WASHINGTON — This was the dilemma for Lightning coach Rick Tocchet:
Stick with hotter-than-hot goaltender Antero Niittymaki for the ninth straight game or go with Mike Smith, who hasn't played in almost three weeks?
A tricky question.
Tocchet likes to go with the hot hand but has to make sure Smith, the backup for two games after missing six with a neck strain, doesn't go stale.
Smith will start today against the Southeast Division-leading Capitals at the Verizon Center. Niittymaki goes Wednesday in Atlanta.
"It's a nice problem to have," Tocchet said of juggling two capable goalies. "But you also have to manage it properly.
"We're in a situation where we need our goalies to play solid, and they have to be engaged. We don't really have a backup. We have a couple of No. 1 goalies right now."
That is where circumstances come in. Smith hasn't played since a Jan. 12 game with the Capitals in which he was run over by defenseman Brooks Laich. Niittymaki is 15-0-0 lifetime against the Thrashers.
Though it is a no-brainer to match Niittymaki and Atlanta, Tocchet said there is no significance to putting the fiery Smith against the team that put him on the sideline.
Smith, too, said the timing is coincidental.
"I'm just doing my own thing," he said. "It's important for the team to play well right now. It doesn't matter who I'm playing. Two points are most important."
Besides, Tocchet said, "Smitty played well before he got hurt. He was carrying the ball for us."
In eight straight starts from Dec. 21 through Jan. 8, Smith was 5-2-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. After a one-game rest, he was hurt against the Capitals.
Niittymaki, who was signed last summer to be Smith's backup but has earned extra playing time, seemed to grow stronger with the heavier workload. In his past four starts, he is 3-0-1 with a 0.94 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
"Niitty has played so well, I couldn't expect to come back in the lineup and start playing games," Smith said. "He stood on his head, and we got points because of it, but saying that, I'm ready to go. You want to be part of the team's success. It's a fun time of year to be playing games and helping the team win."
Niittymaki believes so, too, but said that after eight straight starts, he doesn't mind a night off.
"It's been fair," he said of the way Tocchet has doled out playing time; both goalies have played 28 games. "I think overall we all try to win here, and I think we've both had a decent chance so far."
"That's the way Toc's run the show all year," Smith said. "You can always have respect for the way that's done."
As well as one's teammate.
"I'd be lying to say I enjoyed sitting on the bench watching," Smith said. "I'm a competitive guy who likes to be in the game and help the team. Niitty is the same way. That's what makes our goaltending real special."
Krajicek to Flyers: Defenseman Lukas Krajicek signed with the Flyers after his contract with the Lightning was terminated.
Krajicek left AHL Norfolk last week and was put on unconditional waivers. When he cleared, the Lightning terminated his one-year, $1.475 million deal.
The process allowed Krajicek to sign with any team he wished and saved the Lightning money because it did not have to put him on recall waivers. Had Krajicek been claimed, Tampa Bay still would have been responsible for half his remaining salary.
Executive moves on: Chief financial officer Joe Fada resigned to take a similar position with the Bucs. The move was in the works for a while.