Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Lightning opts for goaltending tandem with Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki

Antero Niittymaki, gloving the puck for a save vs. the Devils on Saturday, began Wednesday with a league-best .940 save percentage.

Associated Press

Antero Niittymaki, gloving the puck for a save vs. the Devils on Saturday, began Wednesday with a league-best .940 save percentage.

OTTAWA — Goaltender Antero Niittymaki is playing very well right now. Mike Smith, not so much, especially on the road.

For coach Rick Tocchet, the equation is simple.

"He's winning," he said of Niittymaki, "so you keep playing him."

Niittymaki makes his second straight start tonight against the Senators at Scotiabank Place. What is intriguing is the assignment seems open-ended even after Tocchet has been adamant that Smith is Tampa Bay's No. 1.

But desperate to stay close to a playoff spot while working out some well-publicized offensive kinks, Tocchet has no choice.

"Right now," he said, "you have to keep playing the hot goaltender."

Clearly that is Niittymaki, 29, signed during the summer as a free agent to be Smith's backup.

Check the numbers:

Niittymaki is 3-1-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and, entering Wednesday, a league-best .940 save percentage. On the road, where Tampa Bay is 1-4-1, Niittymaki is 1-1-0 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.

Smith, 27, is 2-3-3 with a 3.64 goals-against and an .879 save percentage. He is 0-3-1 on the road with a 5.38 goals-against average and an .826 save percentage.

"Obviously, you look at the numbers, and they are not where they need to be," Smith said. "But I feel like I've played some good hockey this year. I'm disappointed with the consistency, but it's a long year, and fortunately, Niitty has played well when I haven't played so well, and he's giving the team a chance to win, and we need that right now."

Especially on the road, where the Lightning got its first win Tuesday, 2-1 over the Maple Leafs, behind 40 Niittymaki saves. That was after he stole a point for the team in a 2-1 home loss to the Devils by making 37 saves, including one on a penalty shot and three in a shootout.

Between those games, Smith was pulled after five goals on 18 shots in a 6-2 loss at Philadelphia.

It is not all on Smith, who was very solid last season but before this year's training camp had not seen game action since Jan. 30 because of post-concussion syndrome. As Tocchet said, "He's done some good stuff for us this year. And I thought there were a couple of games we didn't play well in front of him, also."

At the same time, "it's a long season. You go through stretches. It's something every player deals with. Right now, Mike has to work hard for us and cheer Niitty on as he's waiting in the wings. He knows he's going to play. There's nothing more to that."

It's as simple as Niittymaki's game.

"For me, seeing the puck is probably the biggest thing," he said. "There's always traffic (in front of the net), but sometimes you're able to see everything and find the puck, and right now I'm seeing everything.

"You're patient. You wait and wait, and you really don't do anything before the puck kind of comes to you. That's when you feel good about yourself."

As for taking games away from Smith, Niittymaki said not to read too much into it.

"It's a long year," he said. "I don't look at it like two guys fighting for ice time right now. It's a team game. They're going to need both guys. There are ups and downs, and we're both going to have them."

That's why, Smith said, "it's important to have two guys who can carry the ball, and right now that's Niitty, and he's doing a heck of a job at it. He's keeping us in games and getting us the points we need right now."

As Tocchet said, it is a simple equation.

Craig returning? If forward Ryan Craig clears re-entry waivers at noon today, Tocchet said, he might play against Ottawa. Craig, sent to Norfolk out of camp, is tied for the AHL team's lead with seven goals and nine points in 11 games.

tonight

Lightning at Senators

When/where: 7:30; Scotiabank Place, Ottawa

TV/radio: Sun Sports;

620-AM

Key stats: The Lightning power play is in a 3-for-31 stretch, including 1-for-19 on the road. … The Senators entered Wednesday with the league's third-best penalty kill (87 percent) and a league-high four short-handed goals.

Tampa Bay Lightning opts for goaltending tandem with Mike Smith and Antero Niittymaki 11/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 8:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jerseys worn by Tim Tebow fans commemorate the various phases of his athletic career

    Minors

    Charles Bottoms, right, with his wife, Annie, wore the Tim Tebow Broncos jersey to Steinbrenner Field "only because I didn't want to wear my good (signed Gators) Tebow one." [RYAN ROMANO | Times]
  2. Rays morning after: 5 mistakes that led to loss to Blue Jays

    Blogs

    We've already documented elsewhere what the Rays didn't do, how they failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity to win Wednesday's game, getting just one run after loading the bases in the seventh with one out and three of …

    Jake Faria make too many mistakes, the failure to execute costing him repeatedly.
  3. Rays have their chances, but end up with another loss (w/video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The litany of games the Rays have given away this season is long enough, arguably too lengthy. So the only way to get to the postseason is make up for some of those losses by grabbing some wins when the opportunity is presented, especially at this time of year when the margin is diminished and the stakes …

    Associated Press
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Blue Jays game

    The Heater

    You wonder if the scouting reports and/or workload are catching up to rookie RHP Jake Faria. The bottom line wasn't bad again, three runs in 51/3 innings, but he's having to work harder to get there.

  5. Rays journal: Chris Archer eager for eventful final stretch

    The Heater

    TORONTO — RHP Chris Archer takes the mound today for the Rays as they head into the final 40 games of the season with little margin for error as they battle for an American League playoff spot.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) takes a moment on the mound in the second inning of the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, August 6, 2017.