Wednesday, January 04, 2006

OILERS FORWARD RYAN IN HIS BEST SEASON IN YEARS

What fans are also seeing this season, however, is Smyth on track for 35 goals, which would be his best year since his first full NHL season at age 20. His last two outings against Nashville and Calgary to cap off 2005, and the game in Vancouver just before Christmas on the day he was named to Canada's Olympic team. He scored on a penalty shot against the Predators -- making him the only NHLer with two this season that way. He stuck his nose in to bang a loose puck past Miika Kiprusoff during the Oilers' 6-5 loss to Calgary on New Year's Eve. And he belted in a rare shot off the wing to defeat Alex Auld in Vancouver back on Dec. 21. He has 17 goals in just 34 games, having missed six with a sprained knee. Last time Smyth experienced his best season was way back in 1996-97 with 39 goals. He has scored more than 30 just one other time -- 31 in 2000-01, but he now has a total of 31 points in his 34 games. Smyth, 29, who has always managed to find his way to the no-parking zone in front of opposing goalies, feels to be facilitated by the introduction of the new rules, particularly NHL's zero-tolerance on obstruction. Smyth has free rein to be in a goalie's space, though. It's his incessant work along the boards and in the corners that sets Smyth apart from the crowd. The play never dies with him, because he uses his feet better than anybody else. Smyth always has his sleeves rolled up. And the goals are coming, more this year than in the last half-dozen seasons.

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