Mike Smith keeps fighting to give Coyotes a chance

Dec 27, 2016, 11:12 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2016, 11:18 am
Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) is restrained by linesman Darren Gibbs as he tries to go aft...

Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) is restrained by linesman Darren Gibbs as he tries to go after Dallas Stars' Radek Faksa (12) after a play in front of the net during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mike Smith is in a fighting mood.

The Coyotes have lost five straight games, they have scored just 27 goals in their last 15 games and opponents have been taking liberties with Arizona’s goalie all season.

So when Dallas forward Radek Faksa got a good whack on him after Smith had gloved a puck in the second period, Smith was ready to rumble. He challenged Faska to a fight that fortunately never materialized for the Coyotes. In the ensuing scrum, he and Faksa both drew double-minor penalties while Arizona’s Lawson Crouse and Dallas’s Curtis McKenzie did the fist work for dueling five-minute fighting majors.

“I’m an emotional guy. I like to battle. I enjoy that part of the game,” Smith said. “It was probably a combination of that play and our [losing streak] that caused it, but the game was not out of reach by any means when that happened so it wasn’t like I thought we were going to lose the game. Sometimes my emotions get the better of me.”

The Coyotes’ losing streak has been just as frustrating for Smith as it has been for anyone, but there has been a noticeable shift in his approach to the team’s struggles this season. No matter how dire the situation, he has consistently turned the lens back on himself. No matter how hard it is to play with such a slim margin for error — the Coyotes are averaging 2.11 goals per game — Smith has accepted the challenge.

“I don’t really think about like that; like I’m playing with a small margin for error,” he said. “I’ve said it all season long that I’m just worrying about things I can control. The last thing I need to do is worry about us scoring goals because my job is to stop goals form going in.”

If the Coyotes were to vote on a team MVP nearly halfway through their season, Smith would win in a landslide. He has somehow remained among the league leaders in save percentage despite playing behind a team that allows more shots than any other in the NHL, and a team that possesses the puck less than any other.

All the same, Smith had slipped a bit of late going four straight games with a save percentage under .900.

“It’s not at the level he was a couple weeks ago,” coach Dave Tippett said. “A couple weeks ago he was all-world. I think before the break there was some mental fatigue there, but tonight, he came out and he was very engaged.”

The Coyotes hope that they will be able to relive some pressure on Smith by finding the back of the net more over the second half of the season as their young players progress. Tuesday’s game was a good step in that direction, but for the time being, there doesn’t appear to be any relief on the horizon for Smith

“It’s part of where we are as a team,” Tippett said. “When you’re not scoring you’ve got to try to keep everything you can out of the net.”

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