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Grand occasion for Sens blueliner

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Veteran Sens defenceman Jason Smith will hit a career milestone on Tuesday night in Denver when he plays his 1,000th NHL game (Photo by Rick Stewart/NHLI via Getty Images).

Whenever Jason Smith casts a glance around the Ottawa Senators dressing room, it is there for him to see almost everywhere he turns.

If the muscles that ache a little more quickly don't offer the reminder first, that is.

"You think about it (age) wise, when you're 19 and they're 28, 29 or 30," the veteran Senators defenceman said earlier today when asked if the approaching milestone in his National Hockey League service has him feeling a little older these days. "It seems like a long time but you're all playing and competing. But now, I guess I'm one of those old guys, right?"

The numbers are there for all to see. When the Senators hit the ice against the Nashville Predators tonight at the Sommet Center (8 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), it'll mark Game No. 999 in Smith's 14-year NHL career. That number is set to hit four digits on Tuesday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.

"I haven't really thought about it that much," Smith said of reaching the 1,000-game plateau. "Over time, it shows that I'm really durable and enjoy playing the game. I've been able to compete and play at a high level for awhile."

It has been a long road for a gritty defenceman who spent three seasons each with the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs before a lengthy run with an Edmonton Oilers team he captained for five seasons. He wore the 'C' again in Philadelphia in 2007-08 before signing with the Senators as a free agent last summer.

Smith still strives to bring the same fun attitude to the rink each and every day.

"I feel great," he said. "Some days, you wake up and have more little aches and pains than when you were younger. But I definitely still enjoy coming to the rink and playing and competing.

"I haven't really thought about it that much. Over time, it shows that I'm really durable and enjoy playing the game. I've been able to compete and play at a high level for awhile." - Jason Smith
"It's a grind and there's nothing easy about playing in this league. If you're not having fun and coming to the rink and enjoying it and enjoying the battles and the good times and the bad, it's tough to do it."

He doubts he'll do anything special to celebrate the milestone on Tuesday night. It's something Smith said he's likely to appreciate more after he retires.

"You get together at an alumni thing with former teammates and you reflect and look back at the good times you had with those guys and the things you accomplished as a team," he said. "That's something I'll always remember as a player forever, the good times you have with the guys and the family, friends and people you've been acquainted with (along the way).

"You look back and say 'game 500 was a pretty neat thing' ... Now it's something that's just a stop along the way."

Auld gets start against Predators

After a strong relief effort in Saturday's come-from-behind triumph over the Minnesota Wild, Alex Auld (10-13-5) makes the start tonight in Nashville. As it turns out, that also fits in perfectly with head coach Cory Clouston's goaltending plan for the current road trip.

"This was (Auld's) game in the rotation originally," said Clouston. "It's the perfect time to put him in. He should be full of confidence."

It's the first start for Auld since Jan. 30, when he wound up on the wrong end of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Around the boards

Clouston won't make any lineup changes for tonight, meaning defenceman Alex Picard and forward Christoph Schubert will again be healthy scratches ... Tuesday night's game in Denver (9:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) wraps up the Senators' current five-game road swing. Then Ottawa plays nine of its next 10 games at home ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday's visit by Mats Sundin and the Vancouver Canucks to Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) ... The Senators travel to Montreal on Saturday for Hockey Day in Canada, playing a 3 p.m. matinee at the Bell Centre.

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