Anyone who follows hockey saw something special Saturday when Mike Smith became the 11th goalie ever to be credited with an NHL goal. Few things are as exciting or as rare in hockey as when a goalie takes a shot at the open net, but I've got to say, I'm not surprised Smith scored a goal. I'm surprised it took him this long.
I coached Smith in Tampa Bay and I saw up close how good he is with the puck. He probably shoots the puck as hard as two-thirds of his team and he just handles it great. Now Smith has dialed his puck handling back of late. When he first came into the NHL he kind of over-handled the puck, but he could handle it so well that it makes him very dangerous when he has his opportunities.
When you play Mike Smith, you talk about that before the game. You talk about his puckhandling ability and how he can pass the puck so you're not lazy on a change. Smith is a guy that can accurately throw the puck from his net up to the far blue line, and if he's facing a lazy team on a bad change he'll create a breakaway on that pass. Some goalies have a great glove hand; he's a great puckhandler with great shooting ability. That's one of his weapons.
What's worse is when a goaltender scores a goal, there's usually a player on the team that hasn't scored one himself, like a stay-at-home defenseman who has no goals and three assists in a season. When that happens the goalie just gives it to you if he has more goals than you. That's a lot of cannon fodder in the dressing room.
RISE OF THE PHOENIX
Smith isn't the only thing noteworthy in the desert right now. The Coyotes are a team that if you're looking at playing them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it scares you. We've seen what Smith can do in the playoffs. He single-handedly wins rounds. He's capable of being that good, as we saw in 2012. Now, though, they've added some good offensive players who can put the puck in the net like Mike Ribeiro to go with a team that's always been great defensively. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle are as good of a top pair as you'll find in the NHL.
This team is for real. They have the look of a playoff team similar to the Los Angeles Kings a few years ago in that they can shut you down defensively, and if they get any goal scoring with their goaltending they could definitely make a deep postseason run.
I still think you have to put teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues at a level above everyone else in the Western Conference, but right after that the Coyotes are right there. They're that good. They easily could have home ice in the first round and if they don't, if you're a team like Chicago or San Jose and you end up getting the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round, well, that doesn't seem like much of a reward for a successful regular season.
New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Sunday that goalie Cory Schneider will get the start for the Devils on Tuesday at the Columbus Blue Jackets. This will be the first time this season Schneider starts consecutive games, after he shut out the New York Rangers for New Jersey's first win Saturday. It could be a sign of things to come as the team juggles starts between Schneider and Martin Brodeur.
What people need to remember, though, is that this is DeBoer's job. He can't worry about Marty's feelings. He can't worry about the fact that Marty Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender that's ever played. It'll cost him his job if they don't win. This team is not 8-1 right now. They haven't got the luxury in individual games or in their remaining schedule to not go with the hot hand, and I think DeBoer has to go with whom he thinks can win. If Schneider wins he'll be proven right. If Schneider struggles you'll start to hear the talk.
This was a problem in the making with Brodeur because he doesn't want to be on the team just to be there. Marty wants to play. As a coach, you want to handle Marty with the utmost respect, but still, Marty's not going to get fired if the Devils lose 10 in a row. It's Peter DeBoer. He's got to do what he believes in. If he think Schneider gives him the best chance to win, that's who DeBoer will have to go with, because this is a team that has no room to experiment. Most games for them are one-goal games and there isn't room for mistakes. They're not going to score three goals every night. If a goalie is hot you've got to go with him. Maybe DeBoer's started to think that Schneider's the guy.
REMEMBERING ALLAN STANLEY
Hall of Fame defenseman Allan Stanley passed away this weekend, and as someone who grew up watching him win Stanley Cup championships with the "Over the Hill Gang" in Toronto, I have a lot of memories of watching Stanley play.
He was one of those big defensemen for Toronto along with guys like Tim Horton, Kent Douglas and Bobby Baun. One thing I'll always remember is that Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach used to kill penalties with four defensemen, and whenever there was a big draw late in the game in Toronto's end, Imlach would have Stanley take the draw. Punch did a lot of innovative stuff like that and Stanley was always a big part of it. He was always killing penalties, taking draws late in games and he was just a rock-solid defensive defenseman.
Stanley did face some criticism in his day. He wasn't a real physical defenseman while players like Horton or Baun were bashing guys. Stanley was just a guy who was always in the right spot. He never rushed up in the play, never crossed the other team's blue line. He was a guy who just knew his job. He knew what he was there for and that was to play defense.
He was moved around a lot, partially because of expansion. I think Stanley went to a lot of teams with young defensemen because he was a guy you could pair them with. He was a good teacher and he was always in the right place in the right position. That made him an attractive guy to have on the roster even as he continued to get traded around. I always say that guys who play for a lot of different teams, there's a reason so many teams wanted him. Allan Stanley was no exception.