How Much Goodwill Has Mike Smith Earned With His Recent Play?

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers will be talking about Mike Smith’s assist in overtime on Tuesday night for quite a while. A play few netminders would have the wherewithal to make, Smith being the puck handler he is, the veteran realized that he had Connor McDavid with an open chunk of ice and simply sent the puck out to a spot the speedy center could pick it up. The result was an overtime breakaway goal that gave the Oilers a much-needed win, put the team in second place in the Pacific Division, and allowed McDavid to keep his point streak alive.

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Smith, who has been a target for a number of fans (including myself) over the past couple of months earned himself a ton of goodwill with the play, but not only that, he’s 4-0-1 in his last five starts with a .931Sv% and 2.19 GAA. He was the Oilers’ best player on Tuesday night and he’s been playing better during a stretch of games that are critical for this franchise.

The question some are asking now is, how much longer did he make his leash with that play and the previous four games?

A Hot Mike Smith Is Dangerous

Even when fans are harping on Mike Smith, most have contended that when he’s on his game, he’s extremely good. Smith is older and injury-prone, but he’s also a competitor who battles. When he’s feeling his oats and his game is going well, he’s a legit starter that has the ability to steal a game, as he did Tuesday evening. That’s the Smith most Oilers fans want and would openly welcome if he was consistent. He often isn’t.

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If he can stay productive and finish off the last 11 games on a heater, Edmonton has a chance to go on a deep run. A Smith who is clicking with a Mikko Koskinen who isn’t overworked can be a strong tandem.

Is This Reliable?

Appreciating the overtime play for what it was and acknowledging the recent run Smith has been on, there have still been warning signs. Even in the game on Tuesday, Smith seemed to tweak something at the end of the third period and there was some thought he might come out of the game as he tried to shake off what looked like an injury. Ultimately, he battled it out and that led to the play, but there’s always a concern that the next play could be his last play.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On multiple occasions this season, Smith has gone down to an injury. He was pegged to be the starter this season after a strong 2020-21 campaign but has played in only 22 games because he’s been on the shelf repeatedly. The concern for the Oilers is that riding a hot goalie until that goalie gets hurt is not a smart game plan. To be fair, that’s a real possibility with Smith.

There’s also the worry that this heater will turn into a cooler. It’s happened before and there’s no doubt it can happen again. Some fans will point out that even when Smith’s numbers are strong, he looks lost and sloppy. Whether he plays the puck too much or is out of position and has to make an incredibly lucky save, that luck won’t last forever. When it runs out, the Oilers could be in trouble.

Can One Big Play and A Few Good Games Wipe Away the Past?

Hyped and forgiving fans will see that finish on Tuesday and think the Mike Smith of old is back. They’ll look at his improved save percentage and believe him when he says he’s just starting to feel good in net and is finding his stride. Others will look at recent history and say this isn’t going to last. It’s hard to know which narrative to buy into.

Fans who have been critical of Smith’s entire tenure with the Oilers should be giving him props for Tuesday’s game. He deserves it and he’s the sole reason the Oilers earned two points in that game. It’s also fair to look at Smith based not only on that game but his entire season. There’s reason to be grateful, but also keep your fingers crossed if you’re an Oilers fan.

And the idea of keeping your fingers crossed?… Let’s just say, not a lot of recent Stanley Cup winners used that strategy to win it all.

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