For the Arizona Coyotes, a team with the worst record in the NHL, off-nights simply cannot occur. Plus, there’s the constant and clarion call to play a complete 60-minutes of hockey. No time for lapses or slips or failures.
Welcome to the world of Arizona goalie Mike Smith, who hit numerous roadblocks and bared the weight of an embarrassing 4-1 loss to Vancouver before 11,256 in Gila River Arena Wednesday night squarely on his shoulders.
After a stellar effort to guide the Coyotes to an overtime victory over San Jose in his last game, Smith was nearly the opposite against the Canucks. From the start, he seemed out of position and perhaps somewhere out of the arena. On Vancouver’s first goal, he was not ready for the play directly in front of him. After Oliver Ekman-Larsson gave the puck away to Bo Horvat behind the Coyotes’ net, Hovat’s centering pass hit Sven Baertschi, who quickly turned that mistake into his second goal of the season.
Smith Not Effective
Despite Christian Dvorak’s tip-in early in the second period that knotted the game, Smith allowed two goals within 17 seconds later in the period and the contest was quickly out of reach. After allowing four goals on 17 shots, Smith was pulled and later told The Hockey Writers that it was not the effort he needed to give his teammates.
“I was awful, and not even close,” he said quietly. “We did many good things in front of me, but this one falls on me. Just one of those nights and it’s my fault. I was sleeping on the first one and then it transitioned into more goals.”
After the Canucks jumped out to a three-goal lead less than 4-minutes into the second period, the Coyotes were quickly put on the defensive, a consequence of the game that seemed to truly upset coach Dave Tippett:
“By that time, we were chasing the game, and that’s something we don’t want to do,” he said. “I didn’t think this was a 4-1 game because I liked parts of our game. At the same time, execution has to be there. Ekman-Larsson and Connor Murphy (the defensive pair on the ice for the giveaway to Horvat) need to execute. We need to get players to make plays.”
To be fair, the Coyotes generated solid offense early. In the opening period, they out-shot Vancouver 16-11 and put pressure on Ryan Miller, the Canucks goalie. After they managed to tie the game on Dvorak’s goal, Smith allowed those two quick goals on the same shift, and the Coyotes sunk lower in the aggregate NHL standings.
“I thought we had momentum, but those two goals killed us,” Dvorak said afterwards. “We did some things right and I think you have to look at this game that way. We have a chance Friday to turn this around.”
A Chance To Rebound
The “Friday” reference is a home game against the much-improved Edmonton Oilers. With their victory over the Avs Wednesday night, the Oilers have 25 points and sit atop the Pacific Division. The game is also the first of a home-and-home, two-game set between the Coyotes and Oilers. The rematch is slated for Sunday afternoon at Rogers Place.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.