MIKE SMITH – COYOTES’ MVP AND ONE SCARY GOALIE

07Apr12

For those of you on the east side of our great country, you may not have heard of Mike Smith, goalie for the Phoenix Coyotes.  Okay, maybe you heard of him when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning for parts of four seasons (2007-2008 to 2010-2011).  Odds are, what you heard didn’t capture your attention. 

For thirteen seasons, in fact, Mike Smith has had a very mediocre, uneventful career.  He spent eight years in the minor leagues, playing on six different teams.  In 2006, he made it to the show, playing for a season and a half with the Dallas Stars, before being shipped to Tampa Bay for three and a half seasons. 

Then along comes the 2011-2012 season.  The Phoenix Coyotes, fresh after losing an opening round playoff series for the second straight year to the Detroit Red Wings, found themselves without a starting caliber goalie.  Their star man in the net for the previous four seasons, Ilya Bryzgalov, left for the Philadelphia Flyers. 

How Mike Smith’s name came up, or whose decision it was to sign him, I have no idea.  But whoever it was, he deserves and extension on his contract and a big fat bonus to go with it.  Not only did this giant of a goalie become the MVP of the team, he single handedly has placed the team on his big shoulders and carried them to the first division title in franchise history. 

Don’t get me wrong.  When I say that he carried them, I am by no means implying that there aren’t other talented players on this team.  There is a long list of them.

There is the scoring machine Radim Vrbata, who broke Jeremy Roenick’s team record of 34 goals this season. 

The assist machine, Ray Whitney, just weeks before his 40th birthday, broke the 1000 mark in points, only the 79th player in history to do so. 

Captain Shane Doan and Assistant Captain Marty Hanzal led a group of playmakers such as Mikkel Boedker, Boyd Gordon, Daymond Langkow, Taylor Pyatt, and Antoine Vermette.  Raffi Torres was a huge addition to the team. 

Assistant Captain Keith Yandle led a fearsome group of defensemen, such as Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin and Rostislav ‘Rusty’ Klesla.  The newcomer and 20 year old Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a future star in this league. 

The team started off slow this season, and then just kind of hung around through the end of January.  During the month of February, the team came alive, going 11-0-1 for the month.  Only three times during that span did the opposition score more than one goal.  And only four times did the Coyotes score more than three goals. 

Is it just me, or does that point to the goalie as the man of the month? 

Over the next fourteen games, the team went into a funk, slipping to 4-6-4 over the span.  They dropped from the division leader, down to the #11 team in the conference, then back up to #8 to #10, depending on the time of day! 

With five games remaining, and watching the playoffs from his couch at home becoming a very real possibility, Mr. Smith stepped up again. 

He didn’t do much, other than rattle off three consecutive shutouts, going 234 minutes and 25 seconds without letting up a goal.  He turned away 161 consecutive shots, including 54 in one game (against Columbus), both NHL records. 

He allowed two goals over those final five games.  The first was against a 4-on-1 break by the St. Louis Blues, where he made two saves before having a rebound go in.  The other, in the season finale at Minnesota, was when the puck was shot from behind the net and bounced off his own leg pad to go in. 

For the Coyotes, the playoffs couldn’t have come at a better time.  They are playing well as a team, their penalty kill has become one of the best in the west, they are playing the majority of games in their opposition’s end of the ice, and they are hustling, checking, blocking shots and passing patiently and accurately. 

Oh yeah, and they have the hottest goalie in the league in front of their net! 

The Chicago Blackhawks may be kicking themselves for not grabbing the #5 spot away from Detroit. 

I’m pretty sure there are six other teams that are glad they get to face another team with another goalie in the first round!

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