When the Calgary Flames once again made wholesale changes to their goalie duo in the summer, focusing on bringing in Mike Smith, there were plenty of skeptics. (Myself included.)
On one hand, the 35-year-old boasts considerable puckhandling skills, and the sort of large frame NHL teams seek – sometimes demand – in a starting goalie. While his stats were up-and-down during his run with the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes, Smith also showed the ability to stand on his head and stop a barrage of shots.
That said, consistency’s often been an issue for Smith, and that includes being healthy enough to consistently stay on the ice.
So far in 2017-18, both the Flames and their critics have been partially right. GM Brad Treliving targeted Smith, and looked smart in recalling his Coyotes days in doing so, as the big goalie’s been huge for Calgary, generating a .922 save percentage. That said, his latest injury cost him 13 games, leaving Calgary in a predicament where missing the playoffs is a very real fear.
Things didn’t look great in his first game back, as Smith and the Flames fell to the even-more-lost New York Islanders 5-2, with Smith allowing four goals. Luckily, he didn’t wait long to remind people why he’s been so badly missed, as Smith put on quite a performance against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, allowing Johnny Gaudreau‘s lone goal to stand up in a 1-0 win last night.
McDavid set up some great chances for Ryan Strome, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and himself, but Smith denied all of them, and the Flames really took it to the Oilers superstar physically:
The Flames still stand at a disadvantage in the West’s bubble races, but this was a reassuring win, especially in seeing Smith look so brilliant.
Take a look at some of the teams they’re chasing between the wild-card spots and the Pacific seeds within reasonable reach:
Pacific second and third (Vegas out of reach)
2. Sharks: 83 points in 69 games, 33 ROW
3. Kings: 82 points in 70 GP, 36 ROW
First WC- Avalanche: 82 points in 69 GP, 36 ROW
Second WC- Stars: 82 points in 70 GP, 34 ROW
Ducks: 80 points in 70 GP, 30 ROW
Flames: 80 points in 71 GP, 33 ROW
Blues: 79 points in 69 GP, 34 ROW
Again, just about all of those teams have some sort of edge on the Flames, yet they do have some agency in fighting back. They’ll face the Sharks twice, with the next match taking place on Friday in Calgary. The make-or-break stretch will likely come from March 21-26: a home game against the Ducks, then vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and the Sharks in San Jose.
No doubt, the odds are against them. Sports Club Stats, for instance, only gives Calgary a 22.2-percent chance to make the playoffs, and that’s with a 5.9-percent bump from blanking the Oilers.
It’s lot easier to believe in their chances with Smith back in the lineup and on the top of his game, however, so Tuesday had to renew some hope.
And, hey, they might also get some more balance in the forward groups with Kris Versteeg back:
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.