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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby keeps improving and impressing interim coach Rick Tocchet

WASHINGTON — Because Matt Smaby was recalled from AHL Norfolk on Saturday on an emergency basis after an injury to Lukas Krajicek, the defenseman knows he will be headed back to the minors.

It will be Smaby's second round-trip this season, but coach Rick Tocchet said every time he sees Smaby, he sees a better player.

"The last time he went down, we told him to work on certain parts of his game, and I think he has," Tocchet said Thursday. "He doesn't look out of place.

"He's a really good shot blocker and probably one of the better defensive hitting guys. He eliminates the man. If he works on his puck-handling, he can be a very reliable defenseman in the NHL."

Despite the up-arrow on his game, Smaby, 24, a 6-foot-5, 227-pounder, said the back-and-forth can be difficult.

"If you let your emotions get involved, it can be because it is a roller-coaster ride," he said. "But as long as I'm here, it's a good thing for me, no matter how long it lasts."

The 41st pick of the 2003 draft entered Thursday with one assist in four games, an even plus-minus, 15 hits and an average 12:12 of ice time; though in the first two games of this recall, Smaby averaged 14:22, including a season-high 15:47 Tuesday against the Canadiens.

"Right now he's done well for us," Tocchet said. "He just has to learn to be a little more patient with the puck."

OLIE HEALING: Backup G Olie Kolzig, out for seven games with an upper-body injury, skated and said he plans to be back Thursday at Phoenix.

HARD HITTING: Montreal's Alex Tanguay sustained what is believed to be a separated shoulder from a clean check by Tampa Bay RW Evgeny Artyukhin. The hit from the 6-5, 254-pound freight train knocked free a pane of glass at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tocchet called Artyukhin "a menace," but in a good way. "Guys don't want to go back for the puck. He has to play like that consistently, and he's going to get more ice time."

OVECHKIN OVATION: Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin is the game's best player, Tocchet said. "He just doesn't sit on the outside and take one-timers. He's in front of the net. He's hitting. He's a special player because he's an aggressive player. That's why I think he's the best player."

ODDS AND ENDS: The band Danko Jones will play on the Chrysler/Jeep Plaza after Saturday's game with the Hurricanes at the Times Forum. The concert is free with a game ticket. … F Ryan Craig also was scratched.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby keeps improving and impressing interim coach Rick Tocchet 01/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 10:35pm]

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