LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Ryan Smyth was already having a great night celebrating his 1,000th NHL game. Adding a goal in a Los Angeles Kings’ victory made it even more special.
In front of family and friends, Smyth’s goal helped the Kings beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Saturday night.
“It’s an honour. It’s overwhelming,” Smyth said. “There’s a lot of sacrifices that go on at the homefront, but that’s part of being a professional athlete. You look back and there’s been some great times, some tough times and some sad times. You go through so many different emotions throughout every game. I’m sharing this day with my mom because it’s her birthday, and she’s here today.”
Smyth’s first 770 NHL games were with the Edmonton Oilers. His wife, Stacey, flew former Oilers trainer Kenny Lowe and former equipment guys Barrie Stafford and Lyle Kulchisky to Los Angeles for the event.
The trio surprised him at home on Thursday with a framed game sheet from his NHL debut on Jan. 22, 1995—the Oilers’ first game after the lockout—against the Kings in Los Angeles.
Smyth nearly scored with about five minutes left in the first period, but goalie Pekka Rinne robbed him at the doorstep with a sprawling save after a perfect cross-ice pass by Drew Doughty. He eventually made it 3-0 at 6:47 of the second, backhanding the puck past Rinne’s glove after Rob Scuderi took a shot from the right point that was stopped by Smyth’s stick.
“It was a big day for him,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “It’s really a statement to who he’s been throughout his whole career, to come out and play a solid game like this.”
Jonathan Bernier, who signed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 4, made 25 saves in his fourth start this season for the NHL-leading Kings. He lost his shutout bid when Shane O’Brien beat him high to the glove side with a slap shot from the left circle—Nashville’s final shot—with 2:24 to play.
“It would have been great to get the shutout for Bernier, but overall it’s a very big two points for us against a conference team that we’ve had a lot of problems with over the last couple of years,” Murray said.
Bernier’s teammates blocked 18 shots during the first two periods and 21 overall, thwarting three power plays. The Kings have killed all 21 power plays at home.
“That was great,” said Bernier, who stopped 34 shots on March 30 at Nashville in a 2-0 win for his only NHL shutout. “There were a lot of huge blocked shots, especially on the PK. They’ve been outstanding. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re up in the standings right now.”
Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown each had a goal and an assist, and Justin Williams had two assists for the Kings (10-3), off to their best start since going 10-1-1 in the 1980-81 season. Murray was hoping they would carry the momentum from their first playoff berth since 2002 into this season.
“You don’t know that, especially with a young hockey club,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of positives that you take out of that experience, and you’re hoping that everybody comes back with the right attitude and really pays attention to the off-ice program. When you get them back on the ice, you really have to bring everything to their attention right away so that everybody’s focused.”
Rinne, who has started every game during Nashville’s four-game losing streak, gave up four goals on 22 shots and was replaced by Anders Lindback after Jarret Stoll scored 10:47 into the second period.
“We didn’t give Pekka Rinne a lot of support, and offensively, they didn’t give us much,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Everything we know they can do, they did. And we didn’t prevent them from doing a whole lot. Wins aren’t coming very easy for us, so it’s becoming frustrating.”
Kopitar beat Rinne from the middle of the left circle at 4:11, and Brown scored from the middle of the right circle at 13:00.
Stoll added his fifth goal four minutes later, converting a rebound of Jack Johnson’s shot from the left point. The Stoll-Smyth-Justin Williams line has 14 goals and 34 points in the last 11 games.
“They have a lot of respect for each other and they work hard for each other,” Murray said. “I love the way Justin Williams is playing. The play he made on the goal, he looked a little Gretzky-like, withthose evasive moves at the blue line in the offensive zone. It was pretty amazing stuff, and that’s the way he’s performed all year.”
NOTES: The last Kings player to appear in his 1,000th NHL game was Rob Blake on Nov. 4, 2006. … Trotz coached his 914th regular-season game, tying Toe Blake for the fifth most with one team. … The Predators had won five straight in Los Angeles since a 6-0 loss on Oct. 23, 2007. … The Kings are 6-0 at home for the first time since the 1980-81 season, when they were 7-0.