GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 23: Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes walks out to the ice before the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Jobing.com Arena on November 23, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The series between the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks could very likely come down to which team gets better goaltending. Based on the 2011-2012 regular season, the Desert Dogs hold the clear advantage going into the playoffs. Unless Mike Smith turns into a 2011 playoffs version of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Chicago will likely lose the goalie match-up. However, as has been shown in the past, the playoffs can sometimes produce surprising results. After all, an NHL team rode Michael Leighton to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.
Let's take a look at the four goalies who make up the goalie tandems in the series.
|2011 - Mike Smith||67||3903||38||18||144||2.21||2066||1922||.930||8|
Smith has a career regular season in his first full season as a starting goaltender in the NHL. With his play, especially late in the season, there has even been Vezina trophy talk nationally. He's big, athletic, and plays the role of a third defensemen for the Yotes.
With apologies to Martin Brodeur, Smith may be the best puck handling goalie in the NHL. His stick skills make life easier for his defensemen by retrieving the puck himself. This means less physical punishment on the Coyotes' blueliners and allows for quicker breakouts at times. He might remind some of Henrik Lundquist in terms of how he stays fairly deep in his own net much of the time. This is a bit of a disadvantage on breakaways when he's sometimes not aggressive enough, but in most situations its extremely helpful and gives him an extra split second to react to pucks.
The one question mark for Smith at this point is his lack of playoff experience. He played fairly well in his brief appearance for Tampa Bay last postseason, but that was an extremely small sample size.
|2011 - Jason LaBarbera||19||1015||3||9||43||2.54||486||443||.912||0|
The only way La Barbera likely sees time in this series is in mop up duty or if Mike Smith gets hurt. Barbs has to put up good numbers for a backup ever since his arrival in Phoenix. However, he is the backup for a reason. He's not as athletic or as good a puck handler as Smith. He's fine when he stationary and square to shooters, but when he's forced to move he's vulnerable.
|2011 - Corey Crawford||57||3218||30||17||146||2.72||1507||1361||.903||0|
Crawford is the club's starting goaltender, but as his numbers show he's not exactly played like one this season. For the second year in a row he played in 57 regular season games. However, his save percentage went from .917 to .903. In Crawford's defense, the lack of defensive depth on the squad makes his job tougher than it could be on other squads. Similar to the Coyotes' netminders, Crawford is a big guy who takes up a lot of the net. What he's not is a smooth looking goalie. His movements aren't always fluid and his rebound control is questionable at times.
If the Coyotes can force him to move back and forth a lot and draw him out of his net they will likely be able to score often. Even more important may be getting to Crawford early in the series. He has appeared to have confidence issues this season. Goalies with those type of issues tend to be more prone to not using proper techniques which then leads to even worse play.
|2011 - Ray Emery||34||1774||15||9||83||2.81||834||751||.900||0|
Between his troubles during his time with the Senators and hip problems the fact that Razor is on an NHL roster right now is impressive feat. His story is the kind they make movies about. Coming in to play the hero who saves the day in a playoff series is a role that would likely fit the man. He signed a one year contract extension just prior to the playoffs, so he should feel secure knowing he'll be back on an NHL payroll next season.
After playing well in late February and early March, he has struggled in his more recent starts when he could have possibly wrested the starting job from Crawford. If you see Razor on the ice in this series it likely means things aren't going well for the Hawks. However, it doesn't mean the series is over either. Emery has played well in stretches in his career and as mentioned above as recent as a month ago. In addition, he's older and wiser than Crawford and therefore much less likely to get mired in self doubt.