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Mike Smith will start vs Buffalo Sabres

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
8 months ago
@Mike Smith will make his 16th start of the season tomorrow v. the Buffalo Sabres. How he will perform, however, is a mystery.
He hasn’t been able to find any consistency this season. Whether due to injuries, age, the weather, the opposition or what jersey he wore is irrelevant today.
All that matters now is: Can he play well?
He can’t change the previous 15 starts. What he did in 2021 is also irrelevant. He was excellent in 2021, but so far in the 2021-22 season he hasn’t been, and the organization needs to focus on what he is doing now. Some would suggest he’s had more than ample opportunity to find his game. That is fair.
When he returned from a 10-week hiatus I could understand him needing a few games to get comfortable. He made three starts between December 29th and January 5th. He was okay v. St. Louis and Toronto, but struggled in the middle game against New Jersey.
Then he was out another month.
He returned on February 8th. There was noticeable rust in his game v. Vegas and Chicago on the 8th and 9th of February. But in his next three starts he seemed to find his way, winning all three games and stopping 94 of 100 shots for a .940Sv%.
But in his next four games he allowed 14 goals on 86 shots (.837Sv%). In those four starts his Sv% was .429, 818, .931 and .857. After five starts, the final three being good, I don’t think rust could be an excuse for his play from February 20th to March 5th.
He wasn’t sharp in his last start against Montreal on March 5th, and he hasn’t played since. Tomorrow he will have another opportunity to reward the organization for its patience and support.
I can understand, to a point, why the organization has remained loyal to him. He was very good for them last season, and injuries have been a factor in his play. I recognize that, but the NHL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and Smith has struggled. He’s hasn’t looked technically sharp in many of his starts. Maybe the past week of practice has allowed him to refocus after he recovered from a bad bout of the flu.
We won’t know until tomorrow, but if Smith wants to get back in the regular rotation he has to perform well. Injuries, illness and lack of playing time are only excuses now.
All that matters is how he performs.
He’s had some great games this season and he’s struggled mightily in others. His Sv% on a game-by-game basis is all over the map.
Here is a recap of his Sv% by game.
October 13th: .947% and stopped 36 of 38.
October 16th: .957%,  stopping 43 of 45.
October 19th: .733% stopping 11 of 15. Left at 31 minute mark with an injury.
December 29th: .879%. Stopped 29 of 33.
December 31st. .854%. Stopped 35 of 41.
January 5th: .906% Allowed three goals on 32 shots.
February 8th: .857%, stopping 24 of 28.
February 9th:  .867% and stopped 26 of 30.
February 11th: .974%. Stopped 37 of 38.
February 15th: .938%. Stopped 30 of 32.
February 17th: .900. Stopped 27 of 30.
February 20th: .429%. Allowed four goals on seven shots and pulled after 13:38.
February 23rd. 818%, stopping 18 of 22.
February 27th. .931% and stopped 27 of 29.
March 5th: .857% and stopped 24 of 28 shots.
It hasn’t been a banner year for Smith, yet he has another chance for redemption. He can salvage his season if he plays well. The organization clearly still believes in him, and tomorrow he’ll have another chance to reward them for their loyalty and patience.
I have no idea if he will. Recent play suggests it is unlikely, but goalies are highly unpredictable. Maybe Smith is finally healthy and feeling good, or maybe his struggles continue. Uncertainty is not what an organization wants, or needs, in its goaltending at this time of the season, but right now that is what the Oilers have.
One good start won’t solve the mystery, but at least it would show Smith is trending in the right direction. Would another poor performance force Ken Holland to recall Stuart Skinner? It hasn’t to this date, but at some point you’d think it has to.
Smith won’t be focusing on anything other than having a good start. He needs it. The Oilers need it.
Will it happen?
The mystery will be answered tomorrow.

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