Coyotes Expect Smith to Start in Goal on Friday

Thursday, 01.31.2013 / 3:43 PM | Dave Vest

GLENDALE -- Starting goaltender Mike Smith will return from a lower-body injury and start Friday night in Dallas against the Stars.

"It's gotten a lot better over the last few days, so I'm excited to get back in the lineup," Smith said after Thursday's optional practice. "I'm ready."

Smith, who enjoyed a breakout year last season in Phoenix when he set career highs in games (67), wins (38), minutes (3.902), goals-against average (2.21) and save percentage (.930), missed four games with the injury. He initially suffered a groin injury during pre-game warm-ups before the Jan. 23 game against Columbus. He was pulled from that game after facing four shots and was officially placed on the injured reserve list on Monday.

"He's going to play tomorrow, barring anything between now and then," Coyotes Goaltenders Coach Sean Burke told on Thursday. "He'll go out in the morning skate tomorrow and if everything goes well he'll play tomorrow night in Dallas."

In his absence, the Coyotes suffered losses to San Jose and Los Angeles in which backup Jason LaBarbera stopped 57 of 65 shots for an .877 save percentage. Following those two losses, Phoenix decided to replace LaBarbera as starter with Chad Johnson, who was called up from the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates on Monday. In the two games Johnson started, Phoenix went 1-0-1 with Johnson allowing two goals, including Nail Yakupov's overtime winner on the power play Wednesday night.

Smith is eager to get back on the ice.

"I think we've played a lot better as of late," Smith said. "The last couple of games have been more like Coyotes hockey so it's an exciting time to get back in."

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