… Plus another emergency backup goalie in San Jose, the war of attrition in Washington’s crease, and more all in the Jan. 22 Daily Update
Mike Smith could have made things difficult for the Tampa Bay Lightning by refusing their request for a conditioning assignment to Norfolk in the American Hockey League, but that’s not his style.
Besides, after missing a month with a MCL sprain in his left knee, and with the Lightning rolling since acquiring Dwayne Roloson to a crowded crease that also already included Dan Ellis, Smith didn’t exactly have a lot of bargaining power. But credit to him for recognizing he needs to play his way back into the mix, whether in Tampa Bay or somewhere else in the NHL, rather than sitting around and trying to force the Lightning into a move.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Smith agreed to the demotion without hesitation:
“Obviously, I don’t want to be down there for that long. But I think it’s a positive thing, beneficial for me,” Smith said. “It’s a way to get a couple of games in.”
Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman said the decision was all about getting Smith some playing time, and had nothing to do with avoiding the dreaded three-goalie rotation a while longer. While conditioning assignments can last a maximum of two weeks (and in the case of Philadelphia’s Michael Leighton a December was extended with permission from the league because of complications with his surgically repaired back), Yzerman said Smith could be back this week, giving him up to three AHL games before the All-Star break.
Smith, 28, is 10-5-0 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .883 save percentage this season, but played his best two games before getting hurt in a Dec. 20 game-day practice when his skate was clipped by a teammate and his knee twisted awkwardly, and appeared to finally be adjusting to tactical and technical changes implemented by new goaltending coach Franz Jean, chasing the play less and letting it come to him.
He told The Times his knee has no limitations, but “the real test will come in a game,” and didn’t seem at all worried that test will come in the minors:
“It’s in my control. I could have said no. It’s going to be beneficial for me and this team if I can come back and play like I was when I got injured. I think I can help this team win up here, and I made that clear to Steve. This is where I want to be, and I feel I can be a big part of this team. This is just a stepping-stone to that.”
At least Smith won’t have to worry about sharing a net in Norfolk. No.1 goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, who impressed by winning his first two starts in Tampa Bay after Smith got hurt, is out at least 10 days with a right shoulder injury that resulted from a crease collision with an opposing player. Jaroslav Janus was promoted from ECHL Florida to fill in, but will likely be sent back down for as long as Smith is in Norfolk.
Another emergency backup in San Jose
It was easy to understand why the San Jose Sharks needed help from a local university in order to find a backup for Thursday night’s game in Vancouver. After all, their AHL affiliate is in Worcester on the other side of the continent and they didn’t find out backup Antero Niittymaki couldn’t play until straining a groin during the morning skate, prompting the call to UBC and 15 minutes of fame for college stopper Jordan White
It was a great story, especially since starter Antti Niemi was able to make it through the game unscathed despite a few nervous moments when Canucks forward Alex Burrows “accidentally” fell hard on top of him early in the game. But with Nittymaki placed on injured reserve and therefore out at least a week despite not considering the injury serious, it’s a bit harder to understand how the Sharks still didn’t have a second goalie for practice on Friday. Or why they’ve turned to a junior goalie to back up Niemi Saturday night against Minnesota.
San Jose called up JP Anderson from Mississauga of the major junior Ontario Hockey League on an emergency basis – and how it’s still an emergency two days later is another question – for Saturday night’s game. The 18-year-old wasn’t drafted last summer but was signed by the Sharks as a free agent after impressing during a tryout at the team’s YoungStars Tournament before the preseason started. He was a late cut from Canada’s world junior team, and is 22-5-0-1 in Mississauga, with a .915 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average that is second in the OHL only to Team Canada’s silver-medal winning goaltender Mark Visentin.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan explained call up (sort of) to the San Jose Mercury News:
“He’s a guy we signed in camp this year and he’s playing on one of the top junior teams in Canada. He’ll backup tomorrow and then we’ll look to see, as an organization, what we do moving forward.”
