The Arizona Coyotes face the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, and Mike Smith will tend goal for them.
Normally, this wouldn’t be news: He’s the starter, after all. But he’s also been terrible this season: 2-4-0, with a 4.29 GAA and an .858 save percentage. At even strength, even worse: .855 save percentage. This includes the 7-3 drubbing from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
“Smitty had an average night. Again. And we didn’t play that well in front of him,” said Coach Dave Tippett.
Tippett’s defended Smith throughout the team’s struggles, and he has a point: The Coyotes have inexplicably been sloppy in defensive coverage this season. Players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson have made some downright amateurish mistakes, which Tippett chalks up to trying to do too much to pull the team out of its slump.
“He’d certainly like to make a few more stops, but we have to clean up some of the stuff in front of him. We’re missing assignments, just plain and simple. Giving up opportunities we shouldn’t be giving,” he said.
“You start pressing. Overdoing things, instead of getting in a rhythm.”
So the Coyotes focused on defensive coverage in practice, and Smith gets another chance at finding his groove against the Panthers.
It’s an important start for him. One assumes Devan Dubnyk will get a start over the weekend as the Coyotes play Saturday in Carolina and Sunday in Washington.
“He came around, he played a couple strong games there before we came out on the road. And while his numbers have been just as bad – five goals against on 43 shots at even strength – one good performance while Smith struggles could make things interesting.
Of course, a good performance from either goalie could just mean that the Coyotes have finally put together a solid game, which hasn’t happened much in their 3-4-1 start: Fox Sports notes that they’ve only led for a total of 47:54 this season.