Brendan Smith

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The Buzzer: Panarin’s 5-point night; Price, Samsonov stop them all

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THREE STARS

1. Artemi Panarin, Rangers: It was a pretty darn good night for the Rangers forward during a 6-2 win over the Islanders at MSG. Panarin scored twice and added three assists to become the second Rangers player in as many games to record a five-point night at home. In his last four games the Russian forward has four goals and 12 points.

2. Carey Price, Canadiens: Price made all 31 saves to help blank the Flames 2-0. The shutout was the 46th of his NHL career, tying him with Ken Dryden for third place on the Canadiens’ all-time list.

3. Ilya Samsonov, Capitals: Alex Ovechkin provided both goals in a 2-0 win over the Hurricanes. For Samsonov, he stopped all 23 shots he faced to pick up his first career NHL shutout. Ovechkin, meanwhile, tallied career goals No. 685 and 686 to pass Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time list. More on that here.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NIGHT

• Here’s a look at Panarin’s five-point night:

Ivan Barbashev is thankful for this gift from the Ducks:

Brad Marchand continued the Bruins’ woes in the shootout with this unique failed attempt against the Flyers.

PREMATURE FIGHT OF THE NIGHT

It wouldn’t be an Islanders-Rangers game without a little edge to it. Ross Johnston and Micheal Haley dropped the mitts 2:33 into the game. Before the next face-off it was Matt Martin and Brendan Smith‘s turn to go at it. The only problem? You can’t have another fight before the puck drops after the first one. That meant Martin and Smith were assessed game misconducts and tossed from the game.

STATS OF THE NIGHT

SCORES
Canadiens 2, Flames 0
Rangers 6, Islanders 2
Capitals 2, Hurricanes 0
Flyers 6, Bruins 5 (SO)
Blues 4, Ducks 1

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dual-role players? Defensemen as wingers show it can be done

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Brendan Smith caught his breath for a few seconds on the bench before New York Rangers coach David Quinn called his name again.

Smith had just skated a shift as a defenseman and was needed at forward, too. The natural defenseman hopped over the boards and got back on the ice at a different position.

”The more I do it, I get more comfortable,” he said.

Smith is one of a couple of throwback-style players bouncing between forward and defense this season. He and Florida’s Mark Pysyk are the latest to follow the lead of Hall of Famers Red Kelly and Mark Howe and present-day Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien, and their experience could open the door for more multiposition players in a sport that usually defines being a center, wing or defenseman very specifically.

”It’s definitely different,” Pysyk said. ”I think guys at this level probably could make the switch given enough time to get comfortable with their new position because everybody skates well.”

Kordell Stewart earned the nickname ”Slash” by playing quarterback and wide receiver in the NFL and slugger/pitcher Shohei Otani can star for the Los Angeles Angels in multiple ways in baseball. But specialization in hockey starts early as it does in other sports – forwards, defensemen and goalies all tend to be identified as such at a young age.

Smith as recently as Thursday shifted from his regular wing position back to defense to fill amid injuries, and the same night, Pysyk – back for another stint at forward – scored his third goal of the season. For one game in November, (almost) lifelong defenseman Tyler Lewington played a few shifts up front for the salary-cap strapped Washington Capitals when they could only dress 11 forwards.

”There’s a lot more to a forward’s game than I thought before,” said Lewington, 25, who hadn’t played forward since he was 10. ”It’s something that’s not easy.”

This kind of thing was more common in the 1920s and ’30s, Kelly played his first 12-plus seasons in Detroit as a defenseman and next eight-plus in Toronto as a forward, winning the Stanley Cup eight times – four at each position. Howe played his first three World Hockey Association seasons as a left winger alongside dad Gordie and brother Marty before switching to defense full-time.

Before video was more prevalent, Howe used to watch game replays late at night to figure out how to hone his game on the blue line. He made the Hall of Fame primarily for his time as a defenseman. Before and after his transition, he noticed differences like fewer scoring chances in practice as a defenseman – and more idle time on the bench as a forward biding his time for the next shift.

Now pro scouting director with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe called Smith the perfect example of a player who can adjust to the variations of playing forward and defense.

