All kidding aside, Coyotes’ Smith shoulders blame for rough start

Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and Blues center David Backes (42) react after a goal by Blues left wing Alexander Steen (not pictured) during the second period Saturday at Gila River Arena.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Backup goalie Devan Dubnyk tried to lighten the mood after Coyotes practice Monday at the Ice Den.

When reporters began to interview starter Mike Smith about his recent struggles, Dubnyk offered to take Smith’s place under the heat lamp.

"I have a lot of experience giving up a lot of goals," Dubnyk quipped.

Smith laughed, but he was having none of it.

"I don’t need to bring anybody else into this," he said. "It’s me and only me and I’ve been through it tons of times in my career."

Scroll to the bottom of page 2 of NHL.com’s goaltender leaders and you’ll discover exactly what Smith is going through early in the season. Of the 59 goalies who played through Sunday, Smith was 58th in save percentage (.833) and 57th in goals against average (5.33). He allowed 16 goals on 90 shots in three games.

A small sample size to be sure, but still a disturbing trend.

"I’ve played three games, and it hasn’t gone even close to the way it needs to be," Smith said. "I understand that, but there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself or get down."

Smith was downcast after Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. While other players dissected the slaughter they had just witnessed, Smith sat nearly motionless in his stall with a towel draped over his head.

Hanzal undergoes tests on knee

When coach Dave Tippett was asked about his goaltender’s psyche after the game, he admitted "it’s a concern."

"If you’re not playing as well as you like, players think about that. That’s human nature," Tippett added Monday. "Mike is no different. I’m sure he wants to be better."

The hardest part to stomach for Smith was that he actually was better against the Blues than he was in a season-opening 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. He allowed a soft goal late Saturday when the outcome was no longer in doubt, but he was sharp early or the score could have been outright embarrassing, given the way his teammates were running around in front of him.

COYOTES at PREDATORS

When: Tuesday, 5 p.m.

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Records: Nashville 3-0-2; Arizona 2-2.

Injuries: Coyotes C Martin Hanzal (knee) is out. Predators C Mike Fisher (Achilles) is out.

Quick facts: The Predators have switched to a more up-tempo offense under new coach Peter Laviolette than they played under predecessor Barry Trotz. … Former Coyote Mike Ribeiro (two goals, three points) was among Nashville’s key offseason moves. The Preds also added Fs James Neal, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy and D Anton Volchenkov. … Nashville was tied for second in the NHL in goals against average (1.40). … Coyotes coach Dave Tippett called Nashville’s blue line of Shea Weber, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Volchenkov, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm one of the best in the NHL.

"Believe it or not, I felt better than I have this year in the first period. I just tried to go in there and compete really hard and forget about everything else," he said. "Obviously, that only got me so far and then the floodgates opened. 

"It’s hard, but it’s a long season, and I am continuing to remind myself of that."

Smith echoed comments from wing Lauri Korpikoski and Tippett that the Coyotes need to do a better job covering for one another when breakdowns occure.   

Noting it starts with him, Smith said, "as a whole, five-man unit, we just need to be better, harder, closing on people quicker. I think we’re giving teams too much respect and we’re giving teams way too much time with the puck. When you do that you get exposed quickly.

"We need to figure out how to defend the best and usually it’s to collapse the middle and take away middle ice. If they score from outside, I’ll take all the blame in the world for that."

Smith acknowledged that this season could not have started much worse for him.