Rick Tocchet: Mike Smith remains Lightning's No. 1 goalie
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet made it clear that Mike Smith remains his top goalie even though Antero Niittymaki appears set to start his eighth straight game tonight.
And perhaps even longer.
"Smitty is our No. 1 coming in and it’s not like he lost the job,'' Tocchet said. "He is our No. 1. It’s just that Niitty was supposed to be our backup and he’s turned into 1b because he’s really played well for us, especially the last two weeks.''
With Niittymaki, the Lightning has won a season-best three straight games. Smith, who strained his neck during the game against Washington on Jan. 12, was available to play for the first time on Wednesday against Montreal but sat. Niittymaki had a shutout.
"Smitty was rolling pretty good when he got hurt,'' Tocchet said. "Niitty’s won his last three and he literally won us the game against Atlanta. We had no business winning that game. Obviously I thought we played a pretty good game last game, we gave him some help, but he made some saves. It’s a good problem to have, absolutely.''
Even if Niittymaki has an off-performance tonight against Anaheim, don't just assume Tocchet will turn to Smith on Sunday.
"A guy like Niittymaki when he was in Philly, he’d win three, four in a row and have a bad game and he wouldn’t play. I don’t know if I’m a big fan of that,'' Tocchet said. "I’m not necessarily agreeing that if a guy has a tough night you don’t come back with him. Now the other guy might be saying, "Well, why can’t I play?’ You’ve really got to have two goalies who are on the same page.''
-- BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer