Mike Smith

Coyotes’ Smith practices, return still up in the air during crucial week

The Phoenix Coyotes approach a make-or-break week for their 2014 playoff hopes, but it remains unclear if they’ll get key players back into the mix.

Monday’s updates present a combination of good and bad news, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports.

Would-be starting goalie Mike Smith finally practiced today, yet his status for future games appears up in the air.

He’s not the only substantial player out of the lineup, as Martin Hanzal is still dealing with his injury issues. He was unable to skate with the team on Monday, but it appears that he at least has a chance to play against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.

Ultimately Hanzal is considered questionable while Smith is listed as day-to-day.

Even with all that uncertainty in mind and the pressure facing the Coyotes as they try to overtake the Dallas Stars (and the field behind them) for the final West playoff spot, Coyotes captain Shane Doan is finding a way to enjoy it.

The Coyotes will probably view it as a more enjoyable week if they extend their season beyond Sunday’s finale against the Stars, however.

After healthy scratch, Severson vows to play ‘next 80 games’

Jimmy Hayes, Damon Severson
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Damon Severson was a healthy scratch on Saturday.

It’s the last game he wants to miss this season.

“I had a good chat with a few people and just pretty much said, ‘I want to be in the next 80 games,’” Severson said, per The Record. “I sat out my game and that’s all I want to be out for for the year.”

Severson is one of the Devils’ most important young players. But this is also the 21-year-old defenseman’s sophomore season, and that’s when slumps can occur.

Hence, the early message he was sent by the coaching staff.

Severson is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when New Jersey hosts Nashville.

“He doesn’t have to be perfect,” coach John Hynes told reporters. “We’d just like to see him have a high compete level. We know he’s ready to go. We had a couple of good meetings with him. He’s in a good spot mentally. I know he’s ready to roll.”

Virtanen to make NHL debut tonight versus Kings

Jake Virtanen
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Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when his Canucks meet the Kings in Los Angeles.

The 19-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Vancouver’s first three games of the regular season. He had two goals and two assists in six preseason games.

“I can’t wait,” he told reporters. “My energy is high. I want to get a couple of hits on my first shift.”

Big and physical with goal-scoring ability, the consensus is that Virtanen will remain in the NHL and not be returned to junior after he’s played nine games. That consensus could always change based on his play, of course.

The Canucks — who won last night in Anaheim — did not have a full skate this morning, so it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup. The best guess is rookie Jared McCann, who’s been playing third-line center.

If McCann does come out, the Canucks could move Brandon Sutter to third-line center and Virtanen could take Sutter’s spot on the first line with the Sedin twins. Or, there could be more extensive line juggling.