”(As a defenseman) it’s more of a game of you go when you can, but you have to be responsible defensively. You have to learn to read and when to jump up in the play,” Howe said. ”As a forward, you’re learning at key points of the game: ‘When do you try to make a play? When is it a smart play to dump the puck in the corner? When you definitely not want to turn a puck over?’ And with both (positions), you take different chances.”

While Pysyk hadn’t played defense since he was 6 or 7 until earlier this season, Quinn knew from recruiting Smith to Boston University that this dual role was possible. Quinn asked Smith last season to try it, and it worked so well that it has stuck, with Smith also killing penalties as a defenseman.

”You’ve got a guy who obviously plays forward 5-on-5 but he’s been one of our better (penalty) killing defensemen,” Quinn said. ”It gives you a little bit of flexibility on your roster, which is always nice game in and game out.”

Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville trusts Pysyk the same way. He won the Cup in 2010 with Chicago moving Byfuglien back and forth and using the combination of his big frame, hard shot and smooth skating as an advantage.

”That versatility was a great asset to have in playoff series,” Quenneville recalled. ”Sometimes you could put him on a forward line to create space, I’d like to say, on power play (as a) net-front presence, but then you’ve got a big shot at the point. You could multitask with him in the course of the games.”

The same was possible for Burns when he played forward and defense with Minnesota earlier in his career. He became a full-time defenseman before a 2011 trade to San Jose and won the Norris Trophy as the best player at that position in 2017.

Quenneville likes having a defenseman at forward at times because they tend think of the game more conservatively.

”They usually have that mindset of being above the puck, so they keep themselves in the play, and defensively they have that responsibility,” Quenneville said. ”You get to handle the puck a little bit more, but I think they’re always in that position where offensively they’re complementing the guys they’re playing with, being either the safety guy or the extra guy that’s always going to be in the right spots.”

Pysyk, who’d prefer to play defense but can do both, is still getting used to the idea that he is not always the last guy back.

”It’s weird seeing a pass go past you and then chasing it from the other end,” he said.

Smith, who is in his 10th NHL season, is more comfortable on defense but thinks he could be a ”slash” player if need be.

”The biggest adjustment would be to change your mindset of defensive to offensive and knowing where to be at the right time because there’s so many moving parts,” Smith said. ”The hardest part is making sure that you can mentally prepare yourself for it.”

Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith sees his brother playing two different positions and knows he – and many others – wouldn’t be able to handle it.

”I can’t skate backward, can’t stop anyone,” Reilly Smith said. ”It takes a lot of versatility to be able to do that.”

Pastrnak shines again as Bruins win sixth in a row: 3 takeaways

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The Boston Bruins just keep on rolling.

Thanks to another huge game from David Pastrnak and a perfect day from their penalty kill, the Bruins were able to overcome a two-goal deficit against the New York Rangers to earn a 3-2 overtime win, extending their current winning streak to six games and improving their overall record to 18-3-5 on the season.

They are also on a 10-game point streak (7-0-3) dating back to Nov. 10 and are 10-0-4 on home ice this season. They have not lost a home game in regulation since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Their next four games are all at home.

Let’s take a quick look at three big developments that stood out from the Bruins’ win, which also snapped what had been a three-game winning streak for the Rangers.

1. Special teams was the difference. There were two big turning points in this game where the Rangers had a chance to take control. The first came in the second period when they were leading 2-0 and were set to go a two-man advantage after Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk were both sent to the box.

Not only did the Rangers fail to capitalize and extend their lead, they were unable to even record a single shot on goal during the 5-on-3 situation.

As if that was not bad enough, the Rangers were fortunate enough to get a four-minute power play with seven minutes to play in regulation — in a tie game — when Par Lindholm was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Brendan Smith. The Rangers again failed to score, wrapping up an 0-for-6 day on the power play, and did not record a shot on goal until there was less than a minute to go on the power play. They struggled to gain entry into the offensive zone, they struggled to get anything set up, and they just looked completely overmatched against the Bruins’ PK unit all day long.

2. David Pastrnak put on another show. He added to his league-leading goal total on Friday by scoring his 24th goal of the season (in his 26th game) to tie the game in the third period, then set up David Krejci‘s game-winning goal in overtime with an incredible play that saw him dangle his way through the Rangers’ defense then find his wide open teammate for the winner.

