Reduced role stings Smithson as Predators keep rolling along

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 10:06pm

Healthy? Yes.

Happy? Well, not exactly.

Jerred Smithson does not even try to hide his dissatisfaction over a recent change in his role. The veteran forward has lost his regular spot in the Nashville Predators lineup and, instead, has become a player who takes the ice only when coach Barry Trotz believes the matchup warrants his presence.

“I want to be in the lineup every night and I’d be lying if I said I was OK with the situation I’m in right now,” Smithson said. “I mean, as a hockey player, you need to want to play every single night and you’re not going to be happy just sitting around and being the odd man out.

“You have to work that much harder in practice and be a professional about things.”

Smithson, 33, was one of three players who appeared in all 82 games for Nashville last season. It was the second time in three seasons he did not miss one, and in 2007-08 he played in 81 of the 82.

He was in the lineup for the first 40 of this season, which included his 500th career game, before an injury caused him to miss five straight. He then sat out three of the final four prior to the All-Star break and two of the four since.

“At the end of the day, the team is winning and that’s what we’re here for — to get points,” Smithson said. “I’ll support the team whatever role I’m in that particular night or day.

“Like I said, I’m not exactly pumped about it, but that’s hockey.”

The Predators have won 14 of their last 18 as they enter Thursday’s game at Ottawa (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). They trail the Detroit Red Wings by five points for the best record in the league.

Smithson did play in Tuesday’s shootout loss to Vancouver.

“I really felt the draw — starting with the puck — was really important, especially in our own end,” coach Barry Trotz said. “[Smithson] is in the top 20 in the league in faceoffs.”

He won seven of eight (77.8 percent) against the Canucks while the rest of the team was a combined 22-for-53 (41.5 percent).

“Anybody who gets taken out of the lineup is not going to handle it very well,” Trotz said. “Jerred just came back from an injury and he’s just starting to get his feet under him. But you’re not going to value Smitty based on points and assists and that. You’re going to value him on faceoffs and defensive play and leadership and character and work ethic and all those things.

“If you look at stats — goals and assists — that’s not what Jerred Smithson is about.”

It didn’t help that Smithson’s injury coincided with the waiver claim of forward Brandon Yip, who is seven years younger. Yip has played in five of the last seven and has seen his ice time increase in his last three appearances.

Smithson said he is as healthy as he has been at any time this season. He’s been happier, though.

“No matter what the situation, you have to try to take some positive from it and work that much harder to try to get into the lineup,” Smithson said. “We have a great hockey club. We’re going in the right direction. We have some great players — some great veteran guys, some great young guys too and the best goalie in the league, as far as I’m concerned.

“We’re a great team and it’s tough to get too negative or turn things on a selfish note. The team’s winning and that’s the most important thing.”

Briefly


• Thursday’s game will be the first in Ottawa for center Mike Fisher since he was traded by the Senators to Nashville nearly one year ago to the day (Feb. 10, 2010).

“I’m looking forward to it,” Fisher said. “It’s been a long time and I’ll be seeing a lot of family and friends. I’m sure it will be weird, but it will be fun.”

Fisher played 675 games, beginning in 1999-00, for Ottawa, which drafted him in the second round in 1998.

He returns in the midst of an offensive surge that includes eight goals in eight games and has made him Nashville’s leader in goals with 16.

“This will be an emotional game for him,” Trotz said. “He’s probably a little excited and there’s probably some apprehension too because he spent so much time there. What’s the reaction going to be? I know it’s going to be fantastic.”