EDMONTON, AB - Spoiler alert -- when you look up the word swagger in the dictionary, you won't see a photo of Mike Smith. His name isn't mentioned in the provided examples either.
According to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of swagger was circa 1596. And 424 years later, there may not be a better embodiment of the word than Oilers netminder Mike Smith.
Since the calendar flipped to 2020, Smith has been a force in the Edmonton goal. He's helped the Oilers pick up points in 14 of his last 15 starts (10-1-4) while carrying a .915 SV% and a 2.63 GAA. Those numbers are even better on home ice (4-0-2, .923 SV% & 2.37GAA), which is great news for Head Coach Dave Tippett, considering Smith is expected to get the start on Saturday at Rogers Place.
"When your goaltender plays well, and both guys have played well, it gives your team a swagger," said Tippett following Friday morning's practice. "Your goalie goes in there and you know you're going to get good goaltending every night. With Mike, his game was a down in December but he's turned the page and has played really well since. Whenever a goaltender plays well, it gives your team confidence and that's what Mike does.
"He's a real solid veteran, he's a vocal leader in that room and his play is backing up those vocals right now."
Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 02.28.20
As Tippett mentioned, December was less than ideal for Smith and the Oilers. In the five games the 37-year-old appeared in, the Oilers failed to record a win and Smith's numbers indicated that he was battling confidence (0-2-1, .828SV% & 4.17 GAA).
"I have a long history with him and the times that I think he struggles a little bit are when he wants to do well that he tries too hard," said Tippett. "He wants to be the best of the best, sometimes you get trying too hard and sometimes you just have to relax and let your talents take over and let the game come to you a little bit. That's what he's done.
"He's got back in there and he's playing calm and doing things right."
And he will continue needing to - out of necessity. Both he and Mikko Koskinen will.
It's been well documented that Tippett prefers balancing out starts between his two netminders, especially with the travel associated in playing in the Western Conference.
When looking at the Oilers schedule in March, there are 16 games on tap - 10 home, six on the road - with two back-to-back sets. Playing every second night will require both goalies to step up and earn Edmonton crucial points in the standings during this ultra-tight playoff race.
Both need to continue providing this team with swagger.