Martin Erat simply needed to catch his breath. As it turned out, he gave the Nashville Predators some early breathing room.
The veteran forward was at the end of his shift when he got the new season off to a good start with a goal 39 seconds into Saturday’s opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena.
“I was tired after 30 seconds and I tried to just shoot it between the defenseman’s legs,” he said. “It was a good shot that went just between them.”
It also got past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and gave the Predators a 1-0 lead that stood for more than 15 minutes but ultimately did not hold up.
Following a lockout that lasted roughly four months and a training camp shortened to six days, Nashville was the exception on the day the National Hockey League got back to playing games. In all, 26 of the league’s 30 teams were in action Saturday and 10 of the 13 that scored first ended the day with a victory.
The Predators and Blue Jackets were the only ones who went to overtime, and Columbus finally won 3-2 by virtue of a six-round shootout.
“Obviously, it got the crowd right into it, which is great,” coach Barry Trotz said of the early goal. “They were fantastic as usual. It was a good start. You don’t want to be chasing the game, and the game was pretty even for the most part. Getting a good start … it’s easier to play from ahead than behind.”
Six teams, including the Predators, scored within the first five minutes of play Saturday. All six led at the end of the first period but Nashville was the only one that allowed its first goal within the first 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh scored at 4:40 and led 2-0 at the first intermission. Chicago got on the board at 3:41 and was up 3-0 after one. Florida scored at 3:37 and added three more before the break. Toronto (4:51) and Colorado (2:07) each were up 1-0 after one period.
Columbus scored on the power play with 3:42 to play in the first but the Predators went back ahead with a power-play goal of their own 1:47 later.
“I think it got the monkey off our back just to come out and get that quick lead, which is nice,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “For the first 10 minutes we played pretty well and then we kind of backed it off, and that’s [something] we can’t do – play sporadically. We have to work on being good all game.”
Things started to go badly in the second half of the second period, when Columbus enjoyed an inordinate amount of time in the offensive zone. The Blue Jackets tied it for good on Artem Anisimov’s goal at 12:05 of the second.
When the shootout settled things, it left the Predators as one of two teams (Colorado was the other) that led after the first period but did not win.
Similarly, teams that scored two or more first-period goals were a combined 6-1-1 on the day. The losers were Nashville and Vancouver, which was tied 2-2 with Anaheim at the first intermission.
“Different guys are different and a lot of guys were maybe nervous coming in,” captain Shea Weber said. “I think [the early goal] gave us more energy. We still made mistakes, but I think we were playing with more energy and then we kind of let up in the second.”
• Briefly: The Predators assigned defense prospect Victor Bartley to Milwaukee (AHL) on Sunday. The 24-year-old was selected last week to play in the upcoming AHL All-Star Game but missed part of training camp with an injury. … Nashville defenseman Roman Josi led all players through the first two days of games with 27:30 of ice time in Saturday’s contest. … Nashville had won its previous three season-openers, including last season against Columbus. The last time it opened with a defeat, 2008-09, was also the last time it failed to make the playoffs. … Defenseman Ryan Ellis scored the Predators’ second goal. It was the fourth of his career (33 games), the third on the power play.