NEWARK, NJ – Brendan Smith grew up around goal scorers, so even as a defenseman, offensive thoughts often creep into his mind.
As a 15-year-old, he played on a minor midget team with San Gagner and John Tavares, who finished 1-2 in league scoring – with a combined 338 points in 72 games – and Smith finished eighth that season, second among defensemen, with 22 goals and 85 points in 66 games.
In his final season at the University of Wisconsin, Smith was the nation’s top-scoring college defenseman, producing 15 goals and 52 points in 42 college games.
But scoring hasn’t been his role with the Red Wings –until lately.
The 26-year-old Smith, as his dad says, is riding a wave. And he’s having fun while building confidence in a 200-foot game that’s getting better with every passing day.
“You always want to continue to get better, because if you’re not getting better than you’re just trying to find a way to get yourself out of the league,” he said. “I think everybody’s getting better, the league’s getting better, but myself, I think I’ve gotten better. I think I’ve been playing kind of the same style for a little bit, for a while here, and I think just playing more games, more repetitions, understanding your competition, all that stuff, has helped my game for sure.”
While it’s hard to overlook his offensive output lately, Wings coach Jeff Blashill has been impressed with Smith’s continued commitment to his primary responsibility.
“When he manages his game well, takes what is given and doesn’t force plays, and he doesn’t force even gaps he’s a really, really good player and that’s what he’s done lately,” Blashil said. “I think the defensive play comes mainly from his decision making throughout games. I think it’s been good overall.”
Besides the points, which include two goals, in the past eight games, Smith has amassed 13 shots on goal, leveled 14 hits, and blocked seven shots. He had 21 shots in the previous 23 games this season.
“You’ve got to shoot to score, so I think that’s one of the biggest things, and coach has kind of been on us about getting our shots through and getting them on net,” said Smith, who has seven points in the past eight games. “From this year to last year I think I’ve had more opportunity to maybe jump up into the rush, to find those holes, and I think that’s ultimately helped my game.”
Confidence is a wonderful thing, and Kyle Quincey says that’s served Smith well during his recent stretch.
“He’s getting some breaks and putting some offense up, which is good,” Quincey said. “The big thing is getting in positon to shoot. He’s done a good job of creating offense and getting in that position. Once you get in that position you do get opportunities to shoot, and they’re going in for him, which is great.
“But at the end of the day his job is still defense and he’s sound defensively so it’s going good.”
Defense - DET
Goals: 1 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 3
Shots: 10 | +/-: 1
Blashill said Sunday he expects to have Quincey (ankle), Drew Miller
(jaw), and Tomas Jurco
(upper-body) available for the Red Wings’ trip to California later this week.
All three players said they hope to play in the first game of the trip, which is Thursday in San Jose.
Quincey, who has missed 32 games following surgery to remove bone spurs, is skating and practicing without limitations. The only hurdles, he said, is “the game stuff, which you can’t practice.”
Miller hasn’t played since suffering a fractured lower jaw against Arizona on Dec. 3. He said his only limitations involve chewing certain hard foods.
“You can’t, pardon the pun, have a Jawbreaker,” Miller said. “You’ve got to keep it within limits, like I haven’t had mixed nuts or stuff like that where you really have to chomp down.”
For at least a few weeks, Miller will be required to wear a full face mask, until the six-week mark since his surgery.
“If I didn’t have that on,” Miller said, “they probably wouldn’t let me play.”
Sporting a shiner around his left eye, Jurco said he was injured during the first period of the Wings’ New Year’s Eve game against Pittsburgh when defenseman Brian Dumoulin fell on top of him to the right of the Penguins’ net.
“There was a hole in the ice and my skate went into it,” Jurco said. I felt that he was coming to hit me and when I was falling down he then hit me with his full strength and fell on me. I just didn’t feel right, but all day that day I wasn’t feeling good, I know I was kind of like sick, so I think it’s more of that. Right the next day I felt good.
“I think my head is fine. I think I’m good. It should be good now.”
CENTER - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 22 | Pts: 29
Shots: 90 | +/-: 5
Blashill juggled his line combinations prior to Saturday’s 4-3 win at Buffalo. A day later, the coach was still happy to see that three of the lines contributed to the score sheet with goals by Brad Richards
, Riley Sheahan
, Henrik Zetterberg
and Tomas Tatar
“You’re always trying to adjust lines and put them in spots to be as successful as possible,” Blashill said. “Zetterberg’s line and Datsyuk’s line had lots of success together last year and that’s how they were (Saturday). We thought Sheahan, (Dylan) Larkin and Richards could be a good line and they certainly were yesterday. That has more to do with individual players playing at a high level. I thought Sheahan was great yesterday, probably the best player on the ice. Those lines will work well as long as the individuals on the lines play well. The one thing we have to do is play your best every night to have a chance to win.
Blashill anticipates rolling with the same forward lines Monday when the Wings faceoff against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
While Petr Mrazek has appeared in seven straight games for the Wings, including five starts, Blashill wouldn’t reveal which goalie would start against the Devils.
NOTE OF INTEREST: Luke Glendening leads all NHL forwards in total shorthanded ice time (117:51) and average shorthanded ice time (3:06). Despite missing the past 13 games, Miller still ranks third among league forwards in average shorthanded ice time at 2:58. Toronto’s Michael Grabner (2:59) is second.