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NHL Arizona Coyotes

Phoenix Coyotes Building Momentum Since Mike Smith’s Return

Mike Smith Phoenix

Rick Scuteri – USA TODAY Sports

There is no denying that the play of goaltender Mike Smith was one of the main reasons the Phoenix Coyotes reached the Western Conference finals last season. Perhaps that’s why Smith’s start to the 2013 season was so troubling, and why an early-season groin injury was a major cause for concern. Smith was back in top form Saturday night, as he turned aside all 17 shots he faced from the Dallas Stars to get his first win of the season.

The even better news for the Coyotes is that this is the second time they have shut out an opponent in their past four games. It was a mixed bag of backup goaltending for the Coyotes with Smith out, as Jason LaBarbera posted a 1-2 record and Chad Johnson was 1-0-1 with a shutout. Smith returned Friday, stopping 21 of 24 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Stars. Both games were a marked improvement from his 0-2 start to the season, which saw him allow 10 goals in two games to the Stars and Chicago Blackhawks.

An anemic power play continues to hurt the Coyotes offensively. In Smith’s four starts, they have converted just three of 18 chances. Their penalty kill remains strong, and has allowed just one goal in the past five games – something any goaltender is going to love having in front of him. With a return to a defense-first, puck-possession mentality, Phoenix has the talent to make another trip to the playoffs. If Smith truly has regained his confidence, they will be a tough team to beat over the next few months.

Jonathan Katje is an NHL blogger for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JKatje or add him to your network on Google.