DETROIT – The experiment lasted less than 40 minutes, but that’s fine for Brendan Smith, who returns to his customary position tonight.
“It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but I think I can do that just because of my versatility,” said Smith, who is expected to be paired with Niklas Kronwall against the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I’m a good skater and it’s a different situation where I’m trying to help the team win. Whatever I can do to help is what I’m going to do. I’m back on D with Kronner, that’s where I want to be playing.”
Injuries to so many forwards forced the Red Wings to move Smith to left wing against Toronto Tuesday. He logged less than five minutes as a fourth-line grinder before top-pairing defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was struck in the left by a Phil Kessel shot late in the second period.
Ericsson suffered a fractured middle finger and partially torn tendon, which required surgery on Wednesday.
Smith had to quickly refocus for the third period against the Maple Leafs, transitioning from an offensive-minded forward to a defensive mindset.
“I was really focused on what to do as a forward, where to be, good places to be, right position, follow our team structure,” Smith said. “Then in the third period, it was good, because I got to have a full intermission to kind of recuperate and think about what I had to do as a D-man.”
Smith and the Red Wings’ defense have a mighty test against the Penguins, who lead the league in wins when they score first with a 32-3-1 record this season. Detroit is 10-16-6 when surrendering the game’s first goal. Coupled with the Red Wings recent lack of offensive production, they can’t afford to give the Penguins, led by the league’s leading scorer Sidney Crosby, too many chances.
“They’re a great squad, they have so much talent,” Smith said. “We have to limit their time in space and make sure that we execute with the puck efficiently because if we do have turnovers it’s going to bite us because teams like Pittsburgh and Toronto they’re rush teams. They like to move on the transition so we can’t turn the pucks over. We have to get in deep, especially with our team right now that’s what we’re focusing on.”
A third-pairing defenseman for most of the season, Babcock is giving Smith a shot on the top pairing with a message.
“Take care of the puck, real simple,” Babcock said. “Who has it when you’re done with it? Real simple game that way for him. He competes real hard, you got to make sure you take care of it, you can’t be passing it to them.”
Smith, who has committed a team-high 43 turnovers, believes he’ll be more responsible playing alongside Kronwall.
“I think Kronner helps everybody’s game,” said Smith, who has produced three goals and 15 points in 57 games. “I think he’s one of the top five defensemen, so to be with him you can feed off of him. He talks, he calls for the puck, he makes good plays, he plays hard, he hits, he does it all. So just to play with him, he creates more time foe everybody on the ice, and it’s definitely helped my game.”
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