Smyth is on track to play his 1,000th regular-season NHL game when the Kings host Nashville on Saturday at STAPLES Center. That would make him the 256th member of a club of players that has survived, and thrived, in a grueling professional sport.
And to be sure, Smyth is no floater. He’s never been known for his perimeter play. If there’s traffic in front of the net, Smyth is probably there. If someone is pushing the puck along the boards, chipping into the zone, taking a hit, there’s a good chance it’s Smyth.
That style of play has no doubt added a few miles to Smyth’s physical odometer, made getting up in the morning tougher some days, but Smyth has made it to 1,000 games.
"It means a lot," Smyth said. "I think it's a great accomplishment, not only for myself but for the organizations that I've been with, the training staffs that I've had over the course of my career. Doctors, keeping me intact. And obviously a little bit of hard work, on the other front, but there's been a lot of great support from family, from my wife and kids and friends and parents. It will be fun."
The sixth overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 1994, Smyth played his first NHL game in Jan. 1995, coincidentally against the Kings.
Smyth’s career has since taken him to Long Island, to Denver and to Los Angeles, but it has never changed his style. He still only carries about 190 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. He still plays with a wooden blade on his stick. He still uses the same shoulder pads, which have been re-stuffed countless times over 15 years.
Now, at age 34, Smyth isn’t prone to a lot of introspection, mostly because he’s not done playing, but he still appreciates what he has been through. The game can be tough on any player, and Smyth has certainly felt his share of aches over the years.
"There are some days when it's a little tougher than others, through the duration, but it's just the will, the fight within and the wanting to win," Smyth said. "The bottom line is, you check your egos and stuff at the door, come in and put your hard hat on and go to work. In my case, it's a little bit tougher than maybe some of the others, but that's my style and that's the way I have to make an honest living."
He’s certainly doing it this year. Smyth has eight points in 12 games this season, and his quick thinking Thursday night helped lead to a Tampa Bay turnover and a Smyth pass to Justin Williams for the game’s only goal.
Williams’ goal was a highlight Thursday night, as was Jonathan Quick’s first shutout of the season, but much of the postgame talk centered on Willie Mitchell’s fight.
It wasn’t just that Mitchell dropped the gloves, although that was notable, given that Mitchell had fought only three times over the previous two seasons. Moreover, it was the fact that Mitchell sacrificed himself for a teammate.
Coach Terry Murray might have winced a bit when Mitchell went to the penalty box with seven minutes remaining in the third period, given that the Kings were nursing a one-goal lead and Mitchell is arguably his best shut-down defenseman.
But the Kings held on, and afterward Murray had nothing for praise for Mitchell, who took on Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie near the end of a game in which Downie had proved to be a persistent irritant, both verbally and physically.
"I was real happy to see that. That's the kind of play where you want your partner to stand up for you in a situation like that. Doughty would do the same thing. That's a team. When you care about your teammates, it's that foxhole mentality. You battle for each other and you love each other and you do those things. So that was great to see."
Murray had praise for the return of Drew Doughty, who had missed six games with concussion symptoms but played a team-high 24 minutes, 44 seconds, against Tampa Bay. Doughty blocked three shots and didn’t shy away from any physical play.
"I thought he was really good," Murray said. "He was real good in the first period. He showed a lot of composure in the offensive zone, and a couple little spin moves to negate some pressure and got some plays to the net. It's just great to have him back. He looked real excited, enthusiastic and really contributed to the game here tonight."
Murray also gave a thumbs-up to Scott Parse, who made his season debut after suffering a groin injury early in training camp. Parse played 10 minutes, 45 seconds.
"Pretty good. Parse was pretty good," Murray said. "Parse competes. That's one of the unknowns. You kind of look at him and you wonder, `How is this going to happen?' but he's a competitive guy. When he gets the puck on his stick in the right place at the right time, he can do some damage. So I liked his first game."