GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mike Smith was a little cranky recently.
With the first half of the season not going according to his imagined script, and with the Canadian Olympic announcement weighing on his mind, the Coyotes goalie just wasn’t having fun. So with the help of goalie coach Sean Burke, Smith took a step back, took stock of his predicament and decided to reverse course.
"We have to remember that we play hockey for a living. It’s the best job in the world," Smith said Thursday. "If you let it affect you through the tough times it makes it miserable. All I can control is my attitude and my work ethic and if I do that, I’m a pretty good goaltender."
The sample size is too small to determine whether Smith finally turned the corner, but he couldn’t have picked a better time to post his first shutout of the season than Thursday’s 1-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks at Jobing.com Arena.
Smith made 28 saves in his 25th career shutout and first since April 6, 2013. Better yet, he did it behind a team effort that looked suspiciously like old-time Coyotes hockey.
Phoenix took far too many penalties against a team that has cornered the recent market on such antics, but with defenseman Zbynek Michalek back in the lineup after a 13-game absence, the Coyotes killed off all seven Vancouver power plays, they scored a power play goal for the sixth straight game and they did the little things that have defined coach Dave Tippett’s teams the past four seasons like blocking shots and managing the puck.
"A hard-checking game that everybody’s involved in," Tippett said. "That’s been a pretty good recipe for us."
Especially when your goalie cleans up the occasional mistakes. Smith had won just three of his previous 20 starts, leading to calls for backup Thomas Greiss to supplant him. There were also those questioning that six-year, $34 million deal Smith signed in the offseason.
"It’s been a frustrating stretch of hockey for me; one that it seemed I hadn’t gone through in a long time, especially here," Smith said. "It’s hard to snap out of it. It kind of felt like a snowball effect where you’re going downhill and downhill.
"You’re trying so hard to win games and putting so much added pressure on yourself. And then you get added to the Olympic team and there’s more pressure to perform. I’m one to put enough pressure on myself. I don’t need other things going on to do it, too."
Tippett is far from ready to pronounce his goalie and his team cured of its first-half maladies, but a strong effort in St. Louis followed by this win has the Coyotes within four points of Vancouver and Minnesota for the Western Conference’s final two playoff spots, with games in hand on both.
With everyone finally back in the lineup, including the oh-so valuable Michalek, the Coyotes at least have a building block.
"We’ve been searching for one of these for a little while," Smith said. "Hopefully that’s a big boost for our team."