A rested Antero Niittymaki gets the start in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet has given Antero Niittymaki the start in tonight's game with the Flyers. That is important in that Niittymaki has a chance to establish himself as the go-to guy in Tampa Bay's playoff push. Mike Smith agreed, "Niitty has played better hockey this year and because of it, he's getting the start tonight."
It was an interesting decision. Tocchet said he felt Niittymaki, having not played during the Olympics, was rested and ready to go. Of course, Smith didn't play during the Olympics either, though he worked very hard during practices after the team got back together during the break. But Smith was in net, and did not play well, during the Lightning's loss to the Rangers right before the break, allowing four goals, and a couple of softies, on 22 shots in a 5-2 loss.
Asked if that game stood out for him, Tocchet said, "That was his first game back after an injury, so it's tough. But he'll be the first guy to tell you he didn't have a good game. We're in a results-oriented state right now."
Here are the stats: Niittymaki is 16-10-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Smith is 10-14-6 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.
Smith, while disappointed, was able to roll with it.
"It was disappointing, but I talked to Tocc and he said, basically, whoever plays best from here on in will get the majority of games, and that's all I can ask for, I guess," Smith said. "Obviously, from my standpoint, I want to be there. But the most important thing is we make the playoffs right now. We're both god goalies, and whether it's me or him, we give the team a chance to win."
As for how he will process the situation, Smith said, "Early in the year I was frustrated and had a few talks with Tocc. But in the big picture, Niitty has played some good hockey, and maybe I haven't played my best in parts of the season. But I still feel like I'm a really good goaltender and can be a top guy in this league. I just have to keep having a really good attitude and work hard in practice, and not be a bad guy in here and be a good teammate. At the end of the day, we're trying to win hockey games. Whether it's him or me, at the end of the day, when we make the playoffs, it will be exciting either way."
As for Niittymaki, he said just getting a chance to play is "a big thing." He played just 11 games total for the Flyers after February the past two seasons combined, "So it's nice to get a chance to play."
"Niitty has earned it," Tocchet said.
Other stuff from the morning skate: Ryan Malone's silver Olympic medal and Niittymaki's bronze will be displayed behind section 120 during tonight's game. ... Right wing Brandon Bochenski cleared re-entry waivers and is expected to play tonight. ... Defenseman Matt Walker (lower body) likely won't play, meaning Matt Smaby gets in the lineup. ... Right wing Mark Parrish said while he is excited to be back from AHL Norfolk, and excited to be part of a playoff race, he knows he cannot be satisfied, especially after working through two tryout contracts before signing with Tampa Bay. "It was a long road back to get my foot in the door," the former NHL All-Star said.. "Now that I'm here, I know I have to work even harder to be here." ... Center Zenon Konopka said he will take pain killers for his stiff back and will play against the Flyers. He said his back should not limit him from fighting, if he has to. More problematic in that area is the seven stitches he needed to close a deep wound between his right pinkie and ring finger sustained in a Feb. 9 fight against Vancouver's Rick Rypien. Konopka said the wound was down to the tendon. He did not know how the cut occurred but said he was not supposed to fight in the Rangers game, but when Aaron Voros started running around "and we were kind of flat, I thought," he got into it and re-opened the cut. ... Said Niittymaki about his second Olympic medal (he won a silver in 2006): "I think it's really cool. I don't think there are too many athletes in the world who can say they have two medals. One is special, but one more is fantastic." ... If, as the Ottawa Sun reported, the Senators inquired about Lightning defenseman Kurtis Foster, either the price Tampa Bay wanted was too high or the Lightning said the defenseman with the booming slap shot was not for sale. Ottawa traded for the Islanders' Andy Sutton instead. ... Speaking of Voros, the Rangers put him on waivers Tuesday. I like that guy. Has a great attitude and understands his role.