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Arizona Coyotes not panicking over Mike Smith's poor start to the season
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Arizona Coyotes not panicking over Mike Smith’s poor start to the season

In a sports town dominated by the success of its back-ups in 2014, yet another No. 2 in command has emerged.

Following in the footsteps of Arizona State football’s Mike Bercovici and the Arizona Cardinals’ Drew Stanton, Devan Dubnyk has performed admirably in his duties as the back-up goalie for the Arizona Coyotes.

However, there is one noticeable difference between Dubnyk’s situation and the others.

While Bercovici and Stanton took over for injured starters, Dubnyk is playing while Coyotes starting goaltender Mike Smith is healthy. Poor play by the starter, not injury, has propelled the back-up netminder into the spotlight.

To say Smith’s 2014-15 season is off to a rough start would be putting it mildly. He has allowed 16 goals in three games and sits next to last in the league in save percentage (.822) and third to last in goals against average (5.33).

Smith’s poor play to start the season, coupled with Dubnyk’s two solid performances, has opened the door for rumors of a potential goalie change. But reports of the 32-year-old’s demise may be a bit premature.

“I don’t think anyone should be overly panicked by Mike Smith right now,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. He added that several other top goaltenders around the league have started slowly.

It is for that reason Smith gets the nod Thursday night in Minnesota as the Coyotes wrap up their brief two-game road trip.

“Right now our goaltending is not where we need it to be, we can’t deny that, but if anybody suggests we’re in a panic mode and we don’t believe in Mike Smith – that’s just not right,” Maloney said.

The Coyotes sit at a record of 2-2-1, giving up 4.20 goals per game; second most in the entire league. For a team known for its strong defensive system and lack of offensive firepower, Arizona’s inability to keep the puck out of its own net is troubling.

“We probably put too much emphasis on our goaltending,” Maloney said. “Everybody knows you need great goaltending to have success in this league. Maybe we put a little too much emphasis on that.

“All that being said, Mike is a great talent.”

The season is young and the Coyotes have plenty of emotional and financial reasons to stick by Smith.

Not only did he almost singlehandedly lead the team further in the postseason than ever before in 2012, ultimately losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final, he is under contract for the next four seasons at a cap hit of $5.67 million.

The team is committed to him, for better or worse, for the long haul.

“If we’re sitting here in March and we’re at the very bottom of the league in our goaltending numbers, then yeah, we’ve got a problem,” Maloney said. “Right now, I think we take a deep breath, we work on his game, he gets better and gets us to where we need (to be).”

Smith is hard at work improving his game, focusing on nobody but himself.

“The good thing about (Smith) is he’s not looking at anybody else – he’s looking right at himself and knows he’s got to play better,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “He’s working hard at practice. He and (Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke) are putting a lot of time in on video.”

Smith hopes to rebound with a strong effort against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. In 11 career games against the Wild, Smith is 4-6-1 with a 2.13 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.