GLENDALE – With goalie Mike Smith on the sidelines for the next 8-10 weeks, the Coyotes are ready to tackle the key middle portion of the season with Anders Lindback serving as their new starting goalie.
“Obviously, ‘Smitty’ is our guy and whenever you lose a guy like that it’s tough, but I think everybody is pretty confident with the way ‘Lindy’ has played this year,” forward Jordan Martinook said after Wednesday’s practice. “He has started before in the past and this isn’t something new to him. I think it’s going to be good and he’ll take the opportunity and run with it.”
Captain Shane Doan said Smith would be missed, on and off the ice, but he, like Martinook and their teammates, is confident that Lindback can get the job done while Smith recovers from core muscle surgery.
“He’s incredibly athletic and he competes so hard in every practice and on every shot,” Doan said of Lindback. “It’s fun to shoot on him (in practice) because of that. We’re excited for him to get an opportunity.”
Goaltending Coach Jon Elkin has only been working with Lindback since training camp, but Elkin said he believes Lindback is qualified to be a starter for the next two-plus months or so.
“I love his progress, I love his mindset, I love his ability,” Elkin said. “Coming into this year and getting to know him, understanding him and watching the way he’s responded and the things he’s done, I have complete confidence in him.”
Lindback will play his 13th game of the season on Thursday when the Coyotes host Columbus. His NHL career-high for games played in a season is 24 in 2012-13 with Tampa Bay.
• Center Martin Hanzal skated an entire practice with teammates on Wednesday, and Head Coach Dave Tippett said he might play vs. Columbus on Thursday.
“We’ll look at him again in the morning but there’s a chance,” Tippett said.
Hanzal has missed the past three games because of a lower-body injury.
• The Coyotes spent the past three days of practice focusing on aspects of the game that most need improving after 30 games.
“The big thing is us trying to defend better and give up less shots,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “That will help limit scoring chances against and goals against. We haven’t been happy with what we’ve been giving up. Our goalie has been playing great and when you’re letting up goals with your goalie playing great that’s a sign of us not defending well and us giving up too many Grade A scoring chances.”
• The Coyotes assigned forward Christian Thomas to the American Hockey League. Arizona acquired Thomas on Tuesday from Montreal for forward Lucas Lessio in a swap of minor-leaguers.
“I think it’s a trade we’re hoping is good for both players,” General Manager Don Maloney said. “I think both players were looking for a fresh start.”
The Coyotes are looking for depth at right wing within the organization and they like the way Thomas approaches the game.
“He’s a hard-working, energy player,” Maloney said of Thomas, the son of former NHL player Steve “Stumpy” Thomas. “I think he can play for us. At some point he’ll get his opportunity. We were viewing Lucas as a call-up, depth player. That’s what we think we have with Christian Thomas.”
• Sixteen days into December, Martinook continues to sport the mustache he grew last month as part of “Movember” – the nationwide campaign to promote men’s health issues.
That’s because Martinook finished last in a shootout the team staged at the end of a recent practice and the players agreed that whoever finished last would have to keep his mustache through December.
“It’s just another part of me now,” Martinook said with a smile. “I’ll probably be sad when it’s gone, but I’m excited to not have it anymore, that’s for sure.”
• Lindback told reporters that the days of his generic white goalie mask are numbered and that a Coyotes-themed painted one should arrive soon from Sweden.
“It’s on its way,” Lindback said.
Lindback started the season with a Coyotes-themed mask but it broke so he made a model switch. He said the artist painting his new mask is quite busy painting other goalie masks, so Lindback has waited patiently.