Perhaps the biggest reason why the Coyotes landed in the Western Conference finals this past season was goalie Mike Smith. Smith’s acrobatic saves, curious ability to draw penalties, and dogged work helped buoy Phoenix even when teams turned up the pressure late in games.
While he was stellar in the playoffs, he was arguably the team MVP all season long. Smith racked up stats unlike the kind he’s put up throughout his career. His .930 save percentage was by far the best he’s put up and was tied for third-best in the NHL with Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. His 2.21 goals against average was a career-best as well.
Of course, the biggest question facing Smith now is: Can he do it again? Many point to his success in Phoenix thanks to being both taught by goalie coach Sean Burke and being a part of coach Dave Tippett’s system.
While Tippett does have a defensive scheme in place, Jonathan Willis of The Cult Of Hockey says Tippett’s influence is a bit overstated. Goalie analysis blog Brodeur Is A Fraud (a divisive and awesome name, by the way) says Smith’s 2011-12 season is not likely to be repeated and a regression is likely. Good goalie? Yes. Consistently great goalie? Perhaps not.
That said, Smith’s defensive corps in front of him next season is set to be really good, and really deep. Thinking he’ll return to the kinds of numbers he put up in Tampa Bay that saw him wind up playing behind Dan Ellis would be a mistake.