No team official or coach will admit, but the Arizona Coyotes are in the middle of a goalie shuffle.
No, this is what the popular notion might call, “a controversy,” because those in command of the hockey operation will clearly deny such a condition exists. Yet, the way Mike Smith has under-performed and the rise of Devan Dubnyk would suggest coach Dave Tippett might adjust his thinking.
Each time Smith recovers from a miserable outing, Tippett pulls Smith’s $34 million contract out of the vault and seems to wonder why the Coyotes paid so much for one meaningful season. That was three years ago when Smith helped vault the Coyotes into the Western Conference finals and within six wins of the Stanley Cup.
Ever since then, the native of Kingston, Ont. has let his teammates, fans and the new ownership of IceArizona down with several sub-par performances. His sloppy goal-tending tends to get the Coyotes behind early. For a team with marginal scoring and a suspect defense, that’s not a good formula for winning.
After blowing a three-goal lead to Colorado last Tuesday and eventually losing in overtime, Smith now sports a 4-11-2 record and a 3.26 goals against average. For that reason, Tippett again pulled the plug on Smith and started Dubnyk Saturday at home against Calgary.
While the result was not significantly better than what Smith has given the Coyotes this season, Dubnyk did not fully embarrass himself in a 3-0 loss to the Flames before 13,530 in Gila River Arena.
In stopping 26 of 29 shots, Dubnyk did his part to keep the close-checking, opportunistic Flames at bay.
“We went with (Dubnyk) because he’s playing well and we’re trying to find a player who will give us an opportunity to win every night,” Tippett said afterward. “Right now, this is not about the goalie situation. It’s about us not getting the job done in the offensive zone.”
Coyotes not generating scoring chances
Had Smith been in net against the Flames, the result would likely be similar. That is, Dubnyk was not the reason the Coyotes have only won once in their last six games. Going back to the first period of Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Avs, the Coyotes have not scored in their last 109:53 and now face a two-game road trip to Edmonton and Calgary.
With the lack of scoring comes a heightened sense of frustration.
“We know this is a game of up and down,” said forward Brandon McMillan, who topped the Coyotes with five shots on net. “These don’t last that long. I think right now we need to get some ugly goals and get the offense going.”
If the Coyotes are having a difficult time scoring, Tippett suggested it’s the nature of their play and not a goalie breakdown or team drought.
“To win in this league, you have to play a fast game,” he said. “Our pace (against Calgary) was not good enough. We have to have players who will generate chances and play better in the offense end. We’re placing too much of a defensive game and when that happens, your chances of winning are not very good.”
Coming into the Calgary game, the Coyotes goalie duo of Smith and Dubnyk was 25th in the NHL with a combined 2.98 goals-against. Only Colorado, Buffalo, Edmonton, Dallas and Columbus had higher team goals-against.
With lack of scoring comes a deeper slip into the Western Conference abyss.
With 24 games played, the Coyotes are 13th among 14, Western Conference teams. Only Edmonton has a worst record. That’s about one-quarter of the season, and if the Coyotes do not find ways to solve their goal-tending dilemma and generate wins, this season will slip away in a hurry.
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.