Timeline for Smith’s return remains uncertain
NEWARK, N.J. — Coyotes general manager Don Maloney understands there is a thirst for more information on goalie Mike Smith’s injury, specifically, how long he will be out.
Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported Tuesday that Smith has a leg strain and will miss two weeks, but both Maloney and coach Dave Tippett said the details of the injury and a timeline for Smith’s return won’t be determined until doctors in Phoenix see Smith and consult with the team.
Could it be two weeks or more? Sure. As noted Monday, any kind of knee sprain or strain is a difficult injury, particularly for a goalie because the position requires so much flexibility. It’s also difficult for a goalie to wear any kind of brace and maintain that flexibility.
But timelines are nuanced and tricky because they depend on so many factors, including the severity of the injury, healing abilities of the player and the pain threshold of the player.
"Until doctor (Gary) Waslewski and our medical staff get their hands on Mike, we won’t have a clear idea," Maloney said Wednesday. "The encouraging thing is he is feeling much better today than he was yesterday. It’s all trending positively."
In the meantime, Thomas Greiss will continue to start.
Maloney said Wednesday that he approached Greiss’s agent about a contract extension at the Olympic break but there was some concern with the amount of playing time Greiss has been getting in Phoenix behind Smith (11 starts before this injury).
Greiss will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
"We’d like Thomas back and we like how he’s played for us, but if we can’t get him signed, we’ll have to go get someone else," Maloney said.
The Coyotes loved Brandon McMillan’s play for the Anaheim Ducks in 2010-11. But a series of injuries and, by his own admission, a "second-year drought," relegated McMillan mostly to the minors the past two seasons.
The Coyotes acquired him on April 3, 2013 in the Matthew Lombardi deal, but McMillan said he spent much of this season trying to find his game.
"It’s a tough league to get into and a tough league to stay in," McMillan said. "I had my foot in the door in Anaheim, and I kind of took my foot out. It was a tough road coming back, and you only get so many opportunities, so you can’t take it for granted."
In 14 games with the Coyotes since his call-up, it’s clear he isn’t.
"He plays the game with tenacity and pace that have been really effective for us," Tippett said. "He gets in on the forecheck, he’s a complement who can play with top players or he can play on a checking line. With (Lauri) Korpikoski out he’s helped us on the penalty kill, so he’s just an all-around player."
McMillan has two goals and three assists in 14 games with a plus-3 rating, but stats don’t tell the story. He’s a detail-oriented player who fits well in Tippett’s system. He had a couple groin injuries earlier this season, but with how effective McMillan has been, some have wondered why he wasn’t called up earlier.
"Contract, opportunity and playing the left side vs. the right side all played a role," Maloney said. "It was really more situational than anything else. I don’t think his game has changed much since he got up here. He just needed a chance to show he could play and he has.
"We really needed to add some speed to our lineup, and Brandon definitely adds that. You can see he’s dressing ahead of some other players here."
Tippett said forward Lauri Korpikoski has a good chance to play Thursday in New Jersey, assuming he responds well to Wednesday’s practice. Korpikoski took a puck in the face at Monday morning’s skate in New York and missed the past two games with a welt on his head.
The Coyotes recalled defenseman Connor Murphy on Wednesday. It’s likely he’ll see time on the right side Thursday, which could indicate that veteran Derek Morris will continue to sit after he was made a healthy scratch Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
No roster moves are required after the trade deadline, but teams are allowed just four call-ups after the deadline, and the Coyotes have reached that limit with Murphy’s recall.
As for Tuesday’s other healthy scratch, center Mike Ribeiro, Tippett was non-committal when asked if he would return to the lineup on Thursday.
"That will all be decided (Thursday) morning," Tippett said.
It’s hard to imagine Ribeiro sitting another game, but there is that old hockey adage that you don’t tinker with a winning lineup.
Goalie Mark Visentin was recalled from Portland (AHL) for the first time in his career and joined the team on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. When he boarded the team bus, he shook the hand of everyone he passed on his way back to the seat.
"It was quite the last 24 hours for me," Visentin said Wednesday. "To be here with just under 10 games left for a playoff push makes it that much better. It’s the best time of year. It’s an honor and a privilege to be here."
Visentin was the Coyotes’ second first-round pick (27th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft in which they also selected defenseman Brandon Gormley.
The Coyotes believe he is their goalie of the future, but Maloney said the timeline for Visentin is still probably two years down the road.
"Goaltenders — you really have to be patient with them," Maloney said. "He’s trending well, he had a really good start the first half of the year, an OK second half, so it’s about learning to win at the pro level and being that consistent, top guy.
"I look at him and say ‘Next year, if he has a good year in Portland, now we can start thinking of him as a backup after that.’ "