Rachel Halliwell The Hockey Writers
The Importance of Mike Smith
On June 17, 2017, Mike Smith was acquired by the Calgary Flames from the Arizona Coyotes for goaltender Chad Johnson, defense prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional third-round pick. At the time, many were skeptical about the deal wondering what they were getting in a ‘below-average’ goaltender from Arizona. However, Smith has proven himself this season with the Flames.
When the Flames ended up with Mike Smith this summer, there were many lamenting the "better" options they could have had. Hard to believe anyone is thinking that any more. What a year he is having. Phenomenal again today.
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 20, 2018
Most Valuable Goalie
As is true of any team, if you don’t have someone solid between the pipes you’re not going to get very far. Smith is the Flames’ most valuable player this season, putting the team in a great spot for the final stretch. With help from the talented roster, Smith has fit in well with the Flames. Team Canada General Manager Sean Burke spoke highly of him in a recent interview with Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun,
“To his credit he went out with an open mind, changed a few things in his game and here he is now, he’s probably (the Flames’) best player most nights.”
Statistically Stellar Smith
Smith has also been one of the best goaltenders in the league this season. The Flames have points in 11 straight games and are third in the Pacific Division. He has not allowed more than 2 goals in a game since Jan. 4 and has not conceded more than 3 since Dec. 4. He is tied with Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for the league’s 5th-best save percentage at .926.
Smith started 37 of the team’s first 44 games this season which is a heavy workload for a starting goalie and could prove to be too much come playoff time. When David Rittich was recalled from AHL Stockton in November (after Eddie Lack was put on waivers and traded), there was a sigh of relief from the Flames’ starter since the team can now trust their number two, something they’ve struggled with recently.
Rittich is 4-1-2 with a .929 save percentage in six NHL starts this season and teammate Andrew Mangiapane spoke about him in a recent interview with Scott Cruickshank of the AthleticNHL:
“His English has gotten better and you can see his true self,” said Mangiapane. “You can see his personality. Now he just talks to everybody, right? He’s chirping everybody. He’s comfortable. That shows on the ice as well.” (From ‘‘Completely crazy’ backup goalie David Rittich relishing ride with Flames’, The AthleticNHL – 01/26/18.)
The emergence of the 25-year-old backup has helped ease Smith’s workload which will be helpful down the stretch to ensure that the number one is rested and ready for a long playoff run.
Smith is having his best season since his career year in 2011-12 with the Phoenix Coyotes, when he boasted 38 wins, a 2.21 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. Already at 20 wins, Smith is on pace to put up similar numbers with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage this season.
The Flames have a solid defense group, led by captain Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, as well as an offensively talented forward group starring Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. However, the solid play of their goaltender has elevated the Flames to a team that can and will contend come playoff time, which is exactly what they were looking for when they acquired Smith over seven months ago.
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