NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Samuel Girard’s first impression Tuesday night wasn’t bad.
His second one Thursday night was even better.
The 19-year old defenseman scored the tying goal and drew the first assist on the go-ahead marker in a 2:54 span of the second period in his second NHL game as the Nashville Predators topped the Dallas Stars 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena.
Girard, a second-round pick in 2016 from the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, has a goal and two assists in his first two games. What’s more, the 162-pounder has stood up well so far against bigger, more experienced players in his end of the rink.
“I told someone Tuesday night that it didn’t look like it was his first game,” teammate Filip Forsberg said, “and tonight obviously didn’t look like his second game. He plays with so much poise and the skill he has is great.”
Pressed into immediate duty by injuries that have cost Nashville half its big four defensemen — Ryan Ellis (knee) is out indefinitely and captain Roman Josi (lower-body injury) has missed the last two games — Girard hasn’t exactly been eased into action.
After playing 18:52 in Tuesday night’s 6-5 victory over Philadelphia, Girard logged 21:25 of action in this one. The departure of veteran Yannick Weber with an undisclosed injury after Martin Hanzal’s high hit midway through the first period led to an increased workload, but Girard’s performance merited it as well.
“We’ve seen the stuff he can do with the puck,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said, “but as we watch him defensively, you see he has a good stick and he closes quick to the puck. We’ve played him against some big lines so far and at every turn, he has. He manages his game well.”
Girard’s first career goal came on a booming slapper from just inside the blue line at 3:27 of the second off a P.K. Subban feed. After the puck zipped over Ben Bishop, Girard pumped both fists while Subban and his teammates mobbed him.
“It wasn’t a great shot, but I got it on the net,” the soft-spoken Girard said.
Girard got his next shot on net as well, a one-timer from the left circle that Bishop stopped. But the puck caromed over to Forsberg in the right circle and he hit the half-empty net at 6:21 for his fourth goal in four games, giving Nashville (2-2-0) a 2-1 lead.
Forsberg, who’s scored 30 goals in consecutive seasons despite slow starts, needed 31 games to tally his fourth goal in 2016-17.
“If I score goals and we don’t win, it doesn’t mean as much,” he said. “So it feels good to help the team win.”
Viktor Arvidsson’s second goal off a Forsberg assist at 15:09 of the third period made it 3-1, forcing Dallas (1-3-0) to pull Bishop with around three minutes left. Subban sealed it with an empty-netter at 18:06, his first goal and sixth point in four games.
Pekka Rinne (2-1-0) stopped 30 shots for the Predators, ceding only a power-play marker by Jamie Benn at 8:04 of the first period. Rinne’s best saves may have come consecutively midway through the second period as he denied Benn on consecutive backhand tries from the left post.
The Stars, who have tallied only eight goals in four games, could have equalized early in the third period. But Antoine Roussel missed a mostly empty net wide left, and they never got another opportunity that good.
“We’ve played four games and I’d say the goalie has outworked us in three of them,” Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I’d say that is a concern. We’re missing a number of glorious opportunities.”
Bishop (1-1-0) recorded 27 saves for the Stars, who failed in their first try to give Hitchcock his 783rd career win that would push him past the late Al Arbour into third place in NHL history.
NOTES: Dallas D Dan Hamhuis (groin) missed his second straight game, with Julius Honka drawing into the lineup in his place. ... Nashville coach Peter Laviolette had no word on the status of D Yannick Weber, who left the game after Martin Hanzal’s hit to the head in the first period. The Predators played with only five defensemen for the last 50:39. ... The Stars scratched D Greg Pateryn and C Gemel Smith. ... D Roman Josi, D Anthony Bitetto and RW Miikka Salomaki were Nashville’s scratches. C Colton Sissons (lower-body injury) returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday night’s contest.