Mike Smith wasn’t able to answer the phone when Coyotes general manager John Chayka called him on Monday night.
“I wasn’t looking forward to the call back,” Smith said. “I think you think the worst when your general manager calls you on your bye week.”
Smith wasn’t being traded. Chayka called to let him know he had been selected to his first NHL All-Star Game at age 34, 11 seasons into his NHL career.
“At first, I was kind of shocked,” Smith said. “As a player, you want to be representing your team when as a team you’re doing well and you’re succeeding. This is obviously a different situation this year in Arizona.
“It is special. As you get older you start to realize that your playing time in the league is evaporating before your eyes.”
Smith’s selection was a mild surprise in NHL circles since he missed a month with a left leg injury and has only appeared in 24 games. Edmonton’s Cam Talbot has been a workhorse, appearing in 37 games. He is a major reason the Oilers are in playoff contention and his save percentage of .920 is slightly higher than Smith’s .918.
Calgary’s Chad Johnson has also played 24 games and was a major reason for the Flames’ turnaround after a slow start in front of erstwhile starter Brian Elliott (who is back in that role again). Johnson’s save percentage of .922 is tops among Pacific Division starters.
Both Johnson and Talbot are playing behind better possession teams, however. The Coyotes allow an average of 34 shots per game. Edmonton allows 30; Calgary allows 28.3. In one 10-game stretch from Nov. 27 to Dec. 10, Smith faced 42 or more shots five times, and at least 33 shots in eight of the 10.
“I actually don’t mind the shots so much,” Smith said. “We always talk about the quality scoring chances and some games have been higher than others.
“We went through a stretch there, a couple week period where we were giving up 40 or more and that kind of blew things out of proportion a little bit but I think as of late, our team has definitely grown as a group and the younger kids are really starting to make an impact on our team. It’s my job to be back there and kind of be a stabilizing force for the young group and I’ve just tried to have that mindset this year.”
Smith has turned in some marquee performances this season that have grabbed national attention, most notably his franchise record 58-save performance (on 60 shots) in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 3. His 58 saves were the most by any NHL goalie in nearly two years and they included breakaway stops on stars Brandon Saad and Alex Wennberg, and 10 overtime saves.
“He was phenomenal tonight,” then-Blue Jackets goalie and former Coyote Curtis McElhinney said after the game. “Unbelievable, especially in the overtime to keep his team alive was something else.”
Smith’s .926 save percentage since March 12, 2016 is the sixth-best among all NHL goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games. The 34-year-old Smith has played in the third-most games by a goalie in franchise history (281) and has the third-most shutouts (19). Smith’s 116 wins rank third on the all-time franchise list. He has an all-time record of 183-183-56 in 443 career NHL games with a 2.66 GAA, a .913 SP and 30 career shutouts with the Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 2017 NHL All-Star Game will be held at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan 29.
Coyotes All-Star Representatives
|1999||LW||Keith Tkachuk||1999||G||Nikolai Khabibulin|