SCH's First Round Preview: The Biggest Obstacle
Right, let's get to our position by position preview of the Coyotes. And let's start with the one guy who's scaring everyone:
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2011 - Mike Smith||67||3903||38||18||144||2.21||2066||1922||.930||8|
Yeah, pretty impressive stuff. Obviously, what has everyone in a twist is the late season surge and shutout streak, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Smith was the Stars biggest prospect for a while, and was slated to take over for Marty Turco before he was the main piece in the Brad Richards trade. Things didn't work out in Tampa until his final year behind Dwayne Roloson, but he wasn't helped by being behind some dogshit Lightning teams. This was his first chance to take the reins with a decent team, and he ran with it.
Smith isn't only just a big goalie, but he's extremely athletic. This isn't just a sound positioning guy who swallows up a lot of the net by standing or sitting still. He can get from post to post in a heartbeat and doesn't have any glaring spots where the Hawks should aim at if they get the time. So obviously, the plan is the same as it is with premier goalie. Get shots to the net, get in his eyes, and pounce on any rebounds that might be lying around. There isn't some magic potion.
The big part of Smith's game, and one that is worrisome, is that he's an excellent puck handler. Combine that with the Yotes' coverage in the neutral zone, and they can smother a forecheck in a hurry by forcing you to dump it in and then watch helplessly as Smith dumps it out himself. If he gets to touch the puck, the Coyotes' d-men don't have to retrieve behind the net but can hang out on the half-wall or farther up to wait for an outlet from Smith. He's that good with the puck.
In the past, the Hawks haven't been all that disciplined in this area. Either they haven't read the scouting reports, or ignore them. The Hawks have to, just have to make all their dump-ins either chips to the same corner or cross corner dumps to the other side. They can not just ring it around the boards, because Smith is going to get to it every time. If they don't heed this warning, we could be here awhile as the games simply bog down. If the Hawks can get the pucks to the corners, other than Yandle and Larsson the Phoenix blue line is not exactly bred at Lexington Farms in Kentucky and can be harassed into mistakes.
Ok, the shutout streak. Yeah, impressive. Even after it, he didn't give up more than a goal in a game. However, this streak came against the Sharks, Blues, Jackets, Ducks, and Wild. Other than the Sharks -- who aren't the bomb squad they used to be -- none of these teams are exactly the flame thrower guy from the opening scene of Lethal Weapon 4. And the Jackets threw 54 shots at him. If the Yotes let the Hawks get 50 shots per game, they'll be going home quickly.
Secondly, Smith has had a great season. But that doesn't mean he's automatically a playoff monster. As McClure calls him, HumongousBeeg put up great regular season numbers last year behind this team, and then fell apart in the playoffs. We don't have a sample size on him, he's only got three playoff appearances. I don't think he'll be bad, but nor am I ready to concede he's going to be Giguere in '04 either.
And really, the days of a goalie dragging a non-deserving team through a playoff round are just about over. Jonathan Quick hasn't done it. Henrik Lundqvist has only won two playoff series and those were behind some tight defensive teams. I know Jaro Halak did it in '10, but that was against a mental midget Capitals team and a completely exhausted Penguins team that had been to consecutive Finals. Maybe Smith can, maybe he can't. But no one knows.