TAMPA — Mike Smith said he expects his right ring finger to be "pretty sensitive for quite a while." But the Lightning goaltender does not expect to be limited in his first preseason start tonight against the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
In fact, Smith said Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum, "I'm kind of chomping at the bit to get in there."
The fingertip was fractured during a Sept. 20 practice by a Steven Stamkos shot, and Smith had not handled live shots until this week. So expectations are modest.
"To be fair to him, the first game, I'm expecting him not to be at his best," coach Guy Boucher said. "It's normal. He's missing practices. He's working very hard, but the reality is, it's going to be his first real game since last (season)."
Most important, Smith said, is "staying structurally sound and, at the same time, gain confidence from the team and coaching staff in my ability."
Smith, in the final year of a two-year, $4.4 million contract and trying to bounce back from an inconsistent 2009-10, also will play Saturday's preseason finale against Florida at the Times Forum, though how much is to be determined.
"He's an upbeat guy with a lot of energy," Boucher said. "We want to make sure he controls that, and his focus is controlled and he stays structured in his technique. … The season is starting a week from now. He needs to see the net."
WAIVERS: Forwards Marc Pouliot and Niklas Persson cleared waivers. Pouliot, a 2003 first-round draft pick of the Oilers, was assigned to AHL Norfolk, reducing the preseason roster to 27. Persson, a Swede who was cut Sunday and assigned to Norfolk, is exploring a return to Europe.
ROSTER: Boucher said it still is undecided whether the team will start the regular season with 23 players, the limit, or 22.
"Some days we keep 22. Some days we keep 23," he said of talks with GM Steve Yzerman. "To say 22 today, and tomorrow you say I'm a liar because we keep 23, it's a possibility of both. If it's just a matter of numbers, I hate sending guys down who really deserve to be here. Steve feels the same way, so we don't want to restrain ourselves."
COACH'S PREROGATIVE: Boucher had scheduled a 30-minute practice for Thursday, but when he finally whistled the players off the ice, it was 67 minutes. What happened?
"The same thing that happened to my 22-man roster," he joked. "That's coaching. One day you get a feeling of 'let's continue.' Actually, I added something I wanted to see and didn't like the first 20 minutes enough to get off. They're working hard, but I want guys who are relentless. There's a difference between the two."
ODDS AND ENDS: Saturday's game is not on TV or radio but will be streamed live at lightning.nhl.com and foxsportsflorida.com with Rick Peckham and Bobby "The Chief" Taylor calling the action. … The team's annual Chamber Lunch is 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Times Forum. For information, call (813) 301-6812.