Edmonton Oilers center Jordan Eberle (14) scores a goal against Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35), of Finland, in the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 22, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - David Legwand's late-season dependability has become a major factor as the Nashville Predators compete for a spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
It has also helped him make up for a slow start.
He had an assist on the first goal of the game by Martin Erat in the first period, and scored what proved to be the game-winner in the second period Tuesday night as the Predators topped the Edmonton Oilers 3-1.
"David has so much ability," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "When he is playing the way he is now, he is a very good player. In this game, he was the best player on the ice. ... We wouldn't be in the position we are in now if David had not stepped up."
Legwand, the first draft selection in franchise history, has always been known as a solid defensive player and his line usually is paired against the opposition's best offensive line.
"David gets all the tough assignments," Trotz said. "He is playing against top lines every night along with his linemates Martin Erat and Joel Ward."
Offensively, Legwand has six points—three goals, three assists—in his last four games and 15 points—five goals, 10 assists—in his last 13 games.
"David has recognized two things," Trotz said. "Early in the season, he sometimes looks at the 82 games and gets off to a little bit of a slow start. As he hits his stride and games get more and more important, he seems to elevate his level."
The Predators have won their last four games, and five of their last six. Edmonton lost for the seventh straight time.
"I don't think we quite believed that we could do it here," Edmonton coach Tom Renney said. "I think that is how we started, unfortunately, because once we started to apply ourselves we were able to get some ice back, get some sort of an attack going and give our opponent at least something to think about."
One of the goals for the Predators was to not only have a fast start in shots, but to also find the back of the net. They pelted Devan Dubnyk with 15 shots in the first period while holding Edmonton to five shots on goal.
Erat opened the scoring at 4:08. Ward, on the left side, pulled Dubnyk out of position and hit Erat with a pass as he skated down the right side. Erat easily put the puck in the open side of the net with a wrist shot from close range.
Patric Hornqvist scored on the power play at the 7:40 mark of the first. Sergei Kostitsyn passed Hornqvist the puck as he skated through the slot. His snap shot hit the left post and went into the net.
At the seven-minute mark of the second period Legwand skated through the slot and beat Dubnyk with a backhander to his stick side.
Edmonton broke goaltender Pekka Rinne's shutout attempt at 9:38 of the second period on the power play. Jordan Eberle, stationed near the left side of the net, controlled a rebound that bounced off of Rinne's leg pads and shot it into the net to his stick side.
Trotz gave the Predators a mixed score for the quality of their play.
"Our guys ramped it up early and were able to capitalize," Trotz said. "We got away from it a little bit in the second, but we put it back together in the third.
"We managed the game all right and we won. That is what you want to do."
Notes: Erat has goals in back-to-back games and 12 points in eight of the last 10 games with five goals and seven assists. ... The goal was the 17th of the season by Eberle, but only his second point in the last six games. ... Nashville's Ryan Suter had two assists, the fourth game in a row he has recorded an assist.