3. The Bruins seem to have avoided another significant injury. Already playing without their No. 1 center, Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins briefly lost another key part of their dominant top line on Friday when Brad Marchand briefly exited the game in the third period. Marchand appeared to be struck by Jacob Trouba‘s elbow in the second period and, following the intermission, was removed from the game. Marchand angrily went down the tunnel to the team’s locker room where he would remain for the first half of the third period. It was during that time that Pastrnak, playing on a makeshift line alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, scored to tie the game. Marchand was eventually able to return to the game and finish it in his normal spot alongside Pastrnak.

Related: Can anyone catch Pastrnak in goal scoring race?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Brendan Smith ejected for ‘dangerous’ hit on Mark Borowiecki (video)

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The New York Rangers were able to take down the Ottawa Senators on Sunday even though they were forced to play with five defensemen for most of the third period.

With the Rangers leading 2-0 in the third (they ended up winning 3-0), defenseman Brendan Smith was given a five-minute major plus a game misconduct for interference on Sens defenseman Mark Borowiecki.

Borowiecki needed help getting off the ice, and after the game Sens head coach Guy Boucher confirmed that his defenseman lost consciousness on the ice. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion.

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page. 

After the game, Smith made it clear that he didn’t agree with the referee’s decision to toss him from the contest.

“I think it was a bit harsh,” Smith said, per Newsday. “I’m OK with two minutes [for interference] . . . We made eye contact and he was expecting to get hit. He’s a pretty big guy, a strong guy. I kind of just connected with my shoulder. You see those plays happen all the time. It’s just unfortunate, the outcome. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Guy Boucher called the play “one of the most dangerous hits you can make in hockey.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the NHL’s Department of Player Safety hands out any supplemental discipline to Smith on this one.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blackhawks’ woes more performance than personnel: McKenzie

Chicago Blackhawks fans shouldn’t expect general manager Stan Bowman to trade his way out of his team’s current funk, at least not in the short term.

The Blackhawks, losers of six of their last 10 games, are wallowing outside the playoff line in the Central Division 19 games into the current campaign.
NHL Insider Bob McKenzie dropped by the NBCSN studio on Wednesday and suggested that Chicago’s woes stem from a performance issue, and not an issue of available personnel.

“They got to get the power play going, they got to tighten up defensively,” McKenzie said. “While everybody is ready to throw everybody under the bus, in terms of the fans and the media for the way the Blackhawks have played team defence, the reality is they can play a lot better and that the expectation is they will play a lot better.”

McKenzie added the Blackhawks could look within, but bringing someone up from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, would be exposing another player to waivers or demoting a player who doesn’t need a demotion.

“They don’t want to put (Alex) DeBrincat down, they down want to put (John) Hayden down, they don’t want to put (Nick) Schmaltz down, so the guys that are the easiest to send to the minors are not really the guys you want to send to the minors,” McKenzie said. “You’ve got eight defensemen and 13 forwards right now. It’s tough to make a move.

Meanwhile, McKenzie shed some more light on the continued absence of New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith.

Smith, who has been a healthy scratch for the past five games, struggled like many of his teammates as the Rangers went for a dump to start the season.
But the Rangers are now winner’s of six straight and McKenzie suggested that Smith could sit longer if the team keeps adding ticks to the win column.

“He gets scratched and then the next game the Rangers win, and they win again, and they win again and they keep winning,” McKenzie said. “What basically happened was he picked the worst possible time to be a healthy scratch and the team absolutely took off.

“A winning lineup is a winning lineup and (head coach) Alain Vigneault isn’t going to break it up.”

Smith, who signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract with the Rangers at the end of June after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline, has since lost his job, at least in the interim, to Steven Kempfer, who is paired with Marc Staal.

“He’s got to sit until the Rangers lose and Vigneault decides a change needs to be made, or there is an injury or one of the other six guys playing ahead of him doesn’t play very well and then when he gets his opportunity, he’s got to make the most of it,” McKenzie said.

“(The Rangers) believe, long-term, that he’s going to be fine. It will be up to him and the pressure will be on him when he does get back into the lineup.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.