MAIN CAMP: Tippett, Oilers defence valuing Smith's puck distribution
"For years people have asked me if I'm going to tell him to stop it. No, he helps the game," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett saidby Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com
EDMONTON, AB - 'The Way of Mike Smith' is not a lesson easily learned.
Since his return from illness at the midway point of Main Camp, Oilers defencemen have received a crash course in the netminder's puck-playing tendencies before having it put to the test during the club's last two pre-season contests against the Arizona Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets.
"Smitty's been pretty solid in the two games he's played here, so I like where his game is at," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "His puck-handling is just a good part of his game that our group's going to have to adjust to."
Often used to following pucks behind the net in the defensive end, the Oilers blueliners are being instructed to post up on the half-boards or serve as a bailout option in the corner to put themselves in the best position possible to receive a quick outlet from Smith.
For defenceman Matt Benning, Smith is more or less serving as a third rearguard and minimizing the amount of added abuse they're taking from the forechecker.
"I think really good," Benning said. "It saves us from getting hit a bunch of times, and he's very comfortable making plays when he touches the puck and we get out of the zone.
"Just having the confidence back there of when it's rimmed that we need to go to our specific spots, it's like having an extra defenceman back there."
Tippett has enjoyed eight seasons with Smith as his netminder during stints as the bench boss of the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes, and has no intentions of moving away from the netminder's ability to handle the puck due to the way it can transform a team's on-ice distribution.
"It's a different dimension for our D," Tippett said. "Last night he was out and handled it quite a few times. That's part of his game, it's a good part, and I know everybody says 'Oh, it's scary' and there's odd times he turns it over, but for years people have asked me if I'm going to tell him to stop it. No, he helps the game."