Smaby gets a shot
Coach John Tortorella swears it isn't because Mike Lundin is still hurting from the ankle injury he sustained against the Rangers, but defenseman Matt Smaby will get the call tonight against the Sabres. Lundin did skate this morning, so as Torts said he seems okay. But the coach said playing Smaby is part of the evaluation process that has begun for next season.
Smaby played four games with Tampa Bay earlier this season and showed some promise. But Torts said Smaby was sent down with orders to improve his stick work and his foot speed.
"Definitely,'' Smaby said. "Most everyday in practice I'll do some footwork stuff, and I'm always conscious about my stick, having it in the right position. So, yeah, it's things I've focused on.''
How do you work on foot speed?
"Drills like in tight, moving your feet quickly where you're moving your body in a position it doesn't want to be in and trying to get out of it,'' Smaby said.
Smaby, 23, the 41st overall pick of the 2003 draft, said he understands that, in a sense, he is auditioning for next season, and said he is taking this call-up very seriously.
"Very seriously,'' he said. "I know kind of where they sit and I just want to play really well and show I have improved and see what happens from there.''
Other stuff from this morning: Smaby has a shiner under his right eye that he said he got from a face plant during a recent fight while playing for AHL Norfolk. ... Karri Ramo gets the start tonight even though Mike Smith has been red hot lately, stopping 55 of 56 shots his last two outings. That seems to indicate Smith will play Thursday at Pittsburgh, but who knows how it shakes out in Torts' mind. ... Tortorella said left wing Jussi Jokinen, who has been playing on Vinny Lecavalier's line, is probably not a top three forward in the grand scheme of things, but is definitely a top six. He also praised Jokinen for getting into better condition to handle the extra minutes he has played since being acquired from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal and for being stronger on the puck. "He listens and he takes the coaching,'' Tortorella said. ... The coach said left wing Mathieu Darche, who has played so well on a line with center Jeff Halpern and Michel Ouellet, has been the team's best corner man the last few weeks. ... How well has the Lightning defended? Torts said the team is averaging just 11 or 12 chances against the past 25 games. Imagine if the top guys had been scoring. ... Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the Lightning is a dangerous team because it is "a team that's probably a little on the loose side with nothing to lose.'' Tortorella said he understood where Ruff was coming from and "I'm sure he didn't mean it as slap in the face. But I take it as a slap in the face. We're probably showing more tape now than when we were in the hunt. We're working every day to get better.'' ... With 10 games left, Tortorella said, "The toughest time for me is when I wake up in the morning. The first couple of hours are like, 'Aw (bleep),' we're not in the playoffs. We sink our teeth into teaching the new guys and it kind of takes the pain away.''