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Detroit — It was only an exhibition game, but Brendan Smith's play Monday had to excite the Red Wings.

Smith played 25 minutes, 57 seconds, blocked three shots and played as soundly and efficiently as he's ever played as a member of the Red Wings.

"Smith was the best defenseman on the ice, bar none, on both teams, which is great," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I've never been able to say that about Smitty in an NHL game. Ever. They (the Maple Leafs) had NHL players playing. I thought Smitty was great."

Smith, 25, has been inconsistent in his first two NHL seasons but seemed to find a level of consistency in the second half of last season.

Nyquist returns

Forward Gustav Nyquist (knee) returned to practice Tuesday and could play as early as Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Nyquist suffered a knee-on-knee collision with Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton in Saturday's game, and there was fear Nyquist would be sidelined. But the knee has progressed every day.

"I felt better today, better than yesterday," Nyquist said. "It feels good. I'm really happy about it."

Nyquist hopes to play in at least one more exhibition game this week.

Darren Helm (broken nose) and Jonathan Ericsson (hip flexor) both are day to day.

"I'm going to wait until (Wednesday) morning and then I'll know," said Babcock, as to whether Helm and Nyquist will play. "E had all his equipment on and I saw him out there (on the ice). The next think I know, he was gone."

Ericsson isn't likely to play until the weekend.

Like Bowman?

Scotty Bowman worked mainly on one-year contracts during his coaching career with the Red Wings.

Babcock, whose contract expires after this season, hasn't thought about doing the same.

"Scotty was on one-year deals a lot in Detroit and it worked for him," Babcock said. "I haven't thought much about it. When you get to a certain stage, you're pretty comfortable, and it doesn't matter, because you're just going to coach the team anyway."

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