It was just last season that goaltender Mike Smith was third on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s depth chart, behind Dwayne Roloson and Dan Ellis. He was given a fair chance to prove himself as the starting goalie but it simply didn’t work out and when free agency began last summer it seemed all but certain that Tampa Bay would not resign the 29-year-old.
Nearly 2,100 miles west, the Phoenix Coyotes were dealing with their own goaltending woes, losing star netminder Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency. The Coyotes had been carried by Bryzgalov for the last two seasons and knew that losing the former Vezina finalist could be a killer for a franchise struggling to make it in the NHL. So Phoenix decided to take a chance and signed Smith to a two-year, $40 million contract in the hopes he could live up to what Tampa Bay had hoped four years earlier.
Well, Smith has certainly exceeded those hopes, as he‘s now the hottest goalie in the NHL.
Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks capped off a perfect month for Smith, finishing February with an 11-0-0 record. In those 11 games Smith has allowed just 16 goals – a 1.42 goals-against average – and had a .952 save percentage. He has helped carry Phoenix from 12th place in the Western Conference to third and their 75 points put them in first place in the Pacific Division – two points better than the San Jose Sharks. Smith did have trouble during his perfect month and it came against the Los Angeles Kings, when he gave up three first-period goals. The very next game he gave up two early goals to the Calgary Flames. Both times his teammates rallied to dig Smith out of the hole and earn him the win.
“We have a great bunch of guys in the room. You know what to expect from Tip and what he expects from you. And Burkie has been a just huge part of my success this year. I wouldn't be the goalie I am this year without him. I know I'm a better goalie now, and I'll be even better,” he told Jerry Brown of NHL.com.
The Coyotes couldn’t be happier know that they have a goalie that should reach the 30-win mark within the next week and for just $2 million. In 50 games this season, Smith has a 29-14-7 record to go along with his 2.24 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and four shoot outs.
Bryzgalov certainly can’t claim those types of numbers with his $10 million salary.
The playoffs are looming and the Coyotes will need Smith to carry his play over into the playoffs but with little playoff experience who knows if he will continue his career season or return to the goaltender that spent time in the AHL last season. He can’t do much worse than Bryzgalov, who helped Phoenix get axed in the first round of the playoffs the last two years, both times by the Detroit Red Wings. The Coyotes are the hottest team in the league and at the right time of the season. Our only advice – win the division with the hope of Detroit staying the fourth seed! Even Superman had kryptonite.