GLENDALE – For goalie Mike Smith, the 2013-14 season featured some very distinct highs and lows.
First the highs: Smith won 27 games for the Coyotes. He won an Olympic gold medal for Canada. He even scored a goal in an NHL game - with less than a second to play no less.
On Monday, Smith, for the first time, publicly discussed the season’s biggest low, the sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
|Photo by Getty Images |
"It was a tough play," Smith said after being asked how he felt about being awkwardly knocked over and landed on by New York Rangers forward Derick Brassard during play in front of the Coyotes net on March 24. "(Brassard) was kind of right on top of me, and we had a defenseman in front battling for position, too. So I think it was kind of a bit of tough luck and a play you don't like to see happen, but you have to deal with those situations."
Smith had been practicing during the final weeks of the season, hoping to heal enough to play a few games before the Coyotes started the playoffs. But once it became clear Phoenix would not earn a postseason berth, the Coyotes decided it was best that Smith not play again this season.
"I was hoping if we'd won that game in Nashville, we'd maybe give it a shot,” Smith said of the game played April 10, which the Predators won 2-0. “Obviously, the games didn't matter (after that), so I wasn't going to push it then."
He added, "I was playing (my) best hockey of the season. It's just disappointing to be talking to you guys about this."
Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said the team knew Smith likely would not return before the playoffs.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
"I know we were somewhat cryptic about it publicly," Maloney said. "We just didn't want it to be a distraction for (backup goalie) Thomas Greiss and the team. We had to move past it. We knew internally he was not going to be able to help us get to the playoffs, so we said, 'Let's leave it on the sidelines. Let's focus on Thomas and our team and get to the playoffs, and maybe Mike will be back in the playoffs,' and that was far from certain."
Smith finished the season with a 27-21-10 record. He had three shutouts, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Despite the injury, he made 1,712 saves, the fourth-most in the NHL this season.
At times, he showed flashes of the goaltender who carried the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012.
"I think I got that back towards the end of the season," Smith said. "I feel confident that I can be that guy. I learned a lot about myself going through that again. To have success and then to be able to keep that was a challenge. I think I found a way out of it this year, and I'll learn from that and be a better goalie because of it."
Maloney said Smith's injury would not require off-season surgery.
“His recovery has been good,” Maloney said. “He’s feeling great… The good thing for us is Mike is such a good athlete we have no qualms whatsoever about a long-term problem with it. He’ll be back 100 percent.”