Mike Smith rebounds with big saves against Jets

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes goalie Mike Smith still didn’t feel like his old, more successful self two starts ago. But he felt a few things go his way in a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Then Smith and the Coyotes were pelted in a 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Somewhere in that embarrasing result, believe it or not, Smith’s confidence grew.

Coach Dave Tippett reasoned Arizona’s top goalie, who fell to a 6-16-2 record with the loss, didn’t have chance to succeed. So he got another opportunity on Thursday against Winnipeg, ahead of Devan Dubnyk.

"If you want players to play better, you have to give them an opportunity to play better," Tippett said. "That’s basically what it came down to. We didn’t think the team played very well in front of him, so we gave him another chance. The team played better in front of him (against Winnipeg) and he played better again."

The result was a 4-1 victory at Gila River Arena that saw Smith lead the way with 34 saves.

That Smith returned to the ice two nights after allowing six goals — his 11th game of 24 where he allowed four or more goals — reaffirmed Tippett’s stance that the issues against St. Louis weren’t a goalie problem. It also emphasized the Coyotes aren’t going away from their No. 1 option in goal anytime soon, even if he came into the contest last in the NHL with a 3.57 goals allowed average.

Comfort might be all that was missing for Smith, who behind two early scores from his teammates got engaged early.

"That game just seemed to have more flow to it than other ones I’ve been in this year," he said. "It was an easier game to stay in, and obviously when you have the lead it takes some pressure off."

Coyotes 4, Jets 1

Coincidentally or not, Smith’s goalie coach, Sean Burke, returned from his leave to coach the Canadian Junior National Team to a gold medal. He saw Smith notch arguably his best game of the season for the Coyotes (16-20-4).

Maybe it had to do with playing with the lead. Smith looked more calm, but he was also making the difficult look routine. That’s how Burke knew it’s going to be a good night for the Coyotes.

The goalie coach could tell Smith wasn’t going to allow an easy goal to the Jets.

"Pucks, when they were hitting him, they were going into good spots," Burke said. "There’s a couple of good glove saves where they were good shots, he just caught it, there wasn’t a lot of flash to it.

"He can make great saves when he needs to, but I like when he makes tough saves look easy."

Thursday might have been Smith’s best night of the season, the culmination of a turning point he says began a few weeks back.

Smith’s role in killing all seven of Winnipeg’s penalties came from the confidence he’s built up over the past few weeks. He started the game with quite a bit considering the Coyotes scored on two power plays of their own to go ahead 2-0 in the first 3:18.

"It seemed like both sides were getting a lots of opportunities," Smith said. "I think our penalty kill did a great job for the most part letting me see shots and not letting them get too many rebounds."

The Jets’ only goal came with 6:49 into the third, when Andrew Ladd found Mathieu Perreault with a touch pass to make it 3-1. The score put a little bit of pressure on the Coyotes, but with 8:55 into the third period, Mikkel Boedker scored his second goal of the night to secure the Coyotes’ inspiring victory fresh off an embarrassing loss.

Consistency for the team is the next step, but the focus rings true for Smith, too.

"I felt good," he said. "I felt like the last couple of weeks I really turned the corner and got a little bit of swagger back in my game. It’s nice to get rewarded tonight.

"It was nice to see the guys back tonight sticking up for themselves, sticking up for their teammates, you know, pushing back."

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