The Sharks shortage in the crease was created in part because they loaned German Thomas Greiss, who was their best goaltender in the preseason, to the Swedish Elite League after signing Niemi late this summer (and Niittymaki early in free agency), and would risk losing him on waivers if he returned. Alex Stalock, who became their top prospect, isn’t healthy enough to play, and Worcester is in the midst of a incredibly busy stretch of five games in six nights that was complicated by snowstorms that caused some to be postponed.
So with Anderson not arrived Friday afternoon, the team turned to Martin Moody, a former San Jose State goalie who has had minor-league tryouts, to fill in at practice. It’s hardly a new thing for Moody, who is also the director of goaltenders for the San Jose Jr. Sharks program, and takes part in pre-training camp skates, according to the Mercury News:
“It’s always fun and always humbling. There’s not much you can do on some of the shots.”
San Jose doesn’t play again until Wednesday. By then we’d hope they’re past the “emergency” stage in goal.
As for White, he was back at UBC Friday night, backstopping the Thunderbirds to a key win over Regina in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports league. His evening with the Sharks netted him the jersey he wore, a few hundred dollars from a pass the hat effort among Sharks players, and the chance to try out a cat-eye pro cage.
“They took off the CSA cage I have to wear in university and put on a pro one with the cat eye just for the warm ups,” White told InGoal, adding the rest of his equipment was up to NHL regulations even if it hadn’t been officially approved by Kay Whitmore. “It was just one more really cool part of this whole experience.”
A different kind of battle in the Washington crease
With Washington’s Michael Neuvirth again out of action with an injury and Braden Holtby called up from the AHL to partner with Semyon Varlamov, who has also missed time with injuries this season, the competition to be the Capitals No.1 goaltender this season is starting to look like a war of attrition.
The Washington Post does a great job breaking down both the injury history, which includes 20 missed games for Varlamov and 13 (and counting) for Neuvirth, as well as why these 22-year-old goaltenders might be experiencing so many hip, groin and knee injuries so early in their career. That latter analysis includes insights on the physical toll of the position from InGoal favourite Kevin Weekes, and concerns from Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau about the durability of goalies:
“I think it’d be a concern even if they were both healthy all the time,” Boudreau told The Post. “Every coach is always concerned about the goaltender’s durability. . . . You hope that every time they lace the pads up that nothing bad happens. But it’s a pretty precarious position where they’ve got to put their bodies in pretty weird spots sometimes. It doesn’t surprise me that goalies are getting hurt and pulling muscles.”
In a separate piece online, The Post also breaks down the other job-share tandems in the NHL, several of which are also related to nagging injuries. All are a worthwhile read for goaltenders.
One-Timers from the Goaltending World (Wide Web):
With Evgeni Nabokov’s contract in Detroit creating the most anticipated waiver wire period in NHL history, news the Red Wings called up Jordan Pearce and demoted Joey MacDonald barely created a ripple. With good reason, it turns out. The move was made entirely because MacDonald was in Detroit on an emergency basis after groin surgery to veteran Chris Osgood, and if Nabokov did clear waivers and join the Red Wings at noon, MacDonald would then be subject to waivers on the way down to the AHL. This way Pearce, who does not need to clear waivers in either direction, will be in Detroit in case Nabokov is claimed. What is less clear is whether the experienced MacDonald can come back up on an emergency basis if that happens.
Oft-injured Islanders goalie Rick Dipietro returned from a groin injury last week only to be felled this week by a flu bug that kept him home from joining the team for a trip to Buffalo. So naturally rookie Nathan Lawson, appearing in just his sixth NHL game, went down after injuring his left knee late in the first period Friday night against the Sabres. Lawson made it through the period but was replaced by fellow rookie Kevin Poulin to start the second period, also his sixth NHL appearance. Lawson did not return to the bench and will be re-evaluated Saturday, which could mean a call up for fellow puck-stopping prospect Mikko Koskinen from Bridgeport, though with the Tigers on the road and already using tryout goalie Joel Martin as the backup it may not be that simple. Fortunately the Islanders are home Sunday, so Dipietro should at least be able to back up. Provided, of course, it really is just the flu keeping him out in the first place.