a long way for me to go and a lot of building for me yet."
David Clarkson and Zach Parise also scored for the Devils, who moved ahead of the New York Rangers into first place in the Atlantic Division. New Jersey completed a 5-1 road trip, getting help in the finale from an old pro.
Shanahan was on the ice for 18 shifts totalling 13 minutes 59 seconds - including 1:11 on the power play.
"Shanahan played very well in his first game, obviously getting the big goal for us," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "You can see his experience. He has played in a lot of key situations throughout his career."
Shanahan, who turns 40 on Friday, scored when he skated in from the left side along the goal line, deked Greg Zanon and fired a shot into the right side of the net, beating goalie Pekka Rinne during a 5-on-3 power play.
"When I gloved the puck down I thought they were anticipating a pass to the point," Shanahan said. "That's when I curled back. The defenceman probably thought I was going to pass. But he left his feet a little early and I decided to go around him. I didn't see (the far post). I just put the puck on net."
It was Shanahan's 651st goal, which ranks 11th on the NHL list. It also gave him 1,341 points, 24th on the career chart. Shanahan has played in 1,491 NHL games.
"It feels great," he said. "I was able to get a few good shifts in the first period and found my legs. It's nice to get some scoring chances and put one away."
But Shanahan was most pleased that he was on the ice in the final five minutes as New Jersey went into a defensive mode after the Predators scored their lone goal.
"In the third period the game turned into a defensive one and a checking one," he said. "So it was good to be a part of that as well and for Brent to use me in that capacity. I didn't feel tired or anything."
Shanahan has 23 goals in 42 games against the Predators, more than any other player.
"For whatever reasons I've had good success against this team," he said. "I thought about that before the game, but with no (Tomas) Vokoun maybe it wouldn't be the same."
Shanahan, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Rangers, made his season debut early in the first period. It was his first game since May 4, 2008, in the playoffs at Pittsburgh.
Shanahan was drafted by the Devils with the No. 2 pick in 1987. He left the team in 1991, signing a free-agent contract with the St. Louis Blues.
Radek Bonk scored for Nashville, which has lost three straight and is struggling offensively.
"With the exception of the Atlanta game our ability to keep the other team to a low score has been good," coach Barry Trotz said. "We've created chances. We just haven't been able to get points in games."
At 3:21 of the second period, Brian Rolston ripped a one-timer from near the top of the slot that was tipped over the left shoulder of Rinne by Clarkson as he battled Jason Arnott in front of the net. It was Rolston's second assist of the game.
Nashville scored at 14:12 of the third period on the power play. Arnott fired a one-timer from above the left circle that bounced off Bonk in front of the net. The puck trickled under the pads of New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen.
Parise scored an empty-net goal with 14 seconds left.
Jay Pandolfo was a healthy scratch for New Jersey to make room for Shanahan, a three-time Stanley Cup champion - all with the Detroit Red Wings. He has scored at least 20 goals in 19 consecutive seasons.
Notes: The power-play goal by Shanahan was the first allowed by the Predators on home ice since Dec. 13, ending a string of 33 straight penalty kills at home, tying a franchise record. ... Clemmensen has won his last two starts. ... Jamie Langenbrunner's last two points have both been assists on power plays. ... Nashville's Jerred Smithson left with an ankle injury in the second period and did not return.