Former Coyote Mike Smith enjoying playoff push with Calgary Flames
Mike Smith was sidelined from Feb. 11 to March 11 with a lower-body injury. In that span, the Calgary Flames went 5-6-2, allowing 42 goals (the seventh worst mark in the NHL).
When Smith left the lineup, Calgary was in third place in the Pacific Division. As the Flames goalie drove to the airport on Saturday afternoon for the team’s two-game trip to Vegas and Arizona, the Flames were four points off the playoff pace.
Smith had just allowed six goals on 20 shots in a 7-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday, so when asked by phone how he felt, he responded with his customary wit.
“After last night, not so good,” he said. “Health-wise, I’m doing pretty well. Obviously, I missed a month of the season and you don’t feel perfect when you come back but you get more comfortable as time goes on. For an old guy, the body is still reacting pretty well.”
Despite the subpar performance against the Sharks, Smith entered Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights tied for ninth in the NHL in save percentage (.919) among goalies who have played at least 35 games.
Forward Johnny Gaudreau has had a wondrous season with 23 goals and 81 points. Sean Monahan has 30 goals, but when talk turns to Calgary’s MVP this season, Smith is near — if not at — the top of the list. No player has been more important to the Flames’ fortunes.
“Real important,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. “He’s been important all year. It was a big blow when we lost him for a month.”
Had Smith missed a month, the narrative around the Flames might be different, but Smith acknowledged that the Flames aren’t where they thought they’d be, much less outsiders who projected them as a playoff team.
“The season is not over so there is still time left, but we all think we should be further up in the standings and in a playoff spot and we’re not so there’s disappointment to this point,” he said. “I think we have underachieved to a certain extent this year.
“We’ve had winning streaks where we felt everything was clicking and going well but we’ve gone the other way where it seemed like nothing has gone our way. The consistency part has been our Achilles heel this year.”
By and large, Smith has been a rock for Calgary.
“You’d always like to be better,” he said. “As you get older, you strive for perfection and you know how hard I can be on myself. There’s always a learning curve that goes along with any change, even at this point in your career, but I think for the most part I’ve played fairly consistent, which has always been the goal.”
Smith missed his team’s first meeting with the Coyotes in Glendale on Feb. 22 due to the injury. He played Sunday in Vegas, raising the possibility that he would not take the ice on Monday at Gila River Arena, the only other meeting between the teams this season in Arizona.
“We’ll see what happens there,” he said. “Points right now for us are huge and I had a month off so it wouldn’t be out of the question to play both but that’s not for me to decide.”
The Coyotes traded Smith to Calgary on June 17 for the rights to defensive prospect Brandon Hickey and a 2018 third-round pick that becomes a second-round pick if the Flames make the playoffs.
Smith admitted to mixed emotions at the time of the trade, but he felt it was time for a change.
“I didn’t ask out by any means but when you get asked for your trade list you start weighing options,” he said. “I came to a team that needed a goalie and had the opportunity to win. That in itself was exciting. Playing meaningful games at this time of year is what you want to do, especially as your career gets to the latter end. You want a chance to play in the playoffs again.
“It’s been fun to play in a Canadian market to be honest with you. They are so passionate about the game, so knowledgeable and so respectful of you as a player and a person away from the rink. It makes it that much more fun to go to the rink and prepare for every game.”
Smith said he, his wife Brigitte, and their four kids (ages 6, 5, 3 and 1) have settled into life in Calgary.
“The first few weeks were a bit of a change when the snow flew,” he said. “My boys had skied here and there with my wife and her family so they had seen snow before but not on a consistent basis. With this year being one of the record snowfalls in 40 years in Calgary, it’s been unique, but you find fun things to do anywhere you play.
“One thing about living in Arizona, you don’t get to skate on outdoor rinks and go tobogganing and enjoy the Canadian lifestyle. It’s kind of the way my wife and I grew up so it’s fun to share that with my kids and kind of ground them a little more and show them where we came from and what we did as kids.”
Even so, Smith said coming back to Arizona still feels special.
“When you spend six years of your career in one place it’s hard not to have emotion and attachment to that city,” he said. “Arizona will always hold a special place in my heart because of the time I spent there and the friends I met.
“My kids were pretty well all born in Arizona. They still ask, ‘When are we going back to Arizona?’ They have fond memories and friends that are there.
“The run we had the first year I got there was special, probably one of the higher points of my career, getting to the conference finals. It’s the place that put me on the map for being a starting goalie in this league. For that, I’ll always be grateful.”
Flames at Coyotes
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station
Records: Flames — 35-28-10. Coyotes — 23-37-11.
Season series: Flames lead 2-0
Injury report: Flames — Matthew Tkachuk (upper body) is day-to-day but did not travel with the team for its games at Vegas and Arizona. F Marek Hrivik (upper body) is on injured reserve. Coyotes — C Laurent Dauphin (lower body) is out indefinitely.
Wild scouting report: The Flames lost at Vegas on Sunday. They are six points behind the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division and four points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second Western Conference wild card spot. … Forward Johnny Gaudreau has eight points (three goals, five assists) in his past seven games. Gaudreau leads the Flames with 58 assists and 81 points. … Center Sean Monahan leads the team with 30 goals.