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Notes: Mantha still out; Smith returns to the Joe

Rangers without injured goaltender Henrik Lundqvist

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- For the second consecutive game, Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha will be a healthy scratch, missing tonight's game against the New York Rangers at the Joe.

"He's the coach (Jeff Blashill) and he is always there for the players," Mantha said. "I went in this morning, talked a little bit and he just told me it was the same lineup. I had to be ready for the next games coming up and we'll see how that goes.

"Obviously I'm not happy sitting out. I would like to play every single game of the year. That's just not how it goes and I need to keep my head up and work harder."

Blashill, who rarely comments on his gameday lineup, went out of his way after Saturday's practice to praise Mantha, telling the assembled media Mantha has the talent to be a great player in the NHL and has been very good for the Wings this season.

"I guess you can use message, but for me it's all about habits," Blashill said when asked about his thought process when he decides to scratch a player. "If habits are going the wrong way or bad habits are formed, it's about changing habits. How do you change habits? You teach, talk, and show video and sometimes you have to take away ice time. That's the reality of it.

"That might be in game, might be for a single game, might be for multiple games, but in the end I'm responsible for this team winning and losing and within that, just as critically important is the growth of a player and certainly with young players who have real high, high ceilings we need to make sure we don't take any shortcuts here and we're thinking about maximizing potential in the long term."

In 50 games played this season, Mantha's talent has been on display and in many games he has been one of Detroit's top players.

He has 33 points, including 14 goals and is a plus-12, but he admits he is still going through a learning process.

"It's hard. It's just a learning process. You need to build off it and prove him wrong," Mantha said. "You need to come back strong and prove it was probably a mistake, prove that it was a mistake that you were sitting out and just come back stronger and show them you're not going to want to sit out again."

SMITH RETURNS TO THE JOE: Former Wings defenseman Brendan Smith makes his Joe Louis debut tonight as a member of the opposition.

It will also be his last game in the rink that he called home for the better part of the last six seasons.

Smith was traded to the Rangers on Feb. 28 for a second-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and a third round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

"I guess it'll be my last game at the Joe, so emotions are going to be different for me as they will be for some players," Smith told Newsday after the Rangers practice on Saturday. "I'm going to try to take every moment in. I mean, I love that rink. It's going to be sad to play there for the last time."

He is also eager to go against his old teammates, telling Newsday, "I liked competing against a bunch of those guys in practice. So it'll be fun to play against them."

Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser is looking forward to seeing and playing against his old teammate and sometimes defensive partner, but admits it will be somewhat strange.

"It'll be a different thing for sure seeing him in a Rangers jersey," DeKeyser said. "He's a great guy, he was a great teammate and competitor and I'm sure he's going to come in here and play hard tonight and try to do the best he can. We miss him."

Blashill has known Smith since he was a teenager and it's pretty evident that he has a good relationship with his former player.

"I hope to get a chance to stay hello first of all," Blashill said. "He's a good guy who worked extremely hard for me at both Grand Rapids and Detroit so I certainly hope and wish him great luck, just as long as it's not too much tonight.

"He's a good player, I know he's going good for them, he was a good player for us."

KEYS TO DEFEATING THE RANGERS: The Rangers enter tonight's game with 88 points, which is fourth in the Metropolitan Division, but they have secured at least a wild card playoff spot.

The Wings and the Rangers have played close, tight-checking games for the most part and despite the Rangers being without star goalie Henrik Lundquist, who is sidelined for the next two to three weeks with a lower body injury, Blashill knows the Rangers are still a very good hockey club and difficult to defeat.

"We have to make sure we duplicate what we did the other night against Chicago. We did a good job of being fast in our defensive zone and we did a real good job of pressuring the puck and our tracks coming back to our end were great," Blashill responded when asked about how you beat the Rangers. "We ended plays early, ended up by the red line and blue line and that'll be critical. The only other thing I'd say is they're a real good team in transition out of their end.

"They fly people out of the zone and that'll be a challenge. They're a good offensive zone team, they'll grind you behind the goal line and they go east and west behind the net and force a lot and that'll be a challenge."

OPPONENTS AND FAREWELL TO THE JOE: After Friday's 4-2 loss to the Wings at the Joe, Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane expressed extreme disappointment that he didn't perform better during his last game at the storied old barn.

DeKeyser knows what Kane is talking about and says he sees an extra drive from opposing players that are playing their last game at the Joe.

"I can definitely see that, from all guys coming in here and trying to leave their mark for the last game in this building," DeKeyser said. "It's something I would want to do too. There's a lot of history here and a lot from other teams."

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