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Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Smith out, Niittymaki in vs. Penguins, Lecavalier line gets new wing

Mike Smith, right, colliding with teammate Todd Fedoruk during a Senators goal, will sit tonight. Antero Niittymaki will start.

Associated Press

Mike Smith, right, colliding with teammate Todd Fedoruk during a Senators goal, will sit tonight. Antero Niittymaki will start.

PITTSBURGH — Mike Smith could have been emotional. Instead, he was philosophical.

He could have vented. Instead, he kept his head up.

"Sometimes you learn from new experiences," the Lightning goaltender said after being assigned to the bench for tonight's game with the Penguins at Mellon Arena.

"Hopefully, I take it as a learning experience and not as a knock, by any means."

Antero Niittymaki getting the call wasn't the only change after Thursday's dreadful 7-1 loss to the Senators.

Steve Downie, a feisty presence the past few games, went from the fourth line to right wing on Vinny Lecavalier's line. Stephane Veilleux went from Lecavalier's line to the fourth.

And coach Rick Tocchet said alterations could be made to a power play that allowed two short-handed goals to Ottawa and another Monday to the Panthers.

But Smith's situation drew the most scrutiny.

After allowing two bad goals to Ottawa, Smith is 0-2-2 with a 4.08 goals-against average, second worst among league starters entering Friday, and an .864 save percentage, third worst.

Niittymaki won his two starts and has a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.

After needing six months to overcome postconcussion syndrome, Smith was run over by New Jersey's Jamie Langenbrunner and teammate Ryan Malone during the Oct. 8 home opener.

Smith said the hit left no lingering damage.

"I'm fine," he said.

But tormented.

"Those games sting. They leave a mark," he said of the loss to Ottawa. "I don't think I've played bad the last three games, but I know the results aren't there, the end results, the thing that means the most. The wins are not there, and that's the most frustrating part about it."

Said Tocchet: "I don't want to get into a situation, if a goalie plays bad, you don't play him the next night. I don't think that's fair to any goalie. I just felt, 'Give Smitty some practice time.' You have to remember, he hasn't played much in six months, and we haven't had a ton of practice time. He'll be fine."

Tocchet hopes Friday's practice has similar healing effects on a team outshot 35-17 by the Senators and, entering Friday, with a league-worst three short-handed goals against.

A 3:15 p.m. practice start, three or four hours later than usual, was done purposefully to shake up the routine, Tocchet said. But one-on-one and two-on-two puck battles were the real prescription.

"I just felt the trains got off the track with our battle level, not protecting the house, what we call the house in front of our net," he said. "We had too many guys circling, so we had to get back to basics. The last two games were an alarm for the coaching staff. We have to get this thing back on track."

"We just have to make sure we're better physically in the one-on-one battles and taking away time and space," left wing Ryan Malone said.

Especially against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

"They're 6-1," Tocchet said. "If we're going to try to trade chance-for-chance with those guys, it might be 14-1."

Imagine the emotions then.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Smith out, Niittymaki in vs. Penguins, Lecavalier line gets new wing 10/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 7:35am]

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