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Smith-Pelly up to speed, contributing for Canadiens

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Devante Smith-Pelly insists he is not worried about making Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin look good for the trade that brought him from the Anaheim Ducks for forward Jiri Sekac.

Sekac had become a popular player in Montreal but wasn't able to carve out a consistent role under coach Michel Therrien. The Ducks felt they needed his speed up front, perhaps to play alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the top line, and the Canadiens wanted the size and physical game Smith-Pelly brings.

Devante Smith-Pelly
Right Wing - MTL
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 7 | +/-: 0
It was a trade of promising 22-year-old forwards born four days apart that appeared to have no losers, except many in Montreal criticized it anyway, especially after Smith-Pelly was scratched by Therrien for games on March 28 and 30.

But Smith-Pelly has provided everything Bergevin hoped for in the first two games of the Canadiens' Eastern Conference First Round series against the Ottawa Senators.

He hasn't scored, but his physical play and net-front presence on the power play has played a big role in the Canadiens jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 3 in Ottawa on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports).

The trade's not being too heavily criticized in Montreal anymore.

"I'm not too worried about what the other guy's doing and how he's doing," Smith-Pelly said after an optional practice Saturday. "I just want to play well and help the team out. I'm not too worried about if people think it was a good trade or not."

In spite of that, Smith-Pelly couldn't help but notice a certain lineup decision made by coach Bruce Boudreau when he sat down to watch the Ducks open their Western Conference First Round series against the Winnipeg Jets with a 4-2 win Thursday.

Sekac was a healthy scratch.

"Yeah, I noticed that," he said. "I have some friends on that team. So I saw that."

The adjustment Smith-Pelly had to make coming from the Ducks to the Canadiens was a significant one, and he struggled at first. He said the biggest difference was how much more he had to skate in Montreal, saying that playing 18 minutes with the Canadiens was much more taxing than playing the same amount with the Ducks.

Smith-Pelly played on the right wing of Canadiens leading scorer Max Pacioretty and center David Desharnais on Friday at even strength and on the power play and showed no signs of lagging behind the play, something that was a common sight when he joined the team.

"It's just the speed. Everything is built on speed," Smith-Pelly said. "If you watch an Anaheim game, especially in the playoffs, it's just grind it out, dump it in, there's not many odd-man rushes. You don't really have to skate that much. You've got big guys, Getzlaf, Perry, [Ryan] Kesler, who just take their time going up the ice. They can slow it down. You come here and you're playing with a guy like David who's fast, and [Pacioretty] who can fly. It's just a totally different game, so that took me a little bit [of time]."

Therrien publicly questioned Smith-Pelly's conditioning when he arrived, and he credits the player for rectifying the situation with extra time in the gym. He had wanted to try Smith-Pelly on the right side of Pacioretty and Desharnais to close the regular season, but the first game they played together against the Florida Panthers on April 5, Pacioretty was injured on his third shift and did not return to the lineup until Game 2.

The combination looked promising in its debut, and Therrien is not criticizing Smith-Pelly's conditioning anymore.

"He's doing a pretty good job right now," Therrien said. "I like his pace, I like the fact that he creates a lot of space on the ice for Desharnais and Pacioretty. He's going hard to the net, and he's a tough guy to play against. You know when he puts the puck behind a defenseman, you know he's going to go there, and he's going to go hard."

Smith-Pelly had six shots on goal in Game 2 and was credited with three hits, giving him nine in the series, and he played 5:04 on the power play.

"A guy like him is so valuable because he's taking away the goalie's eyes, he's taking away sticks in front of the net," said Pacioretty, who scored a power-play goal in Game 2. "Even if he's battling with someone in front of the net, it takes their defenseman away from a guy that might be open for a shot. At the same time, him battling in front of the net and being that big, he's able to find loose pucks."

Smith-Pelly was clear that he has no ill will toward the Ducks, but said he feels he was not judged fairly in Anaheim this season. He said it was the first time in his life he had to play on his opposite wing and it was a difficult adjustment to make. Playing pucks along the wall or moves he made to go to the net were different when he was on the left side of the ice.

"I'm not really sure exactly what happened, I was playing out of position a lot of the year," he said. "If you maybe have a bad game and you're playing out of position, I think it's kind of hard to criticize somebody. If somebody's playing center and they don't play center and they don't have a good game, I don't know how you criticize him."

Smith-Pelly is not being criticized much as he becomes an important player for the Canadiens, one who has seemingly grabbed a top-six role for good on a team with aspirations to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the playoffs last season, Smith-Pelly scored five goals in 12 games for the Ducks, a performance Bergevin cited as a major reason he wanted to bring him to Montreal.

Whether Smith-Pelly is worried about it or not, he is making his general manager look very good so far.

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