The Phoenix Coyotes (20-18-7 47 points) came home last night after a tough three game road swing. New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Mike Smith played against the Rangers and Red Wings. He was FANTASTIC. He was a wall when one was needed. He is the third defensemen when it comes to clearing the puck or hitting the outlet pass. You cannot dump the puck in against him and think it will wrap around the dasher boards. He goes and gets it and then makes a play with the puck. To say he is unshakeable since his return from injury is an understatement. Smitty has played like it was the playoffs.
Then you have the Columbus game with Jason Labarbera in net. Four goal allowed. Two he couldn’t do anything about. One was due to him getting out of position (the wrap around). The fourth goal was just a good hockey play by Columbus. That has been the season story with him. One goal per game he would like to have back. Unfortunately, it has been one goal every start. Granted, he had some starts without Rusty Klesla in front of him when Rusty and Smitty were injured. He gets the back end of the back to back games. Think of what the back end symbolizes. Those are the games Tip and Sean Burke look to him and say “Go get em.”
With that, you have the differences between the two goalies. Mike Smith is a starter and a star. Jason is a great guy and a back up. It is not a 1 and a 1A. It is a 1A and a solid B+. Jason has shown he can steal a game. Last season in Chicago comes to mind. Jason came into the season with a chance to achieve his career goal. Become a NHL starting goalie. He worked out hard in the offseason, lost weight, got a nutritionist to make it happen. Came into camp like a new man. His wife is doing all she can for the families of the Lokomotiv hockey team. They named their child Easton.
Looking at his numbers, his won-loss record is 3-7-1. His goals against is 2.82 with a 0.907 save percentage. As a comparison, since I am watching the Rangers vs. Maple Leafs, let’s look at Martin Biron, back up to King Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Marty is 8-2 with a 2.06 GAA. His save percentage is 0.922. And he has two assists. He is 34 years old with a salary cap hit of $875,000. Jason is 31 and receiving 1.25 million dollars.
To be fair, perhaps comparing Jason to the back up for the number one team in the east is misleading. Let’s look agains the number 12 team in the east. The Coyotes, as of this writing, are tied with Calgary in 12th in the West. Montreal Canadians, to the delight of everyone not currently speaking French, are holding down that spot in the east. Peter Budaj is 1-4 with a GAA of 2.81, save percentage 0.902. Cap Geek has him at 1.15 million dollars. Almost the same as Jason. No one in Montreal is clamoring to bench Carey Price for Budaj. They probably would like to revisit letting Jaroslav Halak leave and making Price the confirmed and undisputed starter.
Since the Coyotes are tied at 12th with Calgary, I wanted to look at the backup for Mikka Kiprusoff, but Henrik Karlsson is on IR. Not a fair comparison to look at their farm team starter. So back to the east I went. To the underperforming Buffalo Sabres. 23 year old Jhonas Enroth has a 8-7-3 recored, 2.46 GAA, 0.923 save percentage on a $675,000 salary. Better record, lover goals against, better save percentage, half the salary. What does all this mean? Here are my thoughts:
- The team needs to give Jason a cushion when he starts. He plays better with a lead. Then again, most goalies will.
- Jason needs to get some wins by stealing games. Curtis McElhinney has one career start and was impressive. GMDM won’t hesitate to make a chnage if he thinks it will help the team.
- The soft goals have to stop. Now.
- Work with Sean Burke on playing the puck and then getting back into the net.
- Play to your potential.