Red Wings’ Brendan Smith is back
Detroit – This felt like Christmas morning all over again for defenseman Brendan Smith.
Smith, who hasn’t played since Thanksgiving weekend, was expected to return to the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night, as the Detroit Red Wings played their first game since Friday.
Smith was hurt Nov. 26 on a knee-on-knee collision with Montreal’s Phillip Danault, spraining his MCL.
“I’m just real excited to get back,” said Smith, who in 20 games has two goals and two assists with a minus-3 rating. “It seems like it’s been a long time. I just want to help out the boys the best I can and try to get this train moving back in the right direction.
“We’re looking for a playoff berth.”
Smith has been practicing for the last week, so his timing and conditioning have improved steadily.
“I feel good, I’m really happy with how I’ve recovered and how quick it’s been,” said Smith, who was expected to be paired with Niklas Kronwall. “This easily could have been six weeks. I’m happy it’s on schedule, or ahead of schedule, and I feel good.
“I just want to get out there and see if all the other stuff is back to normal. Stamina, you never really know if you get your game shape back until you get in a game. Hands, everything else, we’ll have to see.”
Expect Smith to play a safe and sound game as he eases himself back to being game-ready. The fact Smith plays more of a defensive-based game should help the transition.
“You have to play simple,” said Smith of returning from a month layoff. “Easy passes. I’ll be playing with Kronwall; I have to lean on him a little bit, give him the puck a little more and help myself get back in the game.
“A big hit always helps, a good play, just things like that get the momentum rolling.”
Preparation, said coach Jeff Blashill, is the key for any player returning.
“You have to make sure so when you get the opportunity, you’re ready to jump through that window, and that goes certainly for any of our guys that are in tonight,” Blashill said.
Just coming of a three-day break, the Red Wings face the exact opposite March 26-28 when they host Minnesota, then travel to Carolina for two consecutive games – the March 27 game being the rescheduled game with the Hurricanes stemming from the postponed game because of poor ice conditions.
Blashill feels the Red Wings will deal fine with the hectic schedule.
“It’s one of the best scenarios that we could have had,” said Blashill of the rescheduled game, adding the Sunday game at Joe Louis Arena likely could be moved to an afternoon game.
“It makes for no more travel,” said Blashill of having the two games in Carolina on consecutive days. “Playing three games in a row – we play and practice hard, so it’s not a whole lot different than that.
“I’ve certainly been involved in lots of three-in-threes in the American League and they’re way harder than the one we’ll face.
“When you play in Grand Rapids and go to Milwaukee then go to Chicago or Des Moines, that’s a harder trip than what we’re going to face.”
While Smith returned to the lineup, the Red Wings are still waiting on Darren Helm (dislocated shoulder), Justin Abdelkader (knee), Tyler Bertuzzi (ankle sprain), Mike Green (upper body) and Alexey Marchenko (shoulder).
Abdelkader, Bertuzzi and Marchenko all could be ready to play by the end of the week, while Helm and Green look to be returning after the New Year.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard (knee) is out until approximately early February.