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The Desert Dog Blog: Tippett is Confident Smith Can Go the Distance

Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 6:04 PM / The Desert Dog Blog - by Dave Vest
By Dave Vest
GLENDALE -- I’m going to start this blog with some news from Tuesday’s practice at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.

Center Martin Hanzal skated with teammates and, for the first time, did not wear the non-contact sweater he’d been wearing the past few practices. After practice Head Coach Dave Tippett said Hanzal is very close to returning to the lineup, most likely on Thursday vs. Detroit.

Forward Raffi Torres, who missed Monday’s game because of a lower-body injury, practiced on Tuesday. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who also missed Monday’s game because of a lower-body injury, did not practice.

Tippett gave several veterans, including Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Mike Smith a day off on Tuesday. Goaltending Coach Sean Burke filled in for Smith.

Photo by Getty Images.
Regarding Smith, this is a critical time and Tippett wants him to be mentally and physically sharp for the last three months of the regular season.

Smith has never played more than 42 games in an NHL season. Wednesday’s game at Anaheim will be his 35th of 2011-12 with 30-plus to go.

Tippett is confident Smith will be up to the task of smashing his record for games played.

“I think he'll hold up very well,” Tippett said. “Mike has wanted this challenge his whole career, wanted this situation his whole career. I think he's embraced the challenge, come into our team and been a very good player for us, and I don't see any reason why that would change.”

He added, “The way he has come back from the injury - you can just see that he’s taken it to another level.”

Radim Vrbata
• Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata, who ranks second in the Western Conference with 22 goals, likely will be considered as an All-Star Game replacement should one of the Western Conference forwards chosen ahead of him not be able to attend because of injury.

"This last little stretch here could be the best I've ever seen 'Vrby' play," Tippett said on Tuesday. "He has elevated his game now... He’s confident with the puck and he wants the puck. He’s giving himself so many opportunities to score. When you have the puck that much, you’re not just standing around waiting for it to come to you. You go get it or you get in positions to get it." 

• After Tuesday’s practice I spoke to forward Gilbert Brule in greater detail about his first goal with the Coyotes on Monday and about how similar it looked to his first ever NHL goal which he scored from basically the same spot inside Jobing.com Arena while playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets a few years ago.

Brule couldn’t recall who was in goal for the Coyotes when he scored that goal on Nov. 20, 2005. When I told him it was David LeNeveu, he couldn’t believe it…

“Really?” he asked with a smile. “No way. That’s crazy because we were just playing together in Oklahoma (of the AHL). Wow, what a small world.”

Just for kicks...

-- Click here to see Brule’s first NHL goal
-- Click here to see Brule’s first goal with the Coyotes

They look pretty similar, don't they?

Photo by Getty Images.
• The Coyotes are playing the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and, as always, keeping Teemu Selanne from scoring goals will be among the tasks atop the team’s to-do list.

On Tuesday I asked Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski, who like Selanne is from Finland, if he’s impressed by Selanne’s longevity in the NHL.

“Absolutely,” Korpikoski said. “I’m a huge fan of his. It’s unbelievable how long he’s been in the league and that he’s been so good for that long. I can remember watching him play when I was a little kid and he was with the Winnipeg Jets… And if you look at his stats after age 35 – he’s still scoring around 30 goals per year. It’s really amazing.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact Dave Vest at thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com and follow him on Twitter @davest4yotes.
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