Mike Smith has crumbled since his rock-solid start, and the Arizona goaltender will have to pick up the pieces against an opponent that broke down him and the Coyotes last season.
The Ottawa Senators hope to continue their success against Smith while snapping out of their own skid when the Coyotes visit Saturday night.
Arizona (3-3-1) opened the season with three wins behind quality defense and goaltending, but things have spiraled since. In four consecutive losses, one coming in overtime, the Coyotes have surrendered 16 goals.
Smith is responsible for 14, a dozen more than he allowed in Arizona’s first three games. His slump includes a benching in favor of backup Anders Lindback and an ugly goal allowed during a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday.
The Rangers scored the first of three unanswered third-period goals when Smith misplayed a puck behind Arizona’s net, saying he thought he heard a teammate call for it.
"That’s deflating to our team when you give up a goal like that," Smith told the team’s official website. "That’s on me and we’ll try and get better. … It was a brutal play."
Brutal is a good word to describe Smith’s two games against Ottawa last season. He allowed 10 goals during losses of 5-1 and 7-2 in January and was benched early in the third period of the second defeat.
The rough showings lifted Smith’s goals-against average to 3.39 and lowered his save percentage to .890 against Ottawa, one of seven teams against which he holds a sub-.900 save percentage.
Goaltending isn’t the only issue during the Coyotes’ skid as slow starts have plagued them. Arizona held a 5-0 first-period advantage in its three wins but is even at 2-2 in its losses, spoiling opportunities to jump ahead.
"That seems to be the M.O. for the last few games," captain Shane Doan told the team’s official website. "We need to make sure we’re ready to go."
The Coyotes have lost seven of eight in Ottawa since 2000 and are looking for their first win on a five-game road trip that ends in Toronto and Boston. The Senators are still looking for their first win at home.
Ottawa (3-2-2) started the season almost as hot as Arizona, netting three road victories in its first four games – the last a 7-3 victory over Columbus on Oct. 14. Though the Senators have scored seven goals in their last two, they’ve surrendered the same amount over the first 65 minutes before losing twice in shootouts to fall to 0-1-2 on home ice.
Ottawa looked to have Thursday’s game against the Devils in hand when Chris Neil scored his first goal of the season in his 900th career game to put his team up 4-2 with less than 14 minutes remaining. The Senators fumbled away an extra point, though, when backup goaltender Andrew Hammond surrendered a rebound goal with 5:50 left and another in the final minute.
”It’s disappointing not getting the two points out of that,” Neil said. ”The late goal hurt us and it could have went either way at the end. The frustrating part is the two points.”
Starter Craig Anderson likely will be back in net against the Coyotes to try and improve on the 4-7-1 record and 2.55 GAA he holds against them in 12 career appearances.