Early offense a decidedly positive trend for Predators

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 10:00pm

Suddenly the Nashville Predators are first-rate in the first period.

Headed into Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena), the Predators have a streak of eight straight games with at least one first-period goal. In three of those eight games they have scored more than once in the opening 20 minutes.

“I think it’s huge, especially with our goaltending playing the way it is,” captain Shea Weber said. “We are confident those guys are going to make some big saves for us, so if we can get a couple of goals early and play with a lead it is a lot different than trying to come from behind all game.”

That has not been an issue.

Over the same eight games, Nashville has allowed just one first-period goal. That was to Carolina on Dec. 4 — and the Predators led 3-1 at the first intermission of that one.

The eight-game streak is the franchise’s longest since 2006-07. That season Nashville had runs of eight, 12 and 13 consecutive games with at least one goal in the opening period on their way to a franchise-best 51-23-8 record.

The run was extended Monday when Sergei Kostitsyn scored 11:15 after the opening faceoff against the New York Islanders, who had just one victory in their previous 20 contests.

“It was important against the Islanders because they’ve been having a little trouble coming back,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Getting the first goal [Monday] night, I thought, was really, really huge against them because it put a little doubt in their minds.”

Generally speaking, the first goal is not necessarily important just as long as the Predators get at least one sometime in the first period.

In their 29 games this season, they have shown remarkable balance. They have scored in the first period 17 times, the exact number they have scored in the second and third as well.

It’s the first period that makes the most profound difference, though. Ten of Nashville’s 15 victories have come in games when they scored before the first intermission.

The Predators are 6-0-2 during the current streak.

“It’s a big help, especially for us,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “We get a lot more confidence from early on in the game when we score early. Sometimes we get a little snake-bitten and it can affect the mentality of the team a little bit when we don’t get those bounces.

“So to get one early really helps us out.”

Briefly

• Weber remains the leading vote-getter — by far — among the three Nashville players on the NHL All-Star ballot for fan voting.

Weber received 50,365 votes through Sunday, which was nowhere near enough to earn him a guaranteed spot in the All-Star game. He was 18th among defensemen.

Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne had almost identical numbers. Suter had 13,492 votes and Rinne had 13,439.

Fan voting to determine three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie to play in the game continues through Jan. 3 at NHL.com/vote.

• Former Predators’ assistant coach Paul Gardner has been named head coach of the Memphis RiverKings, in the Central Hockey League.

Gardner was behind the Nashville bench for the franchise’s first five seasons and then two more as a professional scout. He has since been a head coach in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and, most recently, the German Elite League.