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Predators expect to have Smithson available

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Predators checking line center Jerred Smithson, who ranked sixth in the League in faceoff percentage during the regular season, is poised to return to the lineup on Monday for Game 6 against Vancouver after sitting out the last game with an upper-body injury.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he is "very optimistic" that Smithson will be ready to play. Smithson is plus-2 in 10 playoff games and also is one of Nashville's best penalty killers.

"Yeah, I feel good," Smithson said after Nashville's morning skate on Monday. "It's up to the coaching staff. We had a pretty good formula and I wouldn't be disappointed if they didn't change anything, but if they need me I'm good to go."

Video replays seemed to show that Vancouver's Ryan Kesler elbowed Smithson in the head, leading to speculation that Smithson might have suffered a broken nose or a concussion. Smithson did not show the physical signs of a broken nose and he said that play was not related to his injury, which he did not reveal.

"I've seen it," he said of the replay. "That wasn't a problem -- at all, actually. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about tonight and want to come out and do the right things."

While not a flashy scorer -- he had only 5 goals and 8 assists during 82 regular season games -- Smithson specializes in doing the right things with and without the puck. Teamed with linemate Nick Spaling, he forms Nashville's top penalty-killing duo. He has averaged 2:32 of shorthanded ice time in the playoffs.

Asked what Smithson does well as a penalty killer, Preds goalie Pekka Rinne responded, "everything."

"He's a really good faceoff guy and everything starts with that," Rinne said of Smithson, who won 57.4 percent of his draws during the regular season. "A lot of times we're able to clear the puck right away, but then he's just a smart player. He reads and reacts. He's always in the passing lane. He has a good stick and he makes some key blocks on the PK."

One thing Smithson can provide in the simplest sense is predictability for the Predators' lines. While some combinations have changed throughout the playoffs, Nashville's third line of Smithson with Spaling and Jordin Tootoo has remained virtually unchanged.

When Trotz lost Smithson after the first period of Game 4, he was forced to scramble his lines. That continued in Game 5, so Trotz was happy that with Smithson seemingly ready to return, the forwards will have a little more of a sense of normalcy.

"If I can put some more order to our lines, a little bit, I think that helps," Trotz said. "They are all affected in their own way. Smitty is a real solid guy, as I said, a glue guy, penalty killer, gives us a lot more options. We were scrambling a little bit the last game, but we found a way.

"To me, that was very important for us that we found a way when we had some guys out and some strange situations on the bench and guys just dug in."

Tootoo, for one, seemed thankful that he will likely get his regular center back. He assisted on Smithson's overtime goal in Game 5 in the first round.

"Smitty does a lot of things other people don't really see, so obviously he's a huge part of our team," Tootoo said, "and, obviously, on our penalty kill. But tonight we're all going to be mentally prepared for being strong out there and not taking stupid penalties."

Smithson did not travel with Nashville for Game 5 in Vancouver. He said he watched it "on the couch."

"It was frustrating, to be honest with you," he said. "It was more nerve-wrecking, obviously, than playing it. But the boys played hard and did a lot of the right things and it definitely showed."

Perhaps tonight, then, will be a little less nerve-wracking for him.