Oilers Desperately Need Smith to Crack Down on Deflating Goals

To say Mike Smith’s three years with the Edmonton Oilers have been turbulent would be a major understatement. At times, the 40-year-old has games that make it seem as though the game has passed him, while at other times, he is capable of stretches that make him appear to be the goaltender he was during his prime with the Arizona Coyotes.

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Given his inconsistencies since arriving in Edmonton, many fans have had trouble having much faith in him come the playoffs. This year was no different, as it appeared Mikko Koskinen would be the go-to guy for coach Jay Woodcroft before a late season surge from Smith changed that entirely. Despite how well he finished the season, however, many were still quite concerned about this team’s goaltending, and through their first eight games of the playoffs, we have at times been reminded why.

Smith Prone to Inopportune Blunders

One thing that makes a starting goaltender at the NHL level – especially one of the top tier – so special is that they were able to provide consistency night in and night out. Very rarely do they allow soft goals, and oftentimes, they can make numerous ten bell saves in an evening to help bail their team out and walk away with a win.

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Game 1 between the Oilers and the Calgary Flames was a perfect example of an elite goaltender (Jacob Markstrom) having an off night. The third, fourth and fifth goals he allowed were ones he normally makes saves on, but he didn’t have the answer on Wednesday night. The occurrence with him doing that is so rare that everyone was quite shocked at how poorly he played. The same cannot be said for what happened at the other end of the ice with Smith.

Less than 30 seconds into the game, Elias Lindholm beat Smith on a shot from just inside the top of the circles. Not only was it his first shot of the game, but it was one that an NHL goaltender should be stopping, regardless of whether or not it came off the stick of a 42-goal scorer. In his defense, he had little to no chance on the Flames’ following goal roughly 20 seconds later, but it was quite clear that the team in front of him was rattled after the opening marker he had allowed in a very hostile building.

Things got even worse minutes later, as Brett Ritchie was able to grab the puck on an ugly giveaway by Evander Kane, as Ritchie managed to slip one between the arm and chest of Smith. While there was plenty that went wrong on that particular play, it was once again a very stoppable shot and one which the Oilers desperately needed at that point and time.

Smith Has Had Several Playoff Gaffes This Year

As mentioned with Markstrom, sometimes even elite netminders have off nights. The difference, however, is that for the Flames’ goaltender, it was his first questionable performance of the postseason. That isn’t the case for Smith, whose baffling decision to try and play the puck up the middle of the ice late in a tie game versus the Los Angeles Kings resulted in the Oilers losing the opening game of their first-round series.

To Smith’s credit, he battled back after that and played several games in a row that proved that, at times, he is still a very capable NHL netminder. However, he was victimized several times in a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 5, allowing two very questionable goals, and the argument could be made that he should have stopped three of them.

Bounce Back Performance Needed for Crucial Game 2

Speaking with reporters on Thursday afternoon, Woodcroft made it clear that Smith would be back in between the pipes for Game 2. It is the right decision to make, given that Koskinen wasn’t much better in relief on Wednesday night.

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

While many will be quite worried given his most recent performance, Smith is known for having great mental toughness, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he goes out and has himself a great game. That said, as nice as his bounce-back performances have been, it would be much more ideal if he was able to avoid his stinker games altogether. At this point of the year, teams can’t afford to make mistakes, and he has allowed far too many questionable goals through eight playoff games, regardless of how well his personal stats may make it appear he has played.

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