Back in October, the Oilers were having the time of their life, playing at an insane level; everything was clicking. The powerplay, the offense, the depth, and the goaltending, were all key in the best start in franchise history. It was surprising to see, but for one player on the team, they didn’t enjoy it as long as the others. That player is Mike Smith.
On October 19th, the Oilers were playing the Ducks on home ice, and during the 2nd period, Smith suffered an injury. The puck bounced in front of his net, and as he covered it, former Ducks player Devin Shore fell while being tangled up with another player. When he fell, his leg dug into the back of Smith’s left leg, and he exited the game. It didn’t look like much, but clearly, it was pretty serious.
After the game, Smith was listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury; that was two months ago. He suffered a setback on November 11th; however, that was still almost a month after being listed as day-to-day. Many questions were surrounding Smith’s situation, including when he would return or even if he’d be able to return this season. Those concerns seem to have been put to rest with Mike Smith returning as a full participant in their last practice. That begs the next question, is there reason to worry about Mike Smith?
Cause For Concern
Last season, in training camp, Mike Smith suffered an injury that kept him out for over a month. He returned in February seemingly an utterly different goalie than Oilers fans had seen before. In the 2020-21 season, Mike Smith held a 2.31 GAA and a .923 SV%. Those are Vezina trophy caliber numbers. Some were worried about it being a fluke, and for a good reason, as that’s dramatically higher than any SV% in the last nine years for Smith.
Now those stats look great, Smith’s game was on another level, but my worries don’t come from his numbers. They come from his age. At 39 years old, having two mid to long-term injuries is nothing to overlook. It doesn’t take a lot for Smith to get hurt, and I worry if he can keep healthy for the rest of this season and next.
Yes, Smith’s play was insane last season after returning from injury. Yes, he’s got the want to play and doesn’t give up. All those things are great, but I don’t see how you can rely on Smith as a complete starter, as some have said in the past season. His play can be like a starting goalie, but his health being a question mark hurts your chances of relying on him, especially in playoffs.
Cause For Positivity
After all that talk about his health, what could happen if Smith stays healthy? It’s fun to think about Smiths’ play being good and being as dominant as he was last season. While those numbers were an outlier, Smith can still put up starting goalie numbers. One thing that everyone likes about Smith is that he is a true competitor; he rarely gives up on the game. Look at last season in a game against the Canucks. For example, the Oilers were down 3-0 after the first, with Smith letting in a terrible first goal, and then the Oilers came back and won it 4-3 with Smith making some big saves in the final frame. Now ideally, you don’t want to be down 3-0 after the first period as that probably isn’t a recipe for success come playoff time, but my point is that Smith battles no matter the score.
Another thing that I like about Smiths’ game, even though it’s terrifying, is his ability to play the puck at a level that no other goalie today can. Every game, you will see Smith play the puck; he loves to do it. Whether that be him knocking the puck down off a dump in and leaving it for his teammate or catching the opposing team on a line change after icing the puck on a penalty kill, Smiths’ puck playing ability is excellent for the Oilers transition game, and it shows.
All In All
With all of that out of the way, there is still reason to be concerned and hopeful when it comes to Smith’s game. While Smith has been out, the Oilers have been backstopped by Koskinen and Skinner. They have both had terrific games and made big saves when needed. If Smith can return and be that strong goaltender we know, he could take this team to another level offensively with our transition. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.