Price wins goalie duel with Smith; Coyotes shut out for 9th time

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mike Smith doesn’t need extra motivation to play well in the Arizona Coyotes’ goal. Mired in the toughest season of his pro career, Smith is trying to get his game and mind right over the final quarter of the season to build some momentum heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

Even so, when the goalie at the other end of the ice is Montreal’s Carey Price, the competitive juices start flowing just a little more freely. Smith and Price were teammates on Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Smith wanted to show well with the Canadiens in town Saturday at Gila River Arena.

"Always when you play ex-teammates or friends it tends to motivate you a little bit more," Smith said. "That being said, when you play against the best goalies in the league, you want to put yourself in the same category as those guys."

Smith played his second straight strong game, turning aside 33 of the 34 shots he faced. But Price got all 29 he faced to record his seventh shutout of the season in Montreal’s 2-0 victory.

It was Arizona’s 10th loss in its last 11 home games and its 11th loss in its last 12 overall. It was also the ninth time the Coyotes have been shut out this season, second only to Buffalo’s 10. That is tied (twice before) for the most times shut out in a single season since the team moved to Arizona in 1996 — four shy of the franchise record. 

Lars Eller scored on a screened shot that Smith never saw late in the second period and Brendan Gallagher added an empty netter to support Price’s NHL-leading 37th win of the season.

"He’s obviously one of the top goalies in the league for a reason," said Coyotes forward David Moss, who nearly pushed a rebound passed Price in the third period before it settled on top of the goalie’s pad. "He played well, especially in the third period when we made a little bit of a push. Their team doesn’t give up much but when they do, he’s rock solid for them back there." 

Voters for the NHL’s MVP award generally fall into one of two categories. There are those who follow the language of the award and remain open to anyone winning it. The other camp believes goaltenders already have their own trophy, the Vezina, so they shouldn’t win the Hart Trophy as well.

Canadiens 2, Coyotes 0

If ever there were a season when the two sides could find common ground, this may be it. Price has carried a middling possession team on his back all season. With Chicago’s Patrick Kane now out for the rest of the regular season due to a fractured clavicle, the Hart Trophy has become an underwhelming race, unless you factor in Price.

The 27-year-old, eight-year veteran leads the NHL in goals against average (1.92), save percentage (.936), wins (37) and is tied for second in shutouts with Washington’s Braden Holtby, one behind Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury. He has also allowed two or fewer goals a league-high 24 times this season.

"To me, the MVP of the league is the most valuable player to his team and a goaltender a lot of times can be that guy," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who believes Price warrants serious consideration. "They say there’s also a trophy for him. Well, there’s already a trophy for leading scorer and there’s already a trophy for best defenseman. 

"What player can dictate the outcome on your team? A lot of times, that’s a goaltender."

Smith has been that player for the Coyotes many times in the past. They hope he can be that guy again. In the past two games, he has stopped 63 of 67 shots; now he will have more motivation coming to town in the form of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

"When you’re playing well I think your team senses it and can let it go a little more," Smith said, before commenting on facing Price and Rinne back to back. "Two of the top goalies in the league. It will be another challenge."

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