Remember way back during the summer, and the Phoenix Coyotes traded away what most assumed was their best player, in goaltender Ilya Brzygalov, and replaced him with a much less impressive quantity in Mike Smith?
The reactions now are surely different from the time, when most just figured the Coyotes would roll over and help fill out the bottom of the Western Conference without the “humongous big” personality of Bryz between the pipes.
Obviously, that hasn’t been the case. Smith has emerged as a star in the desert, and is the biggest reason that they have reached the 40-win mark for the third consecutive year, and are now heading towards yet another playoff berth. That playoff spot is virtually locked down, it’s just a matter of where they end up.
Smith has fit right into Dave Tippett‘s system and become the backbone of the Yotes this season. His numbers on the season are very good, with a 2.25 GAA and a .929 save percentage. But it’s what he’s done lately that could help cement him a place in Las Vegas, as a Vezina Trophy candidate.
Tuesday night was Smith’s eighth shutout of the season, and his third consecutive one. While a blanking of the Columbus Blue Jackets might not seem all that impressive, this was one of the more brilliant performances in recent memory. Smith stoned the Jackets on all 54 shots he faced. 54. Let that number sink in for a minute.
In his last four shutouts, including the three straight, Smith has recorded 178 saves. He’ll have to prove he can do it over the course of more than one season, but what Smith has been doing this season certainly puts him in the category of “elite”.
There’s some stiff competition out there, particularly in the Western Conference, but this recent stretch could just help boost Smith up into the conversation to be a Vezina finalist. There are other deserving candidates out there, of course, but Smith has been showcasing his game lately, in the heat of a playoff race, and continues to prove all of us wrong.