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Experiment over, Smith back to defense

With 12 healthy forwards tonight vs. Penguins, Smith will be paired with Kronwall

Thursday, 03.20.2014 / 3:12 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
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Experiment over, Smith back to defense
Brendan Smith, who played left wing Tuesday night, will move back to the blue line tonight agaisnt the Penguins. (Photo by Getty Images)

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.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
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11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
R. Sheahan 81 14 11 -8 25
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80