NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Nashville Predators were happy with their first 20 minutes of the new season. Luckily, they have goalie Pekka Rinne to cover any slack when they ease up a bit too much.
Craig Smith had a power-play goal as the Predators scored twice in the first period Thursday night and held off the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in the season opener for both.
”We played great hockey in the first, but we let off the gas for sure, and we knew they weren’t going to give up,” said Nashville defenseman Seth Jones. ”We let off the gas, and Pek made some huge saves for us and we got some timely bounces.”
Article continues below ...
Viktor Arvidsson scored the first goal of his NHL career, and Jones had two assists. Nashville improved to 4-1-1 in its last six season openers.
Rinne, the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, missed his first shutout of Carolina when Eric Staal scored with 1:40 left. Rinne made 25 saves for the win.
Defenseman Noah Hanifin, the fifth overall pick by Carolina in June, made his NHL debut and played 18:06. The Hurricanes lost defenseman James Wisniewski, one of their offseason additions, early to a lower-body injury, and he did not return.
”We had a little bit of adversity,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said. ”I thought we handled it well though, but all three penalties for us were in the O-zone. That can’t be something we do . get that cleaned up, and we will be fine.”
The Predators opened the night with their traditional gold carpet walk into the arena and their 13th consecutive sellout. Then they kicked off Peter Laviolette’s second season as coach by jumping all over the team he coached to the 2006 Stanley Cup, taking 11 of the first 13 shots.
”We were strong in the first, I mean … we were ready to play,” Laviolette said. ”We just have to do that for 60 minutes.”
Carolina forward Kris Versteeg said the Predators play really well in their building.
”I thought once we settled in, we played a lot better,” Versteeg said.
They nearly blew it with the Hurricanes finishing with a flurry of shots at Rinne, and Staal scored just after Carolina goalie Cam Ward reached the bench.
Smith tipped in a shot by Ryan Ellis for a 1-0 lead off Nashville’s first power play to take advantage of Jordan Staal’s penalty for high-sticking. Smith signed a five-year deal worth $21.2 million in July. Arvidsson tipped in a shot redirected by Calle Jarnkrok off a blast from Jones at 17:03 for the 2-0 lead.
The Swede celebrated his first career goal in his seventh NHL game with a triple fist pump on the bench.
Carolina came in having won its final four preseason games. The Hurricanes just couldn’t get anything going against the Predators, who still aren’t happy at being ousted in the first round of the playoffs last spring after finishing third in the Western Conference.
The Hurricanes outshot Nashville 21-11 in the final two periods and failed to convert on two power plays in the third. Except for Staal’s tip-in, their flurry of shots in the final minute just couldn’t squeeze past Rinne, who finished second to Montreal goalie Carey Price in Vezina voting.
Notes: Nashville improved to 9-6-2 all-time in home openers. … These teams split last season, but Nashville now is 10-4-0 in the last nine games in this series. The Predators also have gotten points in 11 of the last 12. … Arvidsson led Nashville’s AHL-affiliate, Milwaukee, in scoring last season. … Carolina now is 4-9-5 in season openers since leaving Connecticut. … Only 12 defensemen had made their NHL debut in the year they were drafted since the 2008 draft.