Tampa Bay goalies have competition without conflict

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

BRANDON — Dan Ellis’ glove save on Vinny Lecavalier’s sizzling wrist shot was quick and without a rebound.

Mike Smith was in perfect position to smother Mike Vernace’s shot from in close.

Ellis’ left-leg save on Carter Ashton’s one-timer from the side of the net was spectacular. Smith’s right-to-left save on Steven Stamkos from in close was athletic.

Consider the Lightning’s goaltending competition off to a rousing start.

“They were good, huh? Unbelievable,” defenseman Pavel Kubina said after Sunday’s 40-minute scrimmage in front of about 1,000 fans at the Ice Sports Forum. “It’s very good.”

And very interesting.

Ellis and Smith are the epitome of friendly rivals. Buddies since their days in the Stars organization, they hang out, know each other’s families and each other’s quirks. And both have something to prove.

Ellis, 30, who last season with the Predators lost his starting job to Pekka Rinne, low-keyed it, saying, “Every year is an opportunity to better yourself.”

Smith, 28, in the final year of a two-year, $4.4 million deal and who has not played well since a December 2008 concussion, was more blunt.

“It’s the biggest year of my career,” he said.

“I’m not stupid. I know I didn’t have a good year last year. I know there’s doubts I can be the No. 1 guy or play a majority of the games and be a playoff goalie. I’m confident I can do that. I know I have the tools.”

Even so, Smith said he would have no problem sharing playing time with his friend because “our goals are the same. We want to help the team win. It’s always a competition. But whether it’s Dan in net or me, we’re going to support each other. We’re behind each other 100 percent.”

“The team is the No. 1 thing,” Ellis said. “If you’re not producing wins or keeping the puck out of the net, you want the other guy in there.”

The question for both is consistency, key for a team that believes it upgraded enough at forward and defense to be a playoff contender.

Ellis, 15-13-1 last season with a 2.69 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, hasn’t had a chance to establish any the past two years as he shared time with Rinne before Rinne’s game took off in February.

Smith, 13-18-7 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, can be spectacular but has allowed soft goals at the worst times.

“We know both can be outstanding,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said.

“We’re going to look for them to be outstanding on a regular basis.”

They were that on Sunday.

Ellis stopped 16 of 18 shots with Stefano Giliati and Simon Gagne finding the net. Smith stopped 20 of 22 shots with goals by Stamkos and Mark Barberio. Neither goalie was at fault.

Both made two saves in a shootout before Eric Perrin faked a backhand and beat Smith with a forehand to give the Black a 3-2 victory over the White.

“Everybody is asking me who is going to be that No. 1 (goalie),” Boucher said. “For me, it’s going to be the guy who’s in net that day. Right now, they’re both in net, and we have a tie.”

A friendly one, at that.

Copyright 2010 Times Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved