ATLANTA — Mike Smith could have declined the Lightning's request he go to AHL Norfolk on a conditioning assignment, but the goaltender said he agreed without hesitation.
"Obviously, I don't want to be down there for that long. But I think it's a positive thing, beneficial for me," Smith said.
"It's a way to get a couple of games in."
Smith, out a month with a sprained left knee, was cleared to play Wednesday and removed from injured reserve. But GM Steve Yzerman said it made sense to let him get back into game shape and test the knee in the minors.
Conditioning assignments can last up to two weeks, though they can be extended with the player's permission. Yzerman said he plans to bring Smith back after Norfolk's game Tuesday at Portland. Smith could play a maximum of three games, beginning tonight in Binghamton, before taking the Jan. 27-30 All-Star break off.
Because it is a conditioning assignment, Smith doesn't have to clear waivers.
The Lightning's three-goalie conundrum had nothing to do with the decision, Yzerman said.
"For a player who has been out for a month with a sprained knee, it seems the logical thing to do," he said. "He gets an opportunity to test it in a couple of games and to get sharper because when he plays in the NHL he wants to be at his best."
"Steve's a pretty loyal guy," Smith said. "He tells it like it is. If something else was up, he would have indicated that to me."
Smith, 28, played, perhaps, his two best games of the season before he was hurt, stopping 49 of 51 shots in victories over the Thrashers and Sabres. But at the morning skate prior to a Dec. 20 game with the Hurricanes, Smith's left knee twisted when his skate was clipped by the skate of teammate Simon Gagne.
Smith, 10-5-0 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, said his knee feels "pretty good" and he has no limitations.
"But the real test will come in a game," he said. "You get put in positions you really don't plan for sometimes.
"That will be the ultimate test for it."
As for being in the minors, Smith said it is no big deal.
"It's in my control. I could have said no," he said. "It's going to be beneficial for me and this team if I can come back and play like I was when I got injured. I think I can help this team win up here, and I made that clear to Steve.
"This is where I want to be, and I feel I can be a big part of this team. This is just a stepping-stone to that."
MORE INJURIES: Norfolk G Cedrick Desjardins will be out at least 10 days with a right shoulder injury sustained Sunday when run into by an opposing player, Yzerman said.
Also, Norfolk D Marc-Andre Bergeron might be ready to play this weekend after Sunday's knee-to-knee hit on his right knee, which was surgically repaired during the summer.
"It was relatively minor," Yzerman said of the contusion. "Everything is intact. Nothing is structurally wrong."
ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning was 0-for-2 on the power play with one shot on goal and is 3-for-37 over its past 10 games. … Tampa Bay's 10-game win streak over Atlanta is the league's longest active by one team over another. … D Matt Smaby and F Mattias Ritola were scratched.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.