Ryan Smyth spent his 1,000th NHL game exactly where he has spent most of the others: parked directly in front of the opponent’s net, causing headaches for goalies.
Smyth doesn’t always score, but he usually puts himself in position to score, and on one of the biggest nights of his esteemed career, Smyth got a goal as the Kings routed the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Saturday night before a sellout 18,118 at STAPLES Center.
The Kings won their fourth consecutive game, improved to 10-3-0 this season, kept their early hold on first place in the Western Conference and have the most points in the NHL. The Kings also improved to 6-0-0 at home.
The only real negative for the Kings was the loss of defenseman Willie Mitchell, who left the game in the middle of the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
By the middle of the second period, the game was essentially over. The Kings got first-period goals from Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, and second-period goals from Smyth and Jarret Stoll, the latter chasing Predators goalie Pekka Rinne from the game.
All that remained was to see whether Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier would record his second career shutout, but Shane O’Brien scored late in the third period for Nashville.
It was successful day for Smyth, one that started when teammates took the ice for the morning skate wearing mullet wigs in tribute to Smyth and his famously free-flowing hair. Smyth had more than 40 friends and family in attendance, and made them happy with a goal and an all-around solid performance.
``It’s an honor,’’ Smyth said. ``It’s overwhelming. I obviously still remember the first game, but it’s been 1,000 games. You look back and there’s some great times, there’s some tough times, and there’s sad times. You go through so many different emotions throughout every hockey game, and obviously I can’t remember them all, but I’m just honored to play in the NHL.’’
There were few faults to find in the Kings’ game. The second line, which has been carrying the scoring load this season, got two more goals, from Smyth and Stoll, and the inconsistent first line had one of its strongest offensive games of the season.
Kopitar had been without a goal for four consecutive games, but he got it started with a powerful, skillful move in the first period, and the Kings beat the Predators at STAPLES Center for the first time since the 2007-08 season, breaking a five-game streak.
Just as encouraging, for the Kings, as the offensive output – against an often-stingy Nashville defense – was the play of Bernier, who stopped 25 of 26 shots.
Kings No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick is off to a fantastic start, but coach Terry Murray stuck with his plan Saturday and gave Bernier his fourth start of the season.
Bernier entered with a 1-2-0 record, and had looked a bit wobbly at times this season, but showed poise and consistency against the Predators. He had history on his side, given that he turned in a 34-save shutout of the Predators in Nashville in March of last season.
``Bernier was really good,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``He got a lot of pucks coming around in small areas, like we saw against Tampa Bay. They take pucks to the net. They're very aggressive. They're quick, they're fast. They've got a cannon up top, with Weber. And on the penalty killing, he was our best penalty-killer tonight. Our group was off a little bit. We allowed some plays that are very uncharacteristic of the way we've been killing so far this year, and Bernier came up with the big save.’’
Bernier faced little sustained pressure for much of Saturday’s game, but looked solid, and the Kings didn’t take long to give Bernier the lead.
The Kings opened the scoring 4:11 into the game, after a nice display of skill by Kopitar. Brown's pass found Kopitar entering the offensive zone, and Kopitar went a bit wide, carrying the puck around Nashville defenseman Cody Franson. Kopitar then picked out the top far corner and beat Rinne with a sharp wrist shot.
Brown gave the Kings a 2-0 lead with 5:52 left in the first period. Brown took a cross-ice pass from Scott Parse, carried the puck into the Nashville zone and shot from near the middle of the right faceoff circle. The shot immediately clipped the stick of Nashville defenseman Shane O'Brien and beat Rinne to the far post. Kopitar also got an assist.
``I thought Kopi, Brownie and Parse started us off great,’’ Smyth said. ``They had some energy and gave us some life, and we just kept going.’’
In his 1,000th NHL game, Smyth scored a goal similar to many he has scored in his 15-year NHL career. Rob Scuderi's point shot was saved, by Smyth, parked in front of the net, controlled the rebound and slipped a backhand shot past Rinne to give the Kings a 3-0 lead 6:47 into the second period.
``It was a big day for him, starting with the morning skate,’’ Murray said. ``He had a great game. It's really a statement to who he's been throughout his whole career, to come out and play a solid game like this. The line was real good. He scores a goal. The eye of the L.A. Kings hockey-fan world is on him, and he responded the right way. So I was real happy for the end result for him tonight.’’
The Kings made it 4-0 with 9:13 remaining in the second period. Stoll chased down the puck in the corner and rimmed it back out to Jack Johnson. Stoll then went to the front of the net and knocked the puck past Rinne to give the Kings a four-goal lead. Justin Williams picked up his second assist of the game.
Anders Lindback replaced Rinne in goal after Stoll's goal. Rinne allowed four goals on 22 shots. Lindback shut out the Kings for final 39-plus minutes, but the Predators were unable to get back in the game against Bernier and the Kings’ defense.
The Predators did manage to break Bernier's shutout bid with 2:24 remaining in the third period, when O'Brien ripped a high slap shot from near the middle of the left circle that beat Bernier to make it 4-1 in favor of the Kings.
The Kings are now off for four days before hosting the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
1 - 0 LAK
Wrist shot -
2 - 0 LAK
Backhand shot -
3 - 0 LAK
Backhand shot -
4 - 0 LAK
4 - 1 LAK