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Antero Niittymaki starts in net for the Lightning Saturday against Pitt; Steve Downie promoted



The Tampa Bay Lightning had a late practice Friday after flying into Pittsburgh from Ottawa. The boys watched video of all their mistakes in Thursday's frightful 7-1 loss to the Senators and then had a spirited practice that focused on one-on-one battles and energized breakouts.

The changes that coach Rick Tocchet spoke of apparently are Antero Niittymaki replacing Mike Smith in goal and Steve Downie moving from the fourth line back up to right wing on a line with center Vinny Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay, both of whom have yet to score this season.

Moving Downie was not such a huge deal, though it broke up a fourth line of him, center Zenon Konopka and Todd Fedoruk that had played pretty well before Thursday. But Tocchet said Downie has been one of the the team's best forwards the past week or so and deserved to be rewarded.

More interesting was the removal of Smith, who allowed two bad goals against the Senators and is 0-2-2 with a 4.08 goals-against average and an .864 save percentage. Niittymaki won his only two starts of the season with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

Tocchet said playing Niittymaki didn't necessarily correlate to Smith's poor play against Ottawa. Tocchet had said he was going to play both goaltenders while the schedule is so spread out.

"I don't want to get into a situation if a goalie plays bad, you don't play him the next night," Tocchet said. "I don't think that's fair to any goalie. The guy has a tough night. Players have a tough night, they get to play the next day, why not a goalie? I just felt, give Smitty some practice time. You have to remember he hasn't played much in six months (because of post-concussion syndrome) and we haven't had a ton of practice time. He'll be fine." 

Smith said he is not feeling any effects from the violent collision in the home opener against the Devils when he was run over by New Jersey's Jamie Langenbrunner and teammate Ryan Malone.

"I'm fine," said Smith, who also called Thursday's game "embarrassing."

Asked if he wanted to play, Smith said, "As a professional, you want to be in. Sometimes it's a better decision to get you out. Sometimes as a coach you want to keep the guy in there. Sometimes you learn a lot from new experiences. Hopefully, I take it as a learning experience and not as a knock by any means. But those games sting. They leave a mark. I don't think I've played bad the last three games. I know the results aren't there, the end results, the thing that means the most; the wins are not there and that's the most frustrating part about it."

Interestingly, the team did not practice the power play, which was 0-for-6 Thursday and gave up two shorthanded goals. Tampa Bay's three shorthanded goals allowed entered Friday leading the league.

"I just felt the trains got off the track with our battle level," Tocchet said, "not protecting the house, what we call the house in front of our net. We had too many guys circling, so we had to get back to the basics. We're not a team who can afford to not be a basic team."

[Last modified: Sunday, November 15, 2009 12:15am]


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