Matt Smaby plays first game of season for Tampa Bay Lightning after "long" camp
Matt Smaby opened with a joke. Approached by reporters who wanted to know how the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman felt to finally be getting in a game, Smaby said, "It's been a long training camp."
When Smaby plays tonight against the Bruins at TD Garden, it will be his first game this season. We all know the story by now. Signed to a two-year deal, Smaby did not have a good training camp, according to coach Rick Tocchet and was buried on the depth chart. Three times he was sent to AHL Norfolk on conditioning assignments and twice he was hurt. One was an upper-body injury, the other a laceration on his middle finger of his left hand.
But Tocchet decided to sit David Hale against Boston, which gave Smaby his first shot at getting in a game.
"I'm excited to be in," Smaby said. "But it's not like I'm having uncontrollable emotions. I've been ready to do this for a while."
Is there pressure to prove himself?
"Of course I want to play really well," he said. "I want to put myself in a position where they can't take me out of the lineup, so there's that kind of pressure. But if I let that affect my game, I'm probably not going to play as well as I'd like. It's kind of a fine line between being real intense and pushing myself too far."
Smaby said he feels physically fine and in good shape and that he played well in six of the seven games in which he played in Norfolk, "so I feel like I'm ready to play."
Tocchet said with seven defenseman on the roster (not including Paul Ranger, who is away on a personal leave or Kurtis Foster, who is playing forward), he will play whomever is doing best, but won't hesitate to use a rotation.
"But if somebody is playing really well, they're going to stay in," he said. "It's the same thing with the forwards right now. we can't have any passengers. Having these extra bodies around is a good bullet for a coach. If they're not ready to go, they won't play against Jersey" on Friday.
As for not getting Smaby into a game until Game 26, Tocchet said that is the hardest part of being a coach.
"Some guys maybe their work ethic isn't there and as a coach you don't mind sitting guys out," Tocchet said, "but he's done everything we've asked, so it's tough telling Matt you're not playing. He's a great kid and he wants to play. But that's the world we live in. We have eight, nine D and we had a good streak there with the regular six going."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Mike Smith gets the start in net. ... Ryan Malone got a shaving cream pie in the face for his 30th birthday on Tuesday. He actually got it on the team plane headed out of Tampa, and he said it was delivered by a flight attendant. ... Assistant coach Adam Oates returned to Boston for the first time as a coach. Oates spent six seasons with the Bruins, including the best of his career: 45 goals, 97 assists and 142 points in 1992-93. But he said his best memory of Boston was being part of the 1993-94 season in which he centered for Cam Neeley, who scored 50 goals in 44 games. Of Boston's fans, he said, "They're great, great sports fans, very knowledgeable fans. It's a big blue collar town. They believe in their athletes and like guys who work hard. it was definitely a lot of fun to play here." ... Saw former Lightning assistant Craig Ramsay, who had his usual smile but bemoaned the hour drive into the city for morning skates. He said he takes the train when he can. ... Tocchet had nice things to say about Bruins right wing Mark Recchi, whom Tocchet got to coach last season in Tampa. "He still gets his points and he plays well, but he's such a leader to the young guys," Tocchet said. "He's the most generous guy I know and he'll do anything for the young guys, and when you have an older player takes on that road, it makes a coaches job a lot easier. He did everything I asked. What is he 42? (Actually 41 years, 10 months) I'm sure they got the old jokes here for him, too." ... Everybody talks about Foster's big shot, but exactly how fast is it? Foster said at a skills competition at the 2002-03 AHL All-Star Game, his slap shot was measured at 101.5 mph. Given today's stick technology, he said, "It's probably a little faster." ... AHL Norfolk announced it signed Justin Keller. The left wing, on a pro tryout contract, had five goals, two assists and was minus-3 in 23 games. His 61 shots are third on the team.