For the longest time, Mike Smith was the starting goalie of the Arizona Coyotes. He was our starter when we were at our worst and he was our starter at our best. From the 2011-12 season until last March, he was our guy- for better or worse.
And now, for the first time in the regular season, Arizona will visit its old netminder in his new home. But the reunion may not be as sweet as everyone wanted.
The divorce was not as amicable as many would have liked, with Smith stating after being traded he was “excited to have a good defense in front of him”.
And while Smith has a .921 save percentage, his highest so far since the 2011-12 campaign, the team he left has had a carousel of inconsistent goaltending. The Coyotes projected tandem for the season is either injured or traded, and the current duo is a backup and AHL starter.
The bottom line is that Arizona hasn’t gotten the goaltending, and Calgary, so far has. But this game, after Smith’s offseason comments, may come with some extra heft and if those comments stung in any way, the Coyotes may come out with a flame under their skates.
View From Calgary
Coming into their first of five games against the Coyotes, the Flames stand on the edge of the playoff picture, tied for the last of 8 spots at the quarter mark of the season.
In their last affair, Calgary fell to Toronto with the lone goal coming from former Coyotes’ defenseman Michael Stone. Mike Smith stopped 26 of 29 shots on the night.
Longview, the Flames have dropped 3 of the last 4. Calgary, stats-wise, features league average goaltending, shooting percentage and is in the middle of the league for overall points earned. Their power play is 10th in the league, but for a team, Smith felt had a better defense, their penalty kill is 30th of 31.
View From Arizona
Arizona, after an absolutely horrendous start, is 4-2-1 over their last 7. In two of those three losses, they were competitive with their opponents where they were not at earlier stretches in the season.
The offense had a variety of chances, the defense hold pat for large swaths of the game and the goaltending seemed improved, particularly after Antti Raanta got healthy.
But now Raanta is hurt, again, and Arizona has been forced to run with Scott Wedgewood. Wedgewood hasn’t been bad, and at times even looked brilliant, but it remains to be seen if he can play multiple games in a row and give Arizona at minimum league-average goaltending.
Outside of net, the contributions seem to be getting more diverse as Clayton Keller has cooled off from his initial Calder sprint and Coyotes contributions are springing out from other talents like Christian Fischer, Derek Stepan, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
In call-up news, former first-rounder Dylan Strome was recalled from Tucson earlier in the week after destroying AHL competition to the tune of 26 points over 15 games. Strome, who was drafted a center, is getting looks at wing now to better ease him into NHL play, after concerns about his speed and footwork continue to surround his development.
- Will an Arizona goaltender show up to the party?
The Coyotes biggest problem, beyond an early void of secondary scoring and poor defense, was goaltending. It led to Louis Domingue’s departure and a slew of AHL call-ups. If Arizona’s goaltending shows up to play, they will compete with anyone, but if it doesn’t then it could be a long night for Coyotes fans.
- Can Calgary bounce back after a rough time against Toronto?-
The Maple Leafs are a lot like the Coyotes; they’re fast, young and talented up front with a blue line that is very hot/cold depending on the night. The difference may be that, when the chemistry shows, the Coyotes defense may be better than Toronto’s and that may not bode well for Calgary given they could only muster one against the Leafs. Given the broad similarities, can Calgary make the adjustments?
- How bitter are the Coyotes?-
Mike Smith said some things that upset a lot of fans when he left and his inconsistent play on his own for the Coyotes over the years didn’t wear well with the comments. If the comments stung the players as much as the fans, look for Arizona to come out physical in the Flames’ paint and potentially mix it up in the Calgary end (paging Dr. Rinaldo).
Players to Watch
- Arizona F Clayton Keller: Keller has 21 points so far, but only 3 of those have come in the last 5 in the form of assists. Keller hasn’t gotten many looks against Western Conference defenses, and this one will be a real test to see how his play pairs with the typically heavier western backend. If he lights it up, that will be good news for Arizona’s scoring forecasts in years to come.
- Calgary F Matthew Tkachuk: Tkachuk’s father was a Coyotes in the early days and captained the team until his departure. Now his son, who was born in Scottsdale, is in the league and on pace for another 40+ point campaign in only his second professional season. Look for Tkachuk to play physical in the offensive zone, be a hassle for Coyotes backcheckers and a penalty-drawing menace.
Arizona: D Jakob Chychrun (Week-to-week, knee), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (Day-to-day, upper body), G Antti Raanta (Day-to-day, upper body)
Calgary: F Jaromir Jagr (Questionable, upper body), F Kris Versteeg (Day-to-day, upper body)
The Coyotes at Flames from Calgary can be viewed on Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports Go and NHL.tv at 7 pm Arizona or over the radio with ‘Heeter and Biz’ on 98.7FM.