Did you think that I would let all the excitement of the happiest Monday in Coyote history keep the countdown of the best players to wear a number for the Jets/Coyote franchise from continuing? Au contraire mon frere. Nothing can stop this juggernaut from finishing its chosen rounds.
Today we reach the number 41, another number in the forties without a lot of competition. All told, 4 players have worn the number in the storied history of this franchise, but one of them rises above the rest. Someone who has meant a great deal to the long term success of the Coyotes. He hasn't been here long, but his impact and contributions to this team can't be understated. The greatest 41 in Coyote history is, of course, the one, the only.........Viktor Tikhonov.
All right, that wasn't nice and I apologize. In all seriousness, the greatest number 41 in Coyote history is a no-brainer and one of the easier calls in this countdown so far. It's Mike Smith.
Smith has only been a Coyote for 2 seasons, but he's done what no other Coyote goaltender has ever done. He won a playoff series. Not just one, but two. In his first season in the desert, no less, after being sent down to the minors the year before in Tampa. Smitty has played in 101 games (out of a possible 130) in those 2 years. His first season in the Valley, Smith was a monster going 38-18-10 with a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage. Last year wasn't as good, but still respectable with a 15-12-5 record and 2.58 and .910 peripheral numbers while playing through multiple injuries. But it was the playoffs of that first season that easily cemented Smitty's spot as the greatest 41 in Coyote franchise history.
During that playoff run, Smith would go 9-7 with a 1.99 GAA and a .944 save percentage and 3 shutouts. The biggest and most memorable of those shutouts would have to be the amazing game 6 performance against the Blackhawks in Chicago. A must win for Chicago, they outplayed the Coyotes for the opening 40 minutes, but found themselves behind 1 to nothing because of a huge powerplay goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the superhuman goaltending of Mike Smith. An early third period goal by Gilbert Brule would crush the Hawks' spirit as Smith would turnaway all 39 shots he faced in bringing the Yotes to their first playoff series win since 1987 when they still played in Winnipeg. Smith would go on to win 4 more games against Nashville to get the Yotes into the Western Conference Finals. There, Smitty's magic would run out, as the Desert Dogs would only attain 1 win in losing to the eventual Cup champion Kings in 5 games (the less said about that series the better). All in all, the 2011/2012 season was an amazing campaign for Mike Smith and led him to finish 3rd in the Vezina trophy balloting.
The best part about Smith being the greatest 41 in Coyote history is that he's just getting started. He signed a brand new 6 year deal in the offseason to be the man between the pipes for the Coyotes for the forseeable future. With saves like these, it's easy to understand why.
Congratulations Mike Smith. The rare combination of size, agility and competitive fire that makes him a fantastic goalie is what makes him the greatest sweater number 41 in Coyote franchise history. Also, this moment right here guaranteed his spot on this countdown: