Mike Smith (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Smith will start for the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night after missing the past 40 games due to a “core muscle injury.” Smith said his recovery from injury was frustrating, but said it was necessary as the injury was hurting his play both mentally and physically.
After a promising start to the campaign, the Arizona Coyotes’ season has taken a turn for the worse and their chances of landing a wild-card spot in the Western Conference are nearly non-existent. There will be something to look forward to for Coyotes fans Saturday night, however, as Mike Smith will return for the first time since falling injured in December.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett announced ahead of Arizona’s game against the Edmonton Oilers that Smith will be back between the pipes for the first time since Dec. 8, when he suffered what the Coyotes called a core muscle injury.
“It was an injury where you just have to make sure you can play,” Tippett said. “He has to make sure he can get out there and do the things he’s capable of doing. Talked to him after the game last night, asked him if it’s time yet and he said he’d like to give it a try. That’s where we are today.”
Smith getting back in action couldn’t come at a better time for the Coyotes if they’re going to have any realistic chance at making an unexpected run into the post-season. Arizona has had to deal with the loss of goaltender Anders Lindback since Smith went down, and Louis Domingue has performed admirably in relief duty for Smith but the Coyotes need another option between the pipes.
Smith called his recovery a frustrating process, but said he has felt as though his health has improved steadily over the past few weeks leading up to Saturday’s return to action.
“It’s been a frustrating year,” Smith told Todd Walsh. “Obviously we’re not in the position we want to be in, and I’ve been injured for a good majority of the season. I just want to play and feel healthy and help the team try and succeed. It’s tough watching from the sidelines.”
Smith said the time off was important, however, because he wasn’t able to play up to his ability due to the injury, adding that it was having an impact both mentally and physically on his game. What this means for the rest of the season, though, is to be determined. Tippett wouldn’t commit to Smith being a full-time starter for the Coyotes down the stretch, which opens up the possibility of a 1A-1B situation with Domingue.
“We’ll just take it game by game,” Tippett said. “See how it goes. He’s missed a lot of time. We’d like to get him back up and playing, but we’ll just see how everything goes.”