Doan: Smith key to Coyotes’ success
The Phoenix Coyotes were the NHL’s hottest team in the month of February, posting an 11-0-1 mark, and claimed first place in the Pacific Division with 75 points.
Despite dropping their first contest in March, a 4-2 home loss to the Calgary Flames, captain Shane Doan truly believes this year’s Coyotes squad is better than last year’s group.
“I think the biggest thing is that we’ve got a little bit more depth in every area,” Doan told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug and Wolf Friday.
“Upfront I think with Vrbata and Whitney kind of being able to play together for two years in a row, the chemistry that they’ve developed is as good as anybody in the West and that first line has really given us a little bit more offense.”
The Coyotes first line of Vrbata-Whitney-Hanzal has been one of the league’s most productive units and has given the team’s overall offense a tremendous boost.
However, there is one player who quite possibly outshined them all and that’s netminder Mike Smith, who has been nothing short of brilliant.
“A big part of it was Smitty,” Doan said it regards to the Coyotes’ February hot streak. “Smitty was unbelievable. He won Player of the Month for the whole league and he was dominating.”
Smith was 11-0 in February, with a pristine 1.42 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. For the season, his 29 wins are tied for 5th in the league.
Doan emphasized the importance of the Coyotes tenacity, being able to come from behind in games and notch timely goals when necessary. Still, the Coyotes’ success wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for their goaltender’s splendid play.
“Smitty was definitely the common denominator in the whole thing,” Doan stated. “He’s such an athlete and he really takes advantage of that, in the fact that he can really do so much for your team and help you in so many ways.”
The Coyotes traded their starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia this offseason but haven’t missed a beat. In fact, as Bryzgalov has struggled mightily adjusting to life as the Flyers’ starting goaltender, Smith has flourished in his new surroundings.
Doan said creating a rapport with a new goaltender isn’t nearly as difficult as it would be for line mates to feel comfortable with one another.
“I think as a goalie, it’s actually easier to build the chemistry in the fact that they are kind of on their own,” Doan explained. “With a goalie, you stop it or you can’t but at the same time, you get more and more use to the way that he [Smith] plays, whether he wants to take the shooter on or wants to take the back door pass and Smitty’s pretty much a defenseman back there.”
Smith has a knack for leaving the goal often and playing the body behind the net — an unusual sight for a goalie not named Martin Brodeur.
While Doan claims he and his teammates, “most the time have a heart attack every time he leaves the net,” you can’t argue with the results.