Mike Smith

Phoenix adds new wrinkle to the NHL goaltending debate

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Tonight in Toronto, it’s the tale of two vastly different goaltending situations.

The Leafs will start rookie Ben Scrivens in goal. He’ll get the nod over third-year pro Jonas Gustavsson, who was originally tabbed to be the starting netminder after sophomore sensation James Reimer got hurt.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, will counter with Mike Smith, a six-year veteran on his third NHL club. He’ll be backed up by Jason LaBarbera, a 31-year-old journeyman.

The two teams are at opposite ends of the goaltending spectrum stylistically…and statistically.

Toronto has the fourth-worst GAA (3.41). Both Scrivens and Gustavsson have save percentages below .900.

Phoenix has the NHL’s 10th-lowest GAA (2.47). Both goalies have solid save percentages — Smith: .931, LaBarbera: .900.

“[Nobody’s] been more important to the club so far this season than Smith,” writes CBC.ca. “Since allowing six goals in the season opener, the netminder’s goals-against average is 1.88.”

Smith’s ascension to a top-flight, No. 1 netminder is the latest in the ongoing debate of how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position. There’s no shortage of opinion on how to do it. Some say find a proven veteran and lock him up long-term. Others suggest grooming a less-expensive (and less-proven) youngster. Some say spend big while others preach frugality. Some say declare a clear-cut No. 1, others opt for the platoon system.

Thing is, Smith’s situation in Phoenix doesn’t really fit into any of those. When the Coyotes signed him to a two-year, $4-million deal back in July he was a run-of-the-mill 29-year-old goalie with marginal starting experience. (At $2 million per, he was being paid exactly like that — either a cheap starter, or a pricey backup.)

The thought was at best he’s a decent 1b to someone else’s 1a; at worst he’s one of the league’s better backups. Many assumed he’d be Phoenix’s starter, but they also assumed Phoenix would have the worst goaltending duo in the league.


Now granted, some of Smith’s success this year is due to Phoenix’s defensive style of play. But looking around the NHL right now — yes, Toronto included — there are more than a few clubs that could probably use Smith at $2 million per:

— The team he left, Tampa Bay, had to yank Dwayne Roloson again last night.

— Columbus’s goaltending woes are well documented.

— New Jersey is still on the lookout for 39-year-old Martin Brodeur’s heir apparent. (And if Smith wasn’t the heir apparent, he could’ve been a useful stopgap considering Brodeur’s backup, Johan Hedberg, is 38.)

It’s still early in the year and hey, Smith’s never played more than 42 games in a single season — this could still go pear-shaped. But for now, Phoenix has added yet another viable option as to how NHL teams should approach the goaltending position.

I’m just not sure how to describe it.

Wild lose Scandella to lower-body injury

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Marco Scandella #6 of the Minnesota Wild skates after the puck against Winnipeg Jets during the game on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Ryan Suter may be in for a long night, at least if the first period of the Minnesota Wild – Buffalo Sabres game is any indication.

Suter logged 11 minutes of ice time in that opening frame after fellow defenseman Marco Scandella suffered a lower-body injury. The Wild aren’t certain if he’ll be able to come back in the game.

Onlookers believe that Scandella got hurt while he was tangled up with Nicolas Deslauriers of the Sabres.

Scandella is averaging a little under 20 minutes per game so far this season, so the Wild have to hope that this is just a minor issue.

Welcome Lindholm: Ducks send Theodore, Etem to AHL

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Shea Theodore #53 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks finally hammered out a (sweet) deal with Hampus Lindholm, so now it comes down to some housekeeping.

Specifically, it means sending some fairly useful players with significant pedigrees down to the AHL on Thursday. The team announced that both Shea Theodore and Emerson Etem are bound for the San Diego Gulls.

Theodore, the 26th pick back in 2013, contributed a pretty assist to the Ducks’ 6-1 shellacking of the Nashville Predators last night:

It’s a cool story that Etem returned to the franchise that selected him 29th overall in 2010, yet he’s struggled to really find a niche in the NHL so far. At 24, there’s still time, though he likely feels a little anxious to become a full-time guy at the top level.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun notes that Shea Theodore is likely to be on LTIR for “the foreseeable future,” which means that the Ducks aren’t forced to move Cam Fowler.

That’s great news for the Ducks. For Theodore in particular? The situation is not so great.

Red Wings will likely be without red-hot Vanek tonight

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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With a whopping 30.8 shooting percentage, a lot of things have gone Thomas Vanek‘s way since he joined the Detroit Red Wings. Thursday bucks that trend.

Puck luck isn’t what went away for Vanek; instead, he’s gotten a bad break with a lower-body injury that is expected to sideline him during tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

The Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James pegs it as possibly being a groin injury or hip flexor. The Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan leaves more toward it being a groin issue.

With eight points during his first seven games with Detroit, Vanek’s been a revelation, but that redemption story is now paused. It sounds like Justin Abdelkader will return to the lineup for the Red Wings, so maybe it isn’t all bad news for Detroit.

The Red Wings confirmed that he would be out later on in the evening.

Alzner: Capitals’ playoff letdown is ‘deep somewhere in our heads’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals after the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The mood is a “little sour” in the Washington Capitals locker room right now, and the discomfort goes deeper than losing back-to-back games for the first time in more than a year.

With it being early in 2016-17, maybe the Capitals aren’t totally over falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins after a resounding run to the Presidents’ Trophy.

“Last year, we were just so hungry all over the ice, and that’s why we had so much success. We just haven’t been as hungry right now,” Karl Alzner said, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t know if it’s because deep somewhere in our heads, we did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us, so maybe it’s just taking some time to build back up and as the season goes on, we get better. I don’t feel that in the front of my head, but maybe deep in the back, that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re better than how we’ve been playing.”

Credit Alzner for his candor, because that’s a remarkable admission of vulnerability.

Buying in

Not every member of the Capitals look at a few bumps in the road as a bad thing. Braden Holtby told the Washington Post that “a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team,” and considering the rigors of an 82-game season, he’s likely correct.

As CSN Mid Atlantic notes, Barry Trotz understands the peaks and valleys of a lengthy campaign … but he still expects his players to buy-in.

“We’ve got the right elements to do what we can do. But there has to be a level of everybody [being] all in. You can’t be half in,” Trotz said. ” … You can’t let your foot off the gas in this league or you find yourself in a hole sometimes.”

Climbing that mountain once again

One can relate to the Capitals’ troubles in a way.

A negative type might feel a bit like Sisyphus here, wondering if it’s worth it to roll that boulder up a hill all over again after that playoff loss pushed them down. “We did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us,” as Alzner said.

Maybe the Capitals are over-thinking this a bit.

They have a few days off to ruminate on things, but the compressed three-game road trip coming up might be valuable in demanding all of their thoughts.

It’s tougher to find time for an existential crisis when you face three away contests in Western Canada during just four days. From the sound of things, it might be the perfect type of challenge for this group.