The Phoenix Coyotes have looked a little bipolar during the early stages of this NHL season. They roared out of the gate, storming through October and winning all but six of their first 18 games. However, as the calendar turned to November, the bottom seemed to drop out. They’re currently tumbling down the standings, with just two wins in their past seven. A team that was seen by some as possible Stanley Cup contenders is now barely hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Part of the reason the Coyotes have been struggling is the play in net by their starting goalie, Mike Smith. The Canadian netminder is letting by goals at an alarming rate, as he’s seen at least four pucks go by him in five of his last six starts, including a five goal effort against the Chicago Blackhawks. Early on in the year, Smith was contending for a possible spot on the Canadian National Hockey Team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His play as of late may make that road a little bumpy, though there’s still time to right the ship. As far as how to do that, Smith admitted it’s just a matter of relaxing.
“(I’m) just going to go into the next game a lot more relaxed and start enjoying it again,” Smith told the Arizona Republic. “I’ve been pressing a bit and trying to maybe play the perfect game, and it’s kind of affected the way I’ve played a bit.”
“Not awful, but I feel one or two goals here or there and the game can change.”
A statement like this is not very surprising, especially for a goalie. The position receives arguably the most pressure of any on the ice, and as Smith mentioned, one goal allowed can change the entire makeup of a game. He’s also making big-time money for the first time thanks to a six-year, $34 million contract he signed in the offseason. We’ve seen more than a few players in any sport buckle under the pressure of living up to large contracts.
Smith’s strategy of attempting a more relaxed approach certainly sounds good on paper. With a trip to Western Canada that starts out against the struggling Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, he certainly has a chance to apply it to some challenges that aren’t terribly difficult. The real question will be whether or not he can live up to these words when the puck drops.