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Givani Smith, Marc Staal Return to Detroit with Florida Panthers

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Givani Smith, left, and Marc Staal go after the puck in the Florida Panthers’ win over the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night in Sunrise. — Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

SUNRISE — If the Florida Panthers were looking for places to go in downtown Detroit on Thursday night, Givani Smith and Marc Staal probably had a couple of suggestions.

While Staal spent the past two seasons playing in Detroit, Smith had spent the entirety of his professional career with the Red Wings’ organization.

Until being traded to the Panthers a few weeks ago, that is.

Both players will be making their first appearance in The D since joining the Panthers.

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Smith, a second-round pick by Detroit in 2016, says he is excited to see his old friends — and does not plan on taking it easy on them tonight.

”Yeah, I’m real excited. It will be nice going back and seeing all the red, that’s for sure,’’ Smith said after practice at FLA Live Arena before the team hopped its plane to Michigan.

”I know everyone on the team extremely well so it will be nice seeing everyone again and it will be fun playing hard against them — rubbing them out, playing them hard. That’s part of the game.”

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Staal spent the entirety of his career with the New York Rangers before being traded to Detroit for the last year of his six-year contract and then stayed for 2021-22 with a one-year deal.

His two seasons with the Wings came under less-than-ideal circumstances what with COVID restrictions and a team that spent most of the time in the divisional basement.

“I haven’t (played a former team) too many times but obviously you are a lot more familiar with their guys,” he said before the Panthers beat Detroit 5-1 in Sunrise last month.

“I had a couple good years in Detroit. I think they’re building something there and I was part of it for a couple years. They went out and signed some guys in the offseason and those players have paid off for them. They’re definitely a lot more solid, playing some good hockey.”

For Smith, this trip back may be a little more personal.

Unlike Staal, he spent a lot of his time in the organization shuttling between Detroit and AHL Grand Rapids — getting in just two NHL games this season before Florida traded for him.

Florida originally assigned Smith to Charlotte, but quickly brought him up for two games before sending him back.

Smith was recalled on Tuesday with Zac Dalpe being out with an illness and played 9:29 against the Coyotes. That was his second game with the Panthers after playing in three with the Checkers.

While Tuesday night was his first home game as a member of the Panthers, he had played in Sunrise before.

“Believe it or not, I had one of my games here came against Florida and I had a really good game,” said Smith, referring to being the second star of Detroit’s 4-1 win here on Feb. 7, 2021 when he had a goal and an assist.

“I love playing in this rink. Coming in and playing on the home side just felt natural.”

Florida has had Smith on the fourth line with Eric Staal and Ryan Lomberg, the three earning a lot of offensive zone time against Arizona which is why they will likely start Friday together.

In two games with the Panthers, Smith has six hits as coach Paul Maurice likes his physicality and, as is the case with Lomberg, has a willingness to go full-on after pucks.

Smith’s screen of the Arizona goalie Tuesday helped Eric Staal get a goal against the Coyotes.

“I have lots of time for a guy who plays that role,” said Maurice, whose team recalled veteran center Chris Tierney from Charlotte after practice Thursday. “He brings physicality on the forecheck and we are an elite-forechecking team. He can do that job.”

Said Lomberg: “It has been great having him. He is obviously a big guy so he clears space out there and when he is on the forecheck, defensemen are definitely aware of him. It just brings predictibility to our game and that helps lead to us being consistent. We had a good game Tuesday and we’re looking to build on that.”

 

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT DETROIT RED WINGS  

  • When: Friday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit 
  • Streaming/TV: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 4-0
  • This season (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 5, Detroit 1 (Dec. 8)
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 34-19-6, 5 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday at Dallas, 3:30 p.m.

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