The Phoenix Coyotes let Ilya Bryzgalov go last summer and brought in Mike Smith to take his place. So far, so good.
Smith stopped all 31 shots he faced for his 12th NHL shutout, and the Coyotes ended a six-game losing streak in San Jose with a 3-0 victory on Saturday night.
Smith, who spent part of last season in the minors and finished as Dwayne Roloson's backup in Tampa Bay, is 6-0-1 in his last seven games. The shutout was his first since May 21.
Five weeks into the season, Smith has been every bit as good as Bryzgalov was during the past couple of years.
"I know Smith from Dallas," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who coached the Stars while Smith was there. "He has always been a good goaltender. I think it is a situation where the goaltender has to earn the trust of the players in front of him and they have to have the trust of their goaltender. Mike has come in and really stabilized that position. Our players have really fed off of how he has played."
Radim Vrbata and Boyd Gordon scored in the first period for the Coyotes, who are 8-4-3 overall and 4-1-1 away from Jobing.com Arena. Patrick O'Sullivan added an insurance goal with 7:55 left in regulation as the Coyotes won the opener of a six-game road trip and atoned for a 6-3 loss at HP Pavilion on opening night, a game in which they surrendered 52 shots.
"We remembered the first game of the season," Vrbata said. "We definitely talked about it. We wanted to make a better effort and hopefully get a better result.”
Tippett remembered it too.
"We wanted to redeem ourselves from the first game of the season," he said. "We didn't think we played very well in that game, so we came out and had a very good effort from our goalie outward.”
The Sharks are still 8-2-1 in their last 11 games, but coach Todd McLellan wasn't happy with any part of his team's effort.
"I thought we were lethargic between the ears," he said. "Some of the things that we talked about even in the first five minutes of the game. We were in the wrong spots, which tells me that we weren't mentally ready to play tonight, and when you are not there mentally the physical part of the game doesn't follow."
Vrbata put Phoenix ahead 1-0 with 5:39 left in the first period when he took the carom of Ray Whitney's miss off the lively end boards and whipped it past Thomas Greiss for his sixth of the season. Gordon made it 2-0 with 42 seconds left in the period by putting the puck under Greiss' right pad.
The early deficit wasn't good news for the Sharks: Since Dave Tippett took over as coach in 2009, the Coyotes are 73-8-12 when they score first.
Sure enough, the Sharks had a tough time getting through the neutral zone, and most of the shots they did get were from the perimeter or didn't get through.
"We played right into their hand," McLellan said. "They only needed one goal, obviously, but they got the two and then they clogged up the middle and their goalie played well after that.”
Smith got plenty of help from his defense, which killed four penalties and blocked 13 shots.
"Our (defense) was fantastic tonight," Smith said. "They did a good job clearing and letting me see the pucks. You know, we deserved to win that game. When we play like that, we are going to win lots of games."
O'Sullivan got his second of the season when he slammed Kyle Chipchura's cross-crease pass into a wide-open net.
San Jose has never been a pleasant stopover for the Coyotes, so the victory was something to savor.
"This is my fourth year with Phoenix and there are not too many times that we have won, so it is nice to get a win here," Vrbata said. "Most importantly, it shows that if we make that kind of effort here, we can win more often.”
Greiss made 20 saves, but McLellan said the loss was a team effort.
"He could have gotten a shutout and we'd still have gotten only one point," he said.
Material from team media was used in this report