OTTAWA — There were expectations Friday that Mike Smith would practice with his teammates. But the Lightning goaltender skated on his own at Scotiabank Place and said he likely will wait until next week to take the next step.
The delay must be frustrating for Smith, who sprained his left knee during a Dec. 20 morning skate. But it does give the organization a reprieve from what certainly will be an uncomfortable situation when Smith comes off injured reserve.
Tampa Bay will have three goalies on the active roster at that point: Smith, Dan Ellis and Dwayne Roloson, acquired a week ago today from the Islanders to steady the team's unsteadiness in net.
The looming glut causes coach Guy Boucher's ready smile to vanish.
"Right now there's time before he's back," he said of Smith, "so there's nothing to manage now. But when he's back, yeah, three guys, we'll have to manage it."
The goalies already have done some managing of their own.
Egos were hurt when general manager Steve Yzerman brought in Roloson, 41. Smith called it "a little disappointing."
And talk about tense. Yzerman has said the team will keep three goalies, at least for the short term. Though he gave Boucher orders to play whoever is at his best, Smith said it is "not an ideal situation," and the sense is Smith or Ellis could be traded or sent to the minors.
"I think it's tough for everyone," said Roloson, who is expected to start his third straight game tonight against the Senators. "It's tough for them in the situation they're in. It's tough for me to come in here. It's tough on everybody."
But they must make the best of it.
"The goalies need to control what they can control," goaltenders coach Frantz Jean said. "All three of them can control their work ethic and output on the ice and how they come to work every day, and that's what we want. The rest, like we've been saying, is going to sort itself out."
Roloson and Ellis knew each other.
For a time, they had the same agent, and Ellis, 30, when in college, spent a few summer weeks training with Roloson.
"So that was a pretty easy adjustment," Roloson said.
As for Smith, 28, "The first time I met Mike was the other day, and I haven't had much time with him," Roloson said. "But he's been great, wished me luck and everything. So it was definitely a lot easier to come in with that."
"We're in it together," Smith said. "It's obvious that whoever is in net, we're going to continue to play well and we're going to win a lot more hockey games. Whether it's Rollie, Ellie or myself, it's important to stay positive and have a good attitude about it and be a good teammate."
For Ellis, that means picking Roloson's brain. He said he marvels in practice how Roloson tracks the puck with his eyes, a reminder, Ellis said, not to get bogged down in technique.
Roloson, whose career got on track in 2001-02 at age 32 with the Wild after a season in the minors and who led the 2005-06 Oilers to the Stanley Cup final, also is a study in perseverance and competitiveness.
"So there's lots of ways to look at a situation like this," Ellis said. "You can get negative, but I think you have to continue to better yourself, and part of that is learning by a veteran's example."
"I've been in three-goalie rotations probably four or five times," Roloson said. "It's rough for everybody because there's two nets (in practice) and everybody wants to get in and prepare.
"But at the same time, you do whatever you do to help the team win, whether it's getting out early to take extra shots or cheerleading at the bench or sitting in the stands doing stats. It's all about being part of the team."