Smith’s stellar play lost in Coyotes’ struggles

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mike Smith doesn’t believe in momentum gained one season transferring to the next. That’s good and bad for the Coyotes. 

It’s good because Arizona on Sunday lost for the 16th time in its past 17 home games (0-15-2) and for the 18th time in 19 games overall (1-17-1). That’s not the kind of momentum the Coyotes want to maintain.

It’s bad because their goaltender is on some kind of spring roll; the kind that might remind everyone — especially Smith — how good he can be when his game is right.

"Every season is a different season," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said after the latest 3-1 loss to Vancouver, with an assessment that felt like a bucket of cold water poured over hope. "You can’t look back to a spring where you’re playing meaningless games where that’s where you’re getting your confidence from. That’s not going to happen. He has to prepare in the summer and come in ready to play in the fall."

Smith understands that all too well, given the yo-yo nature of his four seasons in Arizona. 

"We’ve all seen what can happen," he said.

But on Sunday at Gila River Arena, Smith was that breathtaking kind of good that can carry a team. He’s been that good most nights since the All-Star break.

He was compact and calm in his movements, and always seemed to be in position against the Canucks. He even broke out an old-school stack-pad save to stop Bo Horvath late in the third period. 

"Mike Smith was excellent," Tippett said. "He gave us a chance." 

Canucks 3, Coyotes 1

The problem is the Coyotes current roster resembles a Broadway audition, with lots of hopefuls but too many actors who won’t earn permanent parts when the curtain rolls back on the 2015-16 season.

For the seventh time in the last eight games, Arizona couldn’t reach the lofty two-goal plateau and the Coyotes have managed that total twice in their past 22 games, excluding a shootout win. 

With that razor-thin margin for error, it always feels like a matter of time before the opposition solves Smith and walks away with two points. 

That’s what happened Sunday, and it happened on another fluky bounce when defenseman Alex Edler’s shot hit the left post, bounced off Smith’s back and in with 3:13 left in regulation to break a 1-1 tie.

"Can’t even get a win on my birthday," said Smith, who made 41 saves on the day he turned 33. "Bounces like that are sometimes out of your control. You just have to move forward in games and just try to push the season along here."

When a reporter noted Smith did everything but score against the Canucks, Smith reminded that reporter he essentially scored on himself the previous night when he banked a puck off Pittsburgh’s Brandon Sutter for the game-winning goal.

Smith may be drawing a hint of satisfaction from the fact he again found his game. But the overwhelming taste is preventing him from assigning too much meaning to the past two months in which his save percentage has risen to .902.

"It’s still a loss — one goal too short," he said. "That’s not momentum."

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter