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FEATURE: Smith feeling re-focused

"He seems like he has his mojo back with him," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said of netminder Mike Smith

by Paul Gazzola /

MONTREAL, QC - New Year. New Mike Smith.

But really, the keeper's experienced a return to his old self, as Smith has appeared in every outing of the Oilers current five-game road trip, picking up a point against the Buffalo Sabres plus two victories, one versus the powerhouse Boston Bruins and another against the reeling Toronto Maple Leafs.

Smith was instrumental in Edmonton's confidence-booster over the B's, making 36 total saves including 20 in the third period alone, and carried that winning momentum over in Edmonton's 6-4 raking of the Maple Leafs.

Thanks to his past few performances, Smith feels as though he's gained his confidence back and his coach, Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett, has also noticed the resurgence.

"He seems like he has his mojo back with him," Tippett said of his keeper on Wednesday after the Oilers finished practice at Montreal's Bell Centre. 

"He's been real competitive and real solid. He's got himself in a little bit of a groove now."

Video: RAW | Coach Tippett 01.08.20

A groove that could see the protector shield the net for his fourth straight game. Tippett didn't confirm whether Mikko Koskinen or Smith would start in the Orange & Blue's affair with the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge on Thursday but it's hard to ignore the goaltender's recent success.

"We'll see where it goes tomorrow but it'd be nice to get both guys back to playing really well," Tippett added.

For Smith, like for almost every other player in the National Hockey League, the only difference between January and December has been his personal self-belief. 

"It's confidence, really," Smith, owning a 9-9-3 record with a 3.05 goals-against average and .897 save percentage, said.

"It's always a mental grind at some point in the season. There are ups and downs. It's just finding your way through those difficult times and when things are going well, you want to ride that as long as you can and play as consistent as possible."

The Kingston, ON, product lauded the skaters in front of him for helping in his return to form. The Oilers are currently on a four-game point streak and have outscored their opposition 19-13 over that time.

Video: RAW | Draisaitl

"It's just about getting back in the net and feeling good about where your game is at," he continued. 

"There's no special recipe. It's a number of things including the team playing more of a team game. Obviously, goaltending is a big part of that but they're doing a lot of good things in front of the goaltenders right now which is, in turn, probably a big reason we've had the success of late."

After trudging through the slog that was December, where the Oilers finished the month with a 5-8-1 record, Smith and the Oilers will have plenty of time to rest and recalibrate during January. 

The club plays just nine games total in the 31-day period, getting extended time off due to the bye week and NHL All-Star Weekend.

For Smith, that could be paramount as the Oilers slowly edge towards the final few months of the NHL calendar.

"Every player goes through it over the course of the season where they're not feeling as sharp as they need to," the goalie said. "In the position that I'm in, if you're not feeling as sharp as you need to, usually you can get away with it for a little bit but eventually it will come back to bite you. 

"It's just kind of a reset and a re-focus. I feel good lately so hopefully, I can keep it going."

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