One of the main reasons for the Arizona Coyotes recent success (in past years) is due in large part to their goaltending. As this current season limps on for Arizona, goaltending has not been what fans have expected.
Mike Smith struggled early on in the year and he struggled hard. It seemed like blowout after blowout in the beginning of the season. After Smith’s performance that carried the team to the Western Conference Finals in 2012, fans hung in there waiting for him to regain that form.
Unfortunately, that form didn’t return while the season was young, when there was time left to turn the year around. Coyotes fans have gotten used to Smith being better than average at keeping the Coyotes in games, but he just didn’t have it for a majority of the season.
He wasn’t his best, but he also wasn’t getting much support from the defense in front of him. It doesn’t matter who the goalie is, if they have bad defense in front of them, they are going to give up a few more goals than they should.
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Bad defense aside, Smith has allowed some pretty weak goals that had us all scratching our heads. That’s not to say that this ugly season is all Smith’s fault, it’s not.
The list of what went wrong for this team is long, but goaltending is definitely a factor. So, it’s been a culmination of things that have just mixed together for one heck of a bad season for the net minder.
Despite his struggles, Arizona stuck with him, determined to get him back on track and playing at the level we all know he is capable of. As we are getting to the end of the season, it seems as if Arizona’s plan for Smith has begun to pay off.
That’s a good thing. As we are in the midst of a rebuild, winning may not come as frequently, but if Smith can get back to his capable self that will absolutely help. Good goaltending fills a team with confidence and that can only aid the group of young prospects that will be transitioning to the NHL (presumably) next season.
The second half of the season started off rocky, but since February, Smith has improved his game. In my mind, it was the throwback game in early March against Vancouver that he seemed to have gained a great deal of confidence and has significantly improved, looking like his old self.
It wasn’t until mid-March, the tail end of the season, that Smith saw his save percentage rise above .900 for the first time this year. It’s not ideal, but in an ugly season like this one, it’s positive progress. His stats are slowly starting to climb back up into respectability as his solid play continues.
Smith has drastically cut down on the soft goals. He’s starting to make the hard saves look easy again and has even bailed the defense out with a few great saves. When he’s not scoring goals for the opposing team, he’s proving to be a pretty reliable goalie once again.
The team hasn’t won much during his resurgence, but that is becoming less and less Smith’s fault. He is keeping them in games, and it is the offense that is letting the team down during the home stretch of the season.
But let’s not point fingers, because the remainder of the season is not about wins and losses. There is just not enough time to turn things around. Plus, Arizona’s management would be just fine finishing the year on the low end of the standings as it will likely mean landing a stellar prospect in the draft to add to their rebuilding efforts.
The last handful of games are a tryout period for most of the players and a time for Smith to regain his form as we head into next season.
Although, there will be no playoff appearance for the Coyotes this season, the saying, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” has never been more true for Mike Smith.