When you are a team like the Arizona Coyotes, playing out the season’s final slate of games at the bottom of the standings, it feels like little can be accomplished. Many fans feel each win is a waste and each loss is meaningless.
While moral victories in the big picture are fairly unnoteworthy, having success at the end of a lost season is imperative for Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. There will be plenty of roster turnover in Arizona this summer, but one player who will be donning red and white at training camp is Smith. The goaltender is signed for four more seasons and will be the team’s starter until further notice.
It is no secret Smith’s awful start to the year is a big reason why the Coyotes are where they are in the standings. But over the last month, he’s been the main piece keeping the team respectable on the ice.
That is extremely important because the quickest way for the Coyotes to turn things around is for Smith to be on his game. Even if Arizona is destined to be mired in a period youthful growth for the next three-to-four seasons, winning as many games as possible does nothing but help prospects grow.
One can debate the merits of Smith’s contract and whether or not it should have been given out in the first place, but the deal has already been done — the money has already been spent. It’s in everyone’s best interest for Smith to find his groove and become the starting goalie Coyotes fans witnessed he could be in the past.
That’s exactly what he was in March.
In 12 starts, Smith posted a .934 save percentage. He posted that save percentage on a team with a blue line that could pass for the hottest new boy band (age wise) and a forward corps Scotch-taped together with waiver pickups and hard-working grinders.
Shot suppression is not something Arizona has specialized in lately, so Smith is fighting through a large quantity of high quality shots and thriving. It’s not just a few games propping up Smith’s numbers either. He has only allowed more than three goals in a game just twice in March.
Another positive sign for the goaltender is the fact his numbers are trending in the right direction. March marked the third consecutive month the 33-year-old posted a better save percentage than the month before (.852, .894, .910, .934 respectively).
While Smith has said on multiple occasions that momentum does not carry over from season to season, it’s hard to imagine a better way to finish the hockey year for a player who struggled so mightily early on.
Maybe there is no on-ice benefit to playing well late in a season, but mentally it must be huge. A long offseason of doubt and insecurity can manifest itself on the ice later on. Those thoughts should no longer float around in Smith’s head.
For those not paying close attention, Smith’s overall numbers will scare many come training camp. He will finish the 2014-15 campaign with an awful win/loss record, a save percentage just over .900 and with a goals against average over 3.00. He has three more games to find that elusive first shutout.
Those numbers are concerning as a whole, but Smith’s play as of late is cause for optimism. The Coyotes go as Mike Smith goes, and him being the team’s rock to finish the season is a great sign for a team in transition.