Phoenix Coyotes Key Players So Far This Season: Mike Smith

Alan BlackAnalyst IIINovember 27, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17:  Goalie Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes plays during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on November 17, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won 2-1.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Author's Note: This is part of a four-part series examining key players on the surprising Phoenix Coyotes squad so far this season. These four players are the ones who have had the greatest impact on the team's success so far this season, helping the Coyotes to overcome numerous off-ice distractions. Each of these players is on this list for different reasons, as each has contributed a unique attribute to the team's overall success.

The other three articles in the series can be found here (Radim Vrbata), here (Shane Doan) and here (Keith Yandle).

Nobody would blame the players on the Phoenix Coyotes if they performed poorly this season. After all, their club doesn't have any owners (the NHL controls the team right now), and it appears as if they are unwanted with few parties interested in purchasing the team.

The city of Glendale, where the Coyotes are located, is embroiled in a legal battle that further clouds the future of the franchise. Fan support has never been all that great. 

The Coyotes are essentially the NHL's neglected stepchild. Being successful in these conditions is quite difficult. After all, if nobody else believes in the Coyotes, why should they believe in themselves?

Yet despite all of the off-ice hardships facing the Phoenix Coyotes, the team is currently tied for first in the Pacific Division despite playing one fewer game so far than the other teams tied for first. 

One of the major reasons for the Coyotes' unlikely success is the play of goalie Mike Smith.

When Ilya Bryzgalov left to join the Flyers, the Coyotes were left without a reliable starting goalie. They decided to take a chance on Smith, Tampa Bay's backup goalie.

That decision has looked like a stroke of genius so far this season. Smith has posted a 2.19 goals against average, as well as a .933 save percentage, good enough for seventh in the NHL.

Even though the 'Yotes are in the bottom half of the league in goal scoring, they are in the top half in goals against average. Smith is the main reason for that, although backup Jason LaBarbera has also performed ably in his starts.

Smith knew that the odds in Phoenix were stacked against the team when he went there in the offseason, but he signed with the Coyotes anyway, hoping to finally have a shot at being the starter. The move has worked out well for both Phoenix and Smith.

Mike Smith has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the Phoenix Coyotes this season, and that has played a major role in the team's success so far.