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Brendan Smith returns to ice after five-game absence

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit – — Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith is back on the ice after a bout with a virus that, while never fully diagnosed, seemed something like strep throat.

Smith said at one point is was like “practicing for four hours and sleeping for 20.”

For a time, the Red Wings sought to isolate him from other players as a precaution.

“Mainly, I just want to help the team win,” Smith said of his return after missing five games. “That’s my biggest thing, and I think I can help the team do that.

“We’re always looking at getting these points, so that we can keep ourselves in a playoff spot. And I want to be there and help the team in any way I can.

“So, by going out there and playing my best, I’m helping.”

Coach Jeff Blashill put Smith in and removed Jakub Kindl — who played in 17 of the first 19 games of the season — for Friday night’s game against the Kings.

“I’m looking for Smitty to be at his best,” Blashill said. “I think when Smitty’s at his best he minimizes mistakes with the puck. He’s putting pressure on other teams with his ability to jump up on the play, and also with his ability to be active in the offensive zone. I think he’s got good offensive instincts.

“He also brings, I’d say, a toughness more than a physicality. You know you’re going to pay a price when you come to our net, and he’s not afraid of anybody.”

Unnoticed defenseman

Kindl out of the lineup points to some similarity between his game and Smith’s, and the fact that rookie defenseman Alexey Marchenko has seized a role as a stay-at-home defender.

Like many young defensemen, Marchenko, 23, in his third season, is doing well when his play is mostly unnoticed.

“I think he’s a guy you appreciate more from the bench than you do maybe from the press box because he’s not flashy, he doesn’t skate great,” said Blashill, who also coached the young Russian in Grand Rapids.

“Sometimes it looks like he’s slow, although I don’t think his feet hardly ever hurt him — he hardly ever gets beat with his feet.

“What I like about him is that he wins tons of little puck battles,” the coach said. “He’s extremely strong on his stick. He’s got a big body, so he’s willing to take a hit to make a play. He doesn’t pull up, ever. He’s a pretty good passer of the puck. He’s got real good defensive instincts.”

Blashill went so far as to compare Marchenko’s reading of the play defensively with PavelDatsyuk’s offensive instincts.

“He has an idea where the puck is going, and he finds ways to get his stick on puck,” Blashill said.

Back-to-back again

The bizarre early-season coincidence of back-to-back games is finally over for the Wings.

In the past eight weeks, including the last two preseason games, they played back-to-back games on Fridays and Saturdays seven times.

They have 10 more back-to-back pairings this season, two per month through April.

One great benefit of the early-season predicament was helping establish the routine of alternating the goalies.

Jimmy Howard (2.29, .918, 4-4-1) and Petr Mrazek (2.16, .934, 5-4-1) have thrived, and good goaltending is a nearly constant theme in the first quarter of the season.

Red Wings at Blues

Faceoff: 8 p.m., Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1-FM and 1270-AM

Notes: The Blues beat the Sabres 3-2, Thursday, improving to 13-6-1, for the fourth-best points total in the NHL entering play Friday. ... Their 26.7 percent rate on the power play in November is seventh-best. ... Goalie Jake Allen’s 1.69 home goals against average is an NHL best. … Blashill announced Thursday that Howard will start in the second game of a back-to-back for the Wings.