Musical goalies continues for Tampa Bay Lightning as Mike Smith starts vs. Bruins

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December

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Mike Smith will start Thursday's game against the Bruins. The reason? For the second straight time, Dan Ellis was victorious over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. But Smith already has beaten the Bruins once this season. Perhaps he can do it again.

As sound as that logic is, the fact is Boucher would not have to make these calculations if either Smith or Ellis, or both, actually, would grab hold of the goaltending job. Smith, lately, is showing the most signs he is headed in the right direction. Throw out the Capitals game he started and the four goals he allowed on 18 shots. That was just a dismal game for the entire team. In the three games previous, Smith stopped 72 of 77 shots for a .935 save percentage and had a 1.67 goals-against average.

Ellis did not do badly Tuesday night in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs as he was at fault on only one goal, the second, a shot by Nikolai Kulemin from the top of the right faceoff circle that beat him short side. Perhaps had Ellis been a bit farther out of the net, the shot would have hit him. But no matter, he played solidly otherwise.

In that sense, thing do not look as nervous as they did earlier in the season. But there still is a long way to go until we can say the goaltending is solid. Inconsistency has been the hallmark of the season for both goalies, who readily admit it. It is going to take more than a stretch of four or five games to reverse that perception.

Let's see if Smith can continue the trend.

Other items: Left wing Mattias Ritola is questionable for the Bruins game as he continues to battle balance issues from an inner-ear problem that, as Boucher said, doesn't give  any warning as to when it will flare. ... Also, Boucher said don't expect Simon Gagne to play much more than the 13 minutes he got on Tuesday against the Leafs. True, Gagne had a big night with two points and the winning goal in overtime. But after missing 18 straight games with a neck injury, there is no reason to rush Gagne back. "We're going to take it easy on him for a while," Boucher said. "Maybe the next game 13 and a half (minutes), 14 max. We don't want to go too far here. He did what he was able to do because we didn't rush it or put any pressure on him. He came in feeling good." Boucher said Gagne will keep a place on the second power play unit as he tries to create two units who can play about a minute apiece with equal distinction. It's down the road, but there could be one unit with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis and a second with Gagne and Vinny Lecavalier, when the captain gets back from knuckle surgery. That split is different than the front-loaded top unit with which the season began. But Teddy Purcell is coming as a power-play guy on the first unit, and Steve Downie is showing his worth in front of the net on the second. Might as well share the wealth. And it always is good to have options. 

[Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 12:15am]

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