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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet says Mike Smith still No. 1 goalie but must stay sharp

OTTAWA — Make no mistake, coach Rick Tocchet said, Mike Smith is the Lightning's No. 1 goaltender. But two good games by backup Antero Niitty­maki means Smith has to stay sharp.

"He's our guy, but he has to perform," Tocchet said Thursday. "He knows it. There's no entitlement here. That's the one thing we changed here. You're not entitled to anything.

"Having said that, Smitty has played well for us. It's not like he lost his job or anything."

Smith did stumble slightly against the Senators, allowing two bad goals. And Tampa Bay seems to have a viable option in Niittymaki, who won Saturday and Monday, and has a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He also is expected to play some, especially in the short-term, because of the Lightning's light schedule.

Tocchet said Smith should get the bulk of the work once the schedule compresses.

Even so, "I think Niittymaki is a guy who doesn't have backup in his head," Tocchet said. "He knows his role, but he knows if he plays well, he's going to play."

Bottom line, Tocchet said, "There's nothing wrong with in-house competition."

FOSTER'S RETURN: Kurtis Foster, 27, played for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury in the season opener. The timing could not have been better for the defenseman, raised in the Ottawa suburb of Carp.

"It's my fifth year in the NHL and only the second time I've played here," said Foster, who had about 50 family and friends at the game. "Hopefully, I can turn some of my family into Lightning fans."

KONOPKA'S RETURN: C Zenon Konopka played juniors in Ottawa for four years and in 2001 helped the 67's to the Memorial Cup. No wonder he called returning as an NHL player "a dream come true."

"This is pretty close to my hometown," said the native of Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. "This is a big deal for me to play here as a regular NHL player."

Konopka, 28, who entered the season with 39 NHL games, has turned into a valuable fourth-liner and been solid on faceoffs, winning 61 percent and entering Thursday with an average 7:24 of ice time.

"I love him on our bench," Tocchet said. "He might not play for six or seven minutes, but he's talking, he's yelling, he's keeping the guys on the bench alive. That's an intangible we didn't have last year."

MORE KONOPKA: He has won 22 of 36 faceoffs, and his success doesn't sound like a fluke.

"I've been working hard on it off the ice, trying to watch video on guys and how they take draws and how to beat them," Konopka said. "Call it a poker match, a chess match, you have to read your opponent. You get into his head about what he's going to do, and you usually have something to counter it."

"Sometimes you think, 'Oh, fourth-line guy, he doesn't go on (the ice) the last five minutes,' " Tocchet said. "He's breaking that trend for me. I've done it three or four times this year on an important draw, I've had him out there in the last minute."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning's 17 shots against the Senators were a season low and the first time with fewer than 30. … Thursday was the 25th anniversary of Tocchet's first NHL goal. ... Ds Lukas Krajicek and David Hale were scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet says Mike Smith still No. 1 goalie but must stay sharp 10/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2009 6:06am]
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