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Ask-a-Pro with Tampa Bay Goalie Mike Smith

Ask-a-Pro with Tampa Bay Goalie Mike Smith

Smith talks new coaches and new systems in Tampa

Before taking a few reader questions the affable Tampa ‘Tender  was happy to spend some time with InGoal’s Kevin Woodley chatting about his season in Tampa and the