GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anders Lindback and Louis Domingue agree: The greatest challenge facing backup goaltenders is limited opportunity. They don’t get enough chances to show their abilities, and when they do, nerves can sabotage their best intentions.
“That’s been one of my issues the past couple years when I played every second week,” said Lindback, who will take over the Coyotes’ starting duties in the wake of Mike Smith’s abdomen surgery that will sideline him at least eight to 10 weeks. “Every time I come in I’ve been feeling like I have to do so much that I almost over-moved and over-exposed myself instead of just trusting the way you always practiced — which I have always found easier to do when you play a lot.
“You don’t have that tension. You know that even if this game doesn’t go the way I think, there’s probably going to be another one. That just makes you a little more calm.”
Lindback shouldn’t relax, but he can rest a little easier knowing that he will have a larger sample size to prove he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. While Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said Wednesday that the team would continue examining “anything and everything” when it comes to finding another goaltender, he also acknowledged that there are precious few available, the price tag on them is too high (either in current salary or the prospects it would cost Arizona) and he’s not certain he even wants them.
“If we had to get a goalie today there’s two that we could get but I’m not sure they’re any better; I’m not sure they’re an upgrade,” Maloney said. “If there’s a way to get a top-end goaltender that’s a long-term value to the franchise, we’re willing to pay up an asset for that. What I’m not going to do is pay up a good asset for the next three months.”
Lindback is playing for his fifth NHL team. On the surface, that suggests he hasn’t been good enough to earn a starting spot. In his eyes, however, there is an upside to all that movement.
“Being in a lot of places has given me a lot of experiences,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of goalie coaches, I’ve been to a lot of the locker rooms.
“I feel ready. I’ve been preparing hard for this but in the games you have to show it. I’m really confident. I’m looking forward to it.”
Lindback got his first extended look at a starting gig last season in Buffalo after coming over in a trade with Dallas for goalie Jhonas Enroth in February. The Sabres also dealt goalie Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders for goalie Chad Johnson at the trade deadline, but Johnson got hurt so coach Ted Nolan rode Lindback for the rest of the season. Playing regularly, he posted a .924 save percentage in 16 games for the Sabres.
“He did it last year. Why can’t he do it again this year?” coach Dave Tippett asked. “He’s one of those guys that has never seemed to be able to keep a hold of things. Sometimes it’s been a lack of opportunity; sometimes he hasn’t played well enough. He’s going to get the opportunity so if he plays well enough it could be the break he needs.”
Lindback is 27 years old. He doesn’t lack for wisdom or introspection. Even so, he expressed surprise that Coyotes goalie coach Jon Elkin has found areas of his game that needed tweaking. like the efficiency of his movements and his stance — areas that have improved Lindback’s game once he implemented them.
“You always try and take what a guy does well and don’t try to change it; emphasize it and then add some things,” Elkin said. “I’ve tried to add some things I’ve seen. Maybe there’s a few inefficiencies. He seems, right off the bat, to have bought into them and once he’s tried them has felt that they suited him and worked.
“I’m not trying to contradict anything he feels good about, but trying to convince him of some things we see he can do better.”
In watching past film of Lindback, Elkin wasn’t sure the 6-foot-6 Swede was ready for this opportunity. He has no such reservations now.
“I love his progress, I love his mindset, I love his ability,” Elkin said. “Coming into this year and getting to know him, understanding him and watching the way he’s responded and the things he’s done, I have complete confidence in him.”
Lindback understands that he is a temporary solution for the Coyotes until Smith returns — at least that’s the case right now. With just six and half months until his contract expires, however, he also understands that this temp work in Arizona could lead to the full-time gig he dreams about somewhere else.
“Opportunities show up really fast and they come out of nothing,” Lindback said. “All you can do is work hard and wait for it. If it comes it comes and you try to ride it.
“There’s so many goalies that broke out of things like this happening. Circumstances are going to be what they are. You just have to focus on your game and try to do your best.”
Blue Jackets at Coyotes
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Injury report: Coyotes — C Martin Hanzal (lower body) has come off injured reserve and is questionable. G Mike Smith (abdomen) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are on IR. Blue Jackets — Fs Rene Bourque (undisclosed), Markus Hannikainen (shoulder surgery) and D Cody Goloubef (broken jaw) are on IR.
Scouting the Jackets: Columbus is 2-5-3 in its last 10 and star center Ryan Johansen was benched for the third period of a 5-1 loss to Dallas on Tuesday for lethargic play. After the game, the Blue Jackets held a players-only meeting. … Veteran Scott Hartnell leads the Jackets with 13 goals and 23 points.