Mike Smith starts in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Coyotes; Mattias Ohlund hurt
In a bit of a surprise, given how well Antero Niittymaki has been playing, Mike Smith will get the start for the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night against the Coyotes. Smith hasn't played since Nov. 2 against the Flyers, against whom he allowed five goals on 18 shots before being pulled after 27 minutes.
Niittymaki is 3-0-3 in his past seven games with a 1.60 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage. Yet, coach Rick Tocchet said it is time to give Smith a game.
"You always want to keep a hot goaltender, obviously. But you also have to look at long-term things too," Tocchet said. "It's not like we have a minor league goalie going in the lineup. We have a goalie who has played really well for us last year and at home this year, so to me, we shouldn't miss a beat."
And not that there is anything wrong with Niittymaki's surgically repaired hips, but Tocchet also said giving him a rest would make sure things stay that way. Niittymaki also said his hips are fine. What hasn't been fine is Smith's game on the road, where he is 0-3-1 with a 5.38 goals-against average and a .826 save percentage.
Smith said he didn't think his problems had anything to do with home or away, and he has worked hard during the time off to become more consistent.
"Just to battle on every puck," he said. "I think I was really more focused (in practice). In the past I've been more loose in practice and maybe not focused on every puck. I think the last couple of weeks have been a battle for me in practice to just try to get everything out of it that I can so when I do get my chance I'm prepared and ready to go."
No extra pressure or anything, Smith said, just anticipation.
"I'm excited," he said about getting back in a game. "It's been tough watching. Obviously, Niitty has played unbelievable, and it's been fun watching him do well, but you'd like to contribute to the team's success and, hopefully, I can do that tonight and get back to the way I know how to play."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Defenseman Mattias Ohlund will be a game-time decision -- Tocchet even called him questionable -- with a lower-body injury sustained during Saturday's shootout loss to the Kings. It is believed the injury is either on the right ankle or right foot as Ohlund has been seen with a walking boot. Ohlund skated for a bit during the morning skate, but left the ice early. ... Tocchet said he was already in his office Saturday when told Andrej Meszaros' apparent overtime goal was ruled a non goal. "I had high-fived about five guys," Tocchet said. "I'm trying to get he high-fives back." The coach, though, didn't sound too upset with the call, though he believes it should have been a goal and a call of incidental contact with Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick was incorrect because Tampa Bay's Paul Szczechura was pushed into the goaltender. "I think that when you sit back and sees some kind of contact, he's going to err on the side of no goal, I don't know," Tocchet said. "I think it's a goal. Quick came out past the crease. I don't think Szczechura was trying to go to the net with disregard for the goalie, and he got pushed in. But I can understand the ref. It's fast-paced, everything is fast and he sees some kind of contact, and he sees Paul bump into the goalie, so I can understand his call." ... With forward Ryan Craig and defenseman Matt Smaby reassigned to AHL Norfolk, (Smaby was on a two-week conditioning assignment), the team is down to 21 roster players (two goalies, 12 forwards and seven defensemen). Tocchet said the team is working toward a roster structure of one extra forward and one extra defenseman, meaning 13 forwards and seven defensemen. When or how that will be accomplished was still unclear. ... Wing Stephane Veilleux celebrates his 28th birthday today, and got a shaving cream pie in the face from teammates. It was a nice setup with Tocchet calling the players toward the boards for a post-skate meeting and Veilleux getting the pie in the face. Ryan Malone and Todd Fedoruk were the rumored culprits.