It took a bit longer than expected, more than two months to be exact, but the Coyotes are finally starting to show signs of missing their star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who was traded to Philadelphia over the offseason after spending the last four seasons in Phoenix. Bryzgalov is now on a title contender and is a star of HBO’s 24/7 program.
Bryzgalov’s replacement, Mike Smith, got off to a fast start to begin the season. In the first two months of the year, Smith had two shutouts and allowed two goals or less in 14 of his 19 starts. He was even being talked about as an all-star, but then came the month of December.
During December, Smith has had nine starts. In those games, he has allowed three goals twice and four goals on four separate occasions. His GAA his gone from the low 2.20’s to now being over at 2.52, which is still respectable, but not at the level that it was earlier in the season when Smith was red hot.
Currently, Smith is on the IR due to a strained groin. He went down right away in a Dec. 20 matchup against Florida even though neither a Panthers or Coyotes player touched the goaltender. There is still no word on what the timetable for Smith to recoup from the nagging injury.
Smith’s injury means that Jason LaBarbera becomes the Yotes starter in net. Since becoming the starter, LaBarbera hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He won his first game right after the injury to Smith, but he has lost his last two against St. Louis and Los Angeles and was even removed from the game against the Kings.
Curtis McElhinney, a former sixth round pick of the Flames, could see some time between the pipes in case Barbs continues to struggle. The 28-year-old goalie saw the most time of his career last season with Anaheim. In 16 starts, McElhinney had a 6-9 record with a 3.43 GAA and 89 percent save percentage.
After LaBarbera and McElhinney, there isn’t a whole lot. Justin Pogge was just up with Phoenix, but was just called down again and his stats at Portland are nothing to get excited about. Prized prospect Mark Visentin is a tremendous talent, but he is still a couple of years away from contributing to the big club.
Unless the front office makes a roster move, they are stuck with what they have until Smith comes back.
When Smith does eventually return, he will need to play at the level that he did earlier in the season if Phoenix wants to make a return trip to the postseason for the third straight season. Like it has been the case during this run, this Coyotes roster can’t get away with bad goaltending and poor defense unlike some of the more talented rosters in the league like Chicago and Detroit.