“It was just one of those nights,” explained Jayden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues after recording his first career NHL hat-trick. Unfortunately for Arizona fans, “it was just one of those nights” is becoming every night for visiting teams and players facing the Coyotes. After St. Louis handed Arizona another blowout loss on Saturday night by a score of 6-1, one thing is becoming more and more certain with every rout: unless starting goalie Mike Smith can right this ship quickly, the ever so quiet grumbles coming from the crowd right now asking for more of backup Devan Dubnyk will soon become a resounding roar.
After the loss on Saturday night versus the Blues, a night that Mike Smith let in six goals on 36 shots, his goals against this year rose to a whopping 16 in just three games played. His 5.34 Goals-Against-Average (GAA) is the third-worst in the entire league and his .822 Save Percentage is second-worst. If it wasn’t for backup goalies John Gibson (Ana) and Michael Hutchinson (Wpg), who each have only one game played under their belts, Smith would rank dead last in those categories.
Much can be said about the Coyotes defense, or lack thereof, since the start of the season– just how many times has the defense has broken down to give up odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances? These mental lapses in defense are sure to inflate Smith’s numbers. However, whenever there has needed to be that big save in a game, Smith has remained relatively absent. Concurrently speaking, Smith hasn’t exactly done much stopping of even the easiest of shots this season either.
Early on in the St. Louis Blues game, Arizona fans finally saw glimpses of the Mike Smith of old– with just under eight minutes left in the first period, Smith moved quickly from his right to his left to stave off what looked like an easy goal by Vladamir Tarasenko after a ridiculous set up by Schwartz. Shortly after that, whether it was just dumb-luck or sheer hustle on the part of Blues forward David Backes, the first goal of the game came from a puck kicked off of Backes’ foot that dribbled across the line in an unfortunate pile up inside the crease. After that goal was let in, the Mike Smith of this early season reared his ugly head back in– in the third period in particular, Smith let in a very weak, short-sided shot by Jori Lehtera due to what has been an apparent and growing lack of focus.
Devan Dubnyk, who doesn’t appear to be slotted to start in tonight’s game versus the Nashville Predators, is eerily similar in a multitude of ways when it comes to Mike Smith. Smith, who is 6’4″ and weighs in at 215 lbs, plays in the common butterfly stance, which favors big frames such as his. Dubnyk, who is 6’6″ and weighs in slightly less at 210 lbs, also has a huge frame and plays in a similar fashion to Smith. Before being acquired by the Coyotes, in both of their first six seasons they both lacked the game-to-game consistency needed to become an everyday starter. In 162 games played, Smith boasted a .906 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA. For Dubnyk, in 173 games played he put up a .909 save percentage and a 2.71 GAA. Both players also had minor-league stints in their final years before signing with the Desert Dogs.
In Mike Smith’s first season as starter for the Phoenix Coyotes, he had a huge bounce-back year posting a .930 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA. Given Dubnyk’s past paired with an opportunity to achieve something similar to what Smith did in the 2011-12 season, perhaps it isn’t too far fetched to believe he couldn’t accomplish the same.
Regardless, whether or not it is due to complacency on Smith’s part, a lack of defensive talent growing from year to year for the Coyotes or that Tippett’s system is simply failing, if the Coyotes continue to fall in this kind of fashion, someone will surely be receiving an early axe. For now, Smith is still the hands down number one goaltender of the Arizona Coyotes. However, given Smith’s gaudy numbers, if they fail to improve any time soon, don’t be surprised to see Dubnyk’s stock rise sooner rather than later.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Arizona Coyotes
Photo by 5of7 as Licensed