CHICAGO — After being scratched for six straight games, Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith returns to the lineup on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
“I’m going to try to get the rust off real quick,” Smith said Thursday after practice, where he was paired with Marc Staal. “It’s been the longest time I’ve sat (in my career) . . . sometimes there is a silver lining when you sit out, you can see things from a different angle and a different light, some people start to pout, I just tried to find things to help my game progress.”
Smith, 28, who signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract during the summer, understands that there’s a balance between trying too hard and staying poised.
“Whenever you sit, for however long, you want to try to prove that you should be there on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I’ve been around the league long enough, I’ve seen it and understand it, I know when I’m playing my best, is when I’m letting the game come to me, and playing aggressive and making good reads and getting the puck out, and not try to force things.”
Smith acknowledged that he struggled to “stay positive and make sure you’re getting better every day, because you’re gonna find yourself in a hole and I didn’t want that.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said “Brendan’s handled this as a pro, stayed focused, worked hard. He wasn’t happy, there’s no doubt.”
Vigneault wanted Smith back in the lineup Friday, but it was a tough choice to sit Steven Kampfer. “If it was strictly on (Wednesday’s game, a 6-3 loss) Kamp wouldn’t be coming out,” he said. “I thought there were quite a few players who didn’t play as well as he did. But the six games prior and a couple before, we’ve been playing good hockey and a few of the guys had money in the bank.”
In an odd schedule quirk, it will be the third time that the Rangers, who saw their six-game winning streak snapped Wednesday, and Blue Jackets meet this season. Each team has won once.
Jimmy Vesey, whose mouth still bears the gash from where two teeth were knocked out when Edmonton Oiler Zach Kasian’s skate caught him in the face, will continue to wear a protective half-cage in Columbus. “Just one more game,” he said . . . Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled after 46:32 and four goals on Wednesday, will start his eighth straight game . . . Vigneault thought just one line — Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello — played well throughout on Wednesday, and blamed “our entries into the off zone; we had some great looks and didn’t get anything out of it, hopefully our execution’s going to be a lot better.”