Pacific: Smith superb between the pipes for Coyotes

By Andrew Knoll

 

Photo: Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith received much applause in the past week following a three shutout performance for his club as they battle for the Pacific title (courtesy of

Chris Pondy/Icon SMI)

While Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith's name might not grab you, his play of late has taken the Coyotes by the lapels and dragged them into the playoffs and a shot at the Pacific Division title. For his strong play this past week, Smith was named one of the Pacific's three stars of the week for Mar. 30-Apr. 5.

First Star: Mike Smith, Goalie, Phoenix Coyotes – Smith’s week was straight from the “Terminator” films, with each shot he took he seemed to get stronger and stronger. When the Coyotes needed him most, Smith became an impenetrable fortress between the Phoenix pipes turning in back-to-back-to-back shutouts. These were Shutouts, with a capital “S.” First he made 38 saves against San Jose, then 44 against Anaheim and for his grand finale a franchise-record 54 stops against Columbus. Smith was less a net-minder than a heavyweight champion, his style at times impetuous and his defense positively impregnable as he helped secure a third straight playoff berth for the Coyotes. Smith now has the second-longest scoreless minutes streak in franchise history, trailing only modern-era record-holder Brian Boucher.

Second Star: Anze Kopitar, Center, Los Angeles Kings – Kopitar had a magnificent week worthy of first-star status in virtually any division in any week, but settled for second thanks to Smith’s trapeze act in net. The Kings’ top center Kopitar poured in nine points in four games, extending his point streak to five games in which he has 11 points and four multi-point performances. Kopitar set a career-high this season with 51 assists, balancing his improving defensive play with increasingly confident offense. Kopitar has been strong on the puck and more willing to carry it of late as well. His power-play proficiency has always picked up with him making plays at the top of the umbrella, from the half wall or cycling down low with equal aplomb. When Kopitar has all facets of his game clicking, the Kings are much more dangerous and dynamic club.

Third Star: Ryane Clowe, Left Wing, San Jose Sharks – Clowe turned in a renaissance man’s week with two goals, two assists, two fights, six hits and four blocks in three games. He responded where the Sharks needed him to, both between the whistles and after, banging bodies down low and getting into a pair of fights against Matt Greene and Kyle Clifford. Clowe was pivotal in the Sharks; turning around their fortunes on the road. After dropping 17 of 21 road games, they came up with enormous victories at Dallas, effectively eliminating the Stars, and at Los Angeles, pushing the Pacific Division crown to game No. 82. Clowe may not be available for that game as he played a puck from the bench. Though no penalty was called, the league may still review and suspend Clowe.
 

The Weekend Ahead
 

The Pacific Division may well come down to Saturday’s meeting between the Kings and Sharks in San Jose, as the two clubs head into the back end of a home-and-home set in a points tie for first place. Phoenix can have its say, however, as they sit one point back of both teams and have a game in hand. The Coyotes will play a Friday-Saturday back-to-back , traveling to St Louis and then to Minnesota. Dallas hosts St Louis Saturday in a game with little meaning for the Stars after they were eliminated Thursday. The Ducks will conclude their schedule Saturday at Calgary in what may be Teemu Selanne’s final game.
 

Pacific Division Notes
 

The Stars’ shutout loss to Nashville eliminated them from playoff contention, it was a goaltenders’ duel that went scoreless through two periods … Dallas’s loss also meant the Coyotes and Kings both clinched playoff berths … The Kings remain perched atop the division in a points tie with San Jose and one game ahead of Phoenix … San Jose also clinched a berth by way of a Colorado loss to Columbus. San Jose beat the Kings 6-5 in a shootout … The Kings were without Jeff Carter and the Sharks missed Douglas Murray, both players should be considered doubtful for the final game of the season when the two clubs meet in San Jose … Lubomir Visnovsky left Thursday’s win against Edmonton with an upper-body injury, he seems unlikely to play Saturday.