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Doing the goalie shuffle: Lightning send down Tokarski, ship out Helenius; Smith ready?

Posted Jan 24, 2010 by Erik Erlendsson

Updated Jan 24, 2010 at 04:08 PM

Sure sounds/looks like goaltender Mike Smith is finally ready to return to action after being out nearly two weeks with a neck strain suffered when Washington’s Brooks Laich plowed into Smith during a game in Tampa on Jan. 12. Smith stayed in that game, but pulled himself out during the first break in the second period while holding a 4-2 lead over the Capitals.

Smith has been working through some stiffness in his neck and a bit of spotty vision, which he said was directly from the sore muscles in his neck and not from any kind of a concussion issue. Not sure if Smith gets right back in there when Tampa Bay resumes play against Montreal on Wednesday, as one would think Antero Niittymaki’s brilliant performance against Atlanta on Saturday earns him the start against the Canadiens.

Either way, Tampa Bay played shell games with the goaltenders moving parts all over the place. First, Dustin Tokarski was sent back to Norfolk today. He’s gained some valuable experience while up the past two weeks, working against NHL shooters in practice, working directly with goaltending coach Cap Raeder not to mention getting in a little over two periods of action in relief of Niittymaki in two games.

With Tokarski heading back to Norfolk, the odd-man out in the three-headed Admirals goaltending monster is former first-round pick Riku Helenius, who has been reassigned to the Swedish Elite League. Helenius has one year remaining on his entry-level contract, so it will be interesting to see what goes on with Helenius next season. The team is high on Tokarski, they recently signed Jaroslav Janus to an entry-level contract and he’s played well in his brief time with Norfolk.

Tampa Bay, don’t forget, still has the rights to Karri Ramo, who is playing extremely well in Russia’s KHL earning all-star status. And, there has been word that the team would like to bring over 6-foot-6 Russian goaltender Vasily Koschekin, who is also playing well in the KHL and earned some consideration for Russia’s Olympic team this year.

So while for years the team had goaltending issues within its system, things appear to be much different now.

Here’s the official release in regards to today’s moves:

The Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL parent club of the Norfolk Admirals, announced today that goaltender Dustin Tokarski has been reassigned to the Admirals from the Lightning and that goaltender Riku Helenius has been reassigned from the Admirals to Södertälje SK of the Swedish Elite League, Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Lawton announced. 

Tokarski, 20, is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound goaltender out of Watson, Saskatchewan. He appeared in two games with the Lightning following his first career NHL call-up on January 14. In those games, he did not receive a decision while stopping 13 of 16 shots in 44:21. He made his NHL debut on January 16 at Florida in relief, stopping all five shots he faced in twenty minutes of work.

Tokarski has posted a 12-13-0 record with two shutouts, a 2.68 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in his first 25 professional games with the Admirals this season. He ranks among the top rookie netminders in the American Hockey League.

Tokarski was drafted by the Lightning in the fifth round (122nd overall) in 2008. He won the 2006 Canadian Midget National Championship with the Prince Albert Mintos, was MVP of the 2008 Memorial Cup with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs, and won the gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships for Team Canada.

Last season, Tokarski broke his own Spokane franchise records with a 1.97 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and seven shutouts while going 34-18-2 in 54 games. He led the WHL in goals-against average, save percentage and shootout save percentage (.860) while tying for first in shutouts and ranking fifth in wins. In 129 career games with the Chiefs, he recorded a 77-39-7 record with a 2.18 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

Helenius, 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, has played in 12 games with the Admirals this season, posting a 5-7-0 record with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage.  He last played on December 19 against Binghamton, making 18 saves.

A native of Palkane, Finland, Helenius has played in 37 career AHL games, all with Norfolk.  He has posted a 14-22-1 record with a .902 save percentage and a 2.73 goal-against average during his AHL career. He has appeared in one NHL game January 30, 2009 against Philadelphia, stopping two shots in relief.

Helenius was selected by Tampa Bay in the first round, 15th overall, of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

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