DALLAS — It probably goes without saying, but Coyotes G Mike Smith said it anyway.
"Obviously," he said of tonight's game with the Lightning, "I've had this date marked on my calendar for a while."
Smith in July signed a two-year, $4 million deal with Phoenix, ending his tumultuous four-year career with Tampa Bay.
That stretch included stellar play, several serious injuries, last season's demotion to AHL Norfolk and his return to form, especially during the playoffs, when he went 1-1 in three games — including a start in Game 5 of the East final against the Bruins — with a 1.00 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.
"I would have liked to stay in Tampa," Smith said Friday by phone from Glendale, Ariz. "It didn't work out. I'm fortunate I've had the chance to be the guy here in Phoenix."
Smith, 29, is 17-12-7 with two shutouts, a 2.41 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He said goaltenders coach Sean Burke has been "a huge, huge mentor for me."
"I've matured a lot as a player. I've learned a lot about my game and what it takes to be more consistent," Smith said. "I don't know if that would have happened if I would have stayed in Tampa. I'm not saying it wouldn't have. I just think I've learned a lot about my game this season than I have in the past."
Smith also is settled with wife Brigitte and son Aksel, 6 months. Quite a difference from when he came to the Lightning in February 2008, with much hype, from the Stars in the Brad Richards deal.
Though Smith acknowledged he did not live up to expectations with Tampa Bay — 43-52-17 with six shutouts, a 2.85 goals-against average and .905 save percentage — he was a locker room presence, and C Nate Thompson called him "one of our favorite guys."
Smith has stayed close to several former teammates.
"It's tough when you have to leave somewhere you've grown such a part of, and those friendships will last forever," Smith said. "It's good in a way, but it's awfully difficult when you have to leave guys like that behind."
Not that Smith will have pity tonight.
"It's going to be an exciting time," he said. "I'm really looking forward to getting it going."
HALL MENDING: Adam Hall, Tampa Bay's faceoff leader, hit the ice after the morning skate. The forward was supposed to miss eight weeks after tearing a forearm muscle in a Jan. 5 fight with Ottawa's Mark Carkner, but Lightning coach Guy Boucher said the timetable is accelerated.
"He's done everything the doctors asked him to do," he said. "He's extremely professional, so it's going faster than we thought."
MORE MEDICAL MATTERS: F Tom Pyatt, who left Thursday's practice with a left leg injury, sat and is day to day. … RW Dana Tyrell (lower body) was in the lineup after missing one game. … F J.T. Wyman joined Hall on the ice, though his infected right pinkie still is bothersome. … RW Steve Downie took 12 stitches in the mouth after being hit by the butt end of a stick during the first.
ODDS AND ENDS: G Dwayne Roloson, without a win since Nov. 17 (0-6-1 in 11 games) will face Phoenix. … Pyatt, D Evan Oberg and D Marc-Andre Bergeron (back), not on the trip, were scratched.