Wings' Smith waits for chances, seeks to cut down penalties

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Givani Smith is in one of those difficult situations young players sometimes find themselves in.

Smith isn't playing much. When he is on the ice, he might be overthinking things and making it worse for himself. He's desperately trying to make a positive impact and earn more playing time.

Detroit right wing Givani Smith is struggling to find his form.

It's not easy, and there's a delicate balance. Somehow you need to wait for your chance and take advantage of it, after biding your time and learning when you're not playing.

"It's not easy and when you don't get played a lot, it affects you," coach Jeff Blashill said. "I'm sure his confidence is not real high right now and there's no way to make it high, except to go out and slowly but surely earn a little more ice time.

"Ultimately he has to keep grinding and working and when he gets a little greater opportunity, try to pounce on that opportunity."

More: Red Wings' draft pick Kienan Draper commits to UM

Smith has played in 12 games this season, with no points and a minus-four rating. He's averaging eight minutes of ice time. Smith only played 5:11 in Thursday's loss to Washington. He was knocked off a puck after a faceoff in the second period leading to a Washington goal — just 10 seconds after the Capitals had scored a first goal.

It's those type of unfortunate plays, along with Smith's penalty problems, that have cut into his playing time.

"He's still learning," Blashill said. "Unfortunately early in the season, he took a penalty a game and what that does ... it culminated in the first Montreal game. He took a penalty and it ended us sitting him. You don't want to go the box and take a penalty and now you get a little bit playing more careful. Givani can't do that either.

"So, he has to find that balance of playing real hard and getting under guys' skins without taking penalties. That's not an easy balance. It's a hard balance at times, and as a young player, he's learning that."

By not getting a lot of playing time, Smith's opportunity to make a positive impression dwindles and the frustration grows.

"He's not on either specialty team and doesn't get a whole lot of ice time," Blashill said. "When you don't get the ice time, it makes it tough to make an impact on the game. 

"He's not on the power play or penalty kill and he's on a line I've played fourth. It just results in not a lot of ice time. I've liked other guys who I've put out more. There are moments he's played good. He's done a real good job in the offensive zone. He needs to work on his play through the defensive zone and neutral zone.

"But he's a big body that has talent that we are to going to be working with to be a good player here."

Wings fans on social media have been wanting to see Smith be more assertive, more of a physical force. That's the way he played in a brief stay with the Wings last season.

Smith has been in one fight this season, with Calgary's Milan Lucic. But again, the lack of playing time has resulted in Smith not being able to be physical.

"If you said to me why hasn't had a bigger physical impact on a game to game basis, I would say it was because he hasn't had the ice time," Blashill said. "That's hard to do when you haven't had the ice time."

The Wings want Smith to play hard.

"Whistle to whistle and get out of the scrums," Blashill said. He was in a lot of scrums and ended up taking penalties. We want him to stay away from the hooking and holding — those aren't intimidating penalties."

Shoot the puck

The Wings didn't make it very hard on Washington goaltender Zach Fucale on Thursday night. Fucale faced just 21 shots.

The need to make it more difficult for whoever tends net Saturday for Montreal is vital.

"I don't think we shot enough pucks," Blashill said. "We had opportunities to shoot pucks, and I didn't think we got to enough rebounds. Those would be two things. There were rebounds there, not necessarily rebounds, but maybe fronted pucks that were lying there in the slot. We have to find ways to get those to the cage."

Twitter: @tkulfan

Canadiens at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD+/97.1

Outlook: Montreal is only 4-10-1 but two of those victories have come against the Red Wings. ... The Canadiens have been hit hard by injuries and G Carey Price (player assistance program) being unavailable. ... C Nick Suzuki (four goals, 10 assists) has been a bright spot offensively.

— Ted Kulfan