Mike Smith’s play has dictated the Coyotes’ fortunes for the past four and a half seasons. They’re about to find out what fortune will bring with another goalie in net.
The Coyotes announced on Tuesday that Smith would miss an estimated 8-to-10 weeks after successful surgery to repair a core muscle with Dr. William C. Meyers in Philadelphia. General manager Don Maloney said the injury was similar to an injury Smith suffered in 2004, when he was with the Dallas Stars.
“They went in and they were not only able to take care of this problem, but clean up the earlier procedure,” Maloney said. “We expect him back and 100 percent healthy before the end of the season.”
Maloney said Anders Lindback would carry the bulk of the goaltending load in Smith’s absence, with recently-recalled Louis Domingue serving as backup. Maloney also said the Coyotes would explore trade or waiver options to add another goaltender.
“We had not been looking at goaltending per se, in acquiring somebody else, but that will be something that we will at least have to give a little attention to see if there’s something out there that makes us a little stronger,” Maloney said. “This, to me, is not a panic situation. We’re going to take our time. Louis is right at the stage where he can play some games. If they don’t get the job done then we can find someone else.”
Smith entered the season with high hopes. He finished strong over the last three months of last season and helped lead Canada to a gold medal at the World Championships with a 1.50 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. After a hot start, however, Smith was up and down, going 10-9-1 with a .901 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average in 22 games for the Coyotes this season.
Smith had been dealing with this injury for some time. He confirmed that he tweaked it late in the second period of a Nov. 19 game at Montreal, but that the issue had been around for longer. He missed a Nov. 21 game against Winnipeg and also sat out the past two games.
“There are some injuries you can play with, some you can’t and it became evident he couldn’t play the way he wanted to,” coach Dave Tippett said.
When asked about the location of the injury last month, Smith pointed to his lower abdomen. Maloney said Smith’s surgery is similar to one captain Shane Doan had in the 2013 offseason to repair a sports hernia.
“Sometimes these surgeries for a skater, it’s a little less (recovery) time but for a goaltender with the up and down and the style of play, it does take a little longer,” Maloney said.
Smith will remain in Philadelphia through Wednesday and then travel back to the Valley on Thursday where he will do the bulk of his rehab with the team’s medical staff.
Lindback was in a similar situation 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.
“It’s always nice to get into that rhythm and play more,” Lindback said Monday when asked about the possibility of playing an extended stretch of games in Smith’s absence. “You tend to read the game instead of trying to find it.
“I haven’t gotten (the opportunity) too much the last couple years but I got it a little bit at the end of last year where I played a lot. It’s fun and obviously and it’s where you want to be.”
When the Coyotes signed Lindback, 27, to a one-year deal in the offseason, Maloney said he thought Lindback was just reaching the age and experience level where goaltenders “figure things out and have a chance to establish themselves in the league.”
Coach Dave Tippett said inserting Lindback doesn’t alter his opinion of what the Coyotes can achieve this season.
“An injury is an opportunity for somebody else,” Tippett said. “Whether it’s Lindback or Louis, somebody is going to get more opportunity. It’s what you do with it that defines your destiny as an individual.”
In 12 games, Lindback is 4-5-1 with a .900 save percentage and 2.92 goals-against average. He is hoping to firmly establish his identity with the regular role, even if he is still wearing the same anonymous white mask that was supposed to be replaced by now with one being painted in Sweden.
“I have no idea where it is,” Lindback said, laughing. “It was supposed to be here a month ago. I’d better give him a call.”