While it would be overstating to say I’ve got a lot of faith Mike Smith, at least the 37-year-old version of him, is the answer in goal for the Edmonton Oilers this season, Smith has at least shown he’s a bonafide NHL starter in a career spanning 571 regular season games over 13 seasons.
It's pre-season. It doesn't count. It's only one game. Sure, but two goals on eight shots, both high glove side, on Koskinen. Come on, man.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) September 20, 2019
So, while Smith struggled early last season with the Calgary Flames on the way to posting an .898 save-percentage, the second-lowest of his career, before regaining his form down the stretch and in the playoffs, I think he’s got a chance to provide the Oilers with better goaltending than they got in 2018-19. Yes, that’s setting the bar low.
If Smith can get back to a career mark that sits at .912 even with last season factored in, it’ll be a touch better than the .906 posted by Mikko Koskinen in 55 games last season (he is .904 for his career). While that margin is nothing to do handstands over, every little bit helps. And if Smith can push Koskinen, who was forced into too many games in the second half of the schedule, to be better along the way, it’s a start.
We’ll find out soon enough. After sitting out the beginning of training camp and pre-season because he was ill with an ailment that put him in bed for four days, that process started today when Smith, who had been limited to skating with coach Dustin Schwartz, finally got on the ice with his teammates in Kelowna.
WHAT HE SAID
Stopping pucks aside, the added dimension Smith brings to the Oilers is the ability to move the puck. That’s an aspect he and the defensive group haven’t been able to work on with him not being able to take part in practices or get in for a game. They’ll have to get on the same page with that during the coming week when they play three games, starting Tuesday against Arizona — coach Dave Tippett hinted we might see Smith then.
“We had a quick chat out there today,” Smith said. “The communication lines are open. That makes a huge difference when you feel comfortable and confident talking to guys about certain things. With a goaltender that can handle the puck, it’s a huge thing.
“So I think the quicker we can get on the same page with guys knowing where they’re supposed to be at certain times, that’ll come as I get in some games and guys get used to it, but it just makes life a lot easier for both D and goalie to communicate about it and, hopefully, help the guys out back there and get in the offensive zone quicker.”
Asked about backing up Koskinen, Smith said: “I’ve backed up enough in my career that I know how to react when that happens. By no means am I coming in here with that in mind. I’m focused on playing games, playing well and taking it one day at a time. All I can control right now is tomorrow and after that is just the process . . . I had a great summer, feel good about where me game’s at and want to do anything I can to help this team win.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
How much does Smith have left in the tank at this point in his career? How long will it take him to get back up to speed after missing the start of camp and not being able to settle in with new teammates? That’s tough to say. If the wheels have fallen off a guy, he doesn’t have a better second half than first half, as was the case with Smith in Cowtown.
Some people think Smith might not only push to split games with Koskinen, but that he could play the majority of games. In the past three seasons, Smith played 55 games twice before getting into 42 games last season. While it remains to be seen if Smith will take the crease from Koskinen or simply platoon in the paint, he’s coming in under a coach in Tippett who likely had plenty to do with him signing in Edmonton. Tippett coached Smith for six seasons in Arizona.
The way I see it, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s Koskinen or Smith as the lead guy in the paint or if they split things down the middle as a tandem with one pushing the other. The bottom line, as anybody who has been paying attention knows, is that the Oilers get better goaltending than they had last season. Have at it, men.