PITTSBURGH — There is no such thing as a good injury when it comes to Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, but the team got much better news than it expected Tuesday morning when Smith visited a doctor in Pittsburgh to examine his right knee.
Smith is officially listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, but the team does not believe the injury is as severe as it looked when Rangers forward Derick Brassard fell on Smith’s leg with 7:34 remaining in Monday’s loss at Madison Square Garden, forcing Smith to leave the ice with help from trainers.
There is still no timetable on Smith’s return, and it is likely he will miss the final game of this road trip on Thursday in New Jersey (Thomas Greiss will start Tuesday in Pittsburgh), but after an MRI was performed, the team is thinking it may be a mild sprain and there is no tear.
Smith will remain with the team on the road trip, but the test results will be sent to doctors in Phoenix, and Smith will be re-evaluated when the team returns home.
"Until he sees our doctors, we’ll just leave it at that," head coach Dave Tippett said.
Smith did attend the team’s lunch-time meeting and walked out with a slight limp, seemingly in good spirits as he talked on his cell phone.
In his absence, the team recalled goalie Mark Visentin from Portland of the AHL on an emergency basis to back up Greiss for the immediate future. Visentin was the team’s first-round pick (27th overall) in 2010. He was expected to join the team Tuesday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Greiss relieved Smith on Monday and allowed two goals on nine shots as New York rallied to win in overtime. He hadn’t played since Feb. 28 in Colorado, which made the relief appearance all the harder.
"It was definitely not easy," said Greiss, who has a 2.38 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in 16 games this season. "It’s not the easiest to just jump in there and get your head in the game."
Greiss was matter of fact when posed with the possibility of carrying the goaltending load for the foreseeable future.
"We’ll see what happens. Let’s worry about tonight and go from there," he said.
Goalie Sean Burke had this to say about Greiss’ preparedness for the task:
"He’s an NHL goalie, he’s been in this league, and he’s played some excellent hockey," Burke said. "That’s why you have two guys. Your backup has to be capable of playing and winning games for you.
"I feel good about Thomas. He’s played extremely well for us this year, and he’s had so much practice time that I know he’s excited to play."
Burke and captain Shane Doan both acknowledged that a backup goalie can sometimes lead a team to focus a little more on the details — details that have been lacking in the Coyotes’ game lately.
"Maybe a little bit, that can sometimes happen," Doan said. "It’s so important for us to focus on those things. We play really well in moments and stretches, and then we drop the ball."
Lapses will be especially dangerous against the Penguins, who boast loads of firepower despite the absence of forward Evgeni Malkin with a foot injury. The Coyotes’ lead is down to one point over Dallas for the final Western Conference playoff spot, so they’ll likely need Smith back soon if they hope to hold off the Stars.
From preliminary reports, it looks like there’s a chance that will happen.
"Any time anyone has to get helped off the ice it’s scary," Doan said. "When you’re dealing with hips, knees and ankles, those are the things that are so important for us. It’s good news and we’ll see what happens, but we want to get him back as soon as we can."
Coyotes at Penguins
When: 4 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Records: Pittsburgh, 46-20-5; Phoenix34-27-11
Season series: Coyotes lead 1-0
Scouting the Penguins: Pittsburgh has lost far more man-games to injury (425 as of March 22) than any other NHL team, yet the Penguins have all but wrapped up the Metropolitan Division title. Part of that success comes from the Penguins’ sparkling 26-6-2 record at home; part of it comes from their special teams. Pittsburgh’s power play is ranked No. 1 in the league; the penalty kill is ranked No. 2. Center Sidney Crosby leads the NHL with 94 points (34 goals, 60 assists) and will be a major test for the Phoenix defense and goalie Thomas Greiss, who gets the start. … Pens F Evgeni Malkin has a foot injury and will be out 2-3 weeks. … Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played well enough for Pittsburgh to rank in the league’s top 10 in goals against per game, but he is still considered the weak link on a talented team.