David Legwand insists it’s not as easy as it looks.
Sure, there is no goalie to get in the way, but there are lots of thoughts that can interfere with a player’s execution when he attempts to score into an empty net.
“You can get caught in the moment a little bit,” the Nashville Predators center said. “You have to just bear down and have it. It’s huge. People have seen guys miss empty nets and have the other team go down and tie it. You don’t want that to happen.”
No one among the Predators has seized those moments better, or more often lately than Legwand, the 31-year-old center and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
Legwand got Nashville’s first empty-netter of the season last Saturday when he scored with 1:02 to play at St. Louis. That capped a four-point night and earned him a share of the team lead in points headed into Thursday’s home-opener against the Phoenix Coyotes (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).
The 4-2 victory also punctuated a four-point weekend as the team began the 2011-12 season with victories in a back-to-back set against division rivals Columbus and St. Louis.
Dating back to last season, Legwand now has accounted for five of the Predators’ last six empty-netters, and five of his last 11 goals have come without resistance, so to speak.
Lest anyone think that Legwand simply looks for opportunities to pad his stats, though, he points out that teams only pull their goalie when they have the puck and are on the attack.
In those instances, Legwand is one of Nashville’s best defensive options at forward and often is on the ice in order to protect a lead. If a chance arises to pad that lead, he is willing to do so — for the benefit of other defensive stalwarts such as goalie Pekka Rinne and the defense pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
“Obviously, [coach] Barry [Trotz] has got trust in the guys he puts out there at the end of the game,” Legwand said. “It’s something you have to take pride in and do it. If you can seal the game with a minute or two left, then it’s a less stressful minute for [Rinne] and [Suter] and [Weber]. Other guys get to play out there, which is important because those minutes get wearing at the end of the season.”
Last March, Legwand notoriously passed up a shot at an open net and allowed teammate Sergei Kostitsyn a chance at a hat trick. Kostitsyn did not get it and before long a 5-1 lead over the Anaheim Ducks was a 5-4 nail-biter.
That experience and all the rest he has accumulated as the first draft pick in franchise history matter as much as ever now. He has opened the season on a line with 21-year-old Colin Wilson and rookie Craig Smith, who is 22.
“Leggy is a stabilizing guy,” Trotz said. “He’s got a lot of games [played]. He knows the game. But he’s really good with the young guys. He talks the game with them, and I think that’s really important for youngsters. … I think Leggy feels young on that line too.”
It’s unlikely that he’ll find scoring into an empty gets old, not when it ensures two points in the standings.
“The [points] are worth the same now as they are in March,” Legwand said. “That’s the thing we have to remember. The more we stockpile now, the less you have to stockpile later. That doesn’t mean your play can tail off, but if you stockpile points in October they’re worth the same now as in March.”
Goals are worth the same anytime too, regardless of whether or not they are scored against a goalie.