The Big Question: How much has Dave Tippett’s defensive system affected Mike Smith’s stats?

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The Big Question will be a weekly feature on PHT where we ask a question, provide some background and ask you, the reader, to weigh in with your opinions.

Today’s question: How much has Dave Tippett’s defensive system affected Mike Smith’s stats?

Coyotes goalie Mike Smith was named the NHL’s first star of the week today, and deservedly so. The 29-year-old has surrendered just three goals in his last four games, all of them Phoenix victories.

In fact, Smith has been solid all season. His .925 save percentage ranks fourth among regular starters – not bad for a guy the Lightning let walk away this summer. On July 1, Smith agreed to a modest two-year, $4 million contract with Phoenix to replace Ilya Bryzgalov, one of the league’s top goalies in his last two seasons with the Coyotes.

Speaking of which…while Smith has prospered, Bryzgalov has struggled after signing with the Flyers for nine years and $51 million. Philly’s big-money goalie has some of the worst numbers (.900 save percentage) among regular starters.

Back to the Coyotes, who for the last three seasons have been coached by Dave Tippett while employing a style of hockey that could nicely be described as conservative and not so nicely described as boring. Phoenix doesn’t run and gun, focusing instead on playing solid team defense and pouncing on turnovers to create scoring chances.

Theoretically, a team that plays a conservative style will surrender fewer quality shots as a percentage of total shots against. Players are less likely to get caught on the wrong side of the puck, and with more players behind the puck, opponents have more players to beat on the attack. As a result, opponents will often have to settle for shots from the perimeter, ones that are more easily stopped by the goalie.

(Here’s some good analysis of shot location affecting save percentage when the Minnesota Wild were coached by Jacques Lemaire, one of the most conservative coaches in recent NHL history.)

So go have it in the comments section. Are Smith’s stats a product of the team in front of him, or is that being unfair to Smith?