Knowing that’s not in the cards, Smith settled on accepting the next step in recovering from a lower body injury by practicing with the Flames for the first time in nearly a month on Tuesday.
“It’s the worst feeling as a guy who wants to be in there every game and wants to help the team win,” Smith said after taking part in an optional practice a day before Calgary plays the Sabres.
“A piece of you feels like you’re letting the team down by sitting there and watching,” he added. “That’s the sucky part of the position and the sport. But that’s part of the deal. So you’ve got to deal with it.”
Though still experiencing some soreness, Smith was encouraged following the half-hour session while saying it’s premature to determine how much more time he’ll miss.
“I’d like to tell you that, but your guess is as good as mine. I think it’s just day by day,” he said. “I’m trying to improve every day, strengthen, get comfortable, and when I’m ready I’ll know.”
Smith has been out since being hurt in the final seconds of a 3-2 win at the New York Islanders on Feb. 11.
After spending much of the past week skating on his own, Smith at least felt healthy enough to travel from Calgary to rejoin the Flames, who are in the midst of a three-game road swing that closes at Ottawa on Thursday.
The Flames could use any type of boost after having gone 0-3-1 in their past four following a 4-3 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. And they’re 3-6-2 while allowing 40 goals in 11 games since Smith was hurt.
In that time, Calgary has gone from sitting third in the Pacific Division to 11th in the tightly contested Western Conference playoff picture. With 15 games left, the Flames entered Tuesday with 74 points, three behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Kings.
“There’s still time left and games left,” Smith said. “I think we’re a good team. It’s time now to put all the chips in, and we need every guy working on all cylinders here.”
With a 23-16-6 record, Smith has provided the Flames much-needed stability in net after being acquired in a trade with Arizona in June. His 2.53 goals-against average ranks 12th and 0.921 save percentage is ninth among goalies with 30 or more games played.
Gillies is 2-2-1 in six games, including a 35-save outing in a 5-2 win at Arizona on Feb. 22. Rittich is 1-4-1, and allowed seven goals on 26 shots in a 7-3 loss at Vegas on Feb. 21.
Coach Glen Gulutzan defended his goalies by saying the team has to play better as a whole. And yet, he acknowledged how much of a difference Smith can make both in stopping shots and being one of the league’s best puck-handling goalies.
“There’s no scapegoat on goaltending here,” Gulutzan said. “We’re still fighting. And if we get him back, I think it’s great. It helps you win when you get an elite guy back.”