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Mike Smith slowly returning to the Smitty of old

The puck gets past Arizona Coyotes' Mike Smith (41) as Edmonton Oilers' Jordan Eberle, middle, gets ready to score as Oilers' Nail Yakupov, right, of Russia, looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Mike Smith, Coyotes Goaltender

Four years ago, Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith was the catalyst that led the team to the 2012 Pacific Division title and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

However, since returning from muscle core surgery he had in December, Smith has started to look like the Smitty of old. He returned to the lineup on March 12 against the Edmonton Oilers after missing 40 games and recorded his 29th career shutout while stopping 44 shots. Since his return, Smith is 3-1 with a .963 save percentage.

“I feel like I’m moving forward. I can put this in the past and come back from this injury,” Smith told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug and Wolf on Friday. “I feel like every game I have played, I have gotten a little bit better, a little bit stronger in my movements and by the end of the season I feel I can be 100 percent and be ready to move forward next season.”

During the 2011-12 season, Smith was 38-18-10 while recording eight shutouts and a .930 save percentage. However, over the last two seasons, he’s gone 41-63 with save percentages of .915 for the 2013-14 season and .904 last season.

Through the first 22 games this season, Smith was 10-9-1 with a .901 save percentage.

Smith was sidelined on Dec. 8 following a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis in which he stopped 18 of the 21 shots he faced. He said during this time he was trying to play through the injury, but it got to the point where something had to be done.

“I think we tried to manage it the best we could for quite a long time now,” Smith said.  “I have been able to work through it and not having it effect the way I play. I think it got to the point where it was effecting me mentally and physically. You get to the point where you don’t want to let your team down by the way you are playing. I have never used an injury as an excuse of why I played bad, but you get to the point where you feel you can’t perform at your best and at that point we needed to do something before I hurt myself more or hurt the team.”

While Smith was sidelined, Louis Domingue filled in and went 14-15-5 with a .912 save percentage while recording two shutouts.

In January Domingue went 6-3-2 with a 2.20 goals against average and a .925 save percentage while earning the NHL’s rookie of the month as the Coyotes kept pace for a playoff spot.

“I can’t take credit for what he’s done,” Smith said Domingue. “He got a taste of the NHL last season and I think that was big for his development. Obviously he’s had an opportunity here with me getting hurt and Lindy (Andres Lindback) going down with an injury and he’s taken the brunt of the load.  I think he’s got a real good opportunity to play a lot of games and he’s definitely taken advantage of that.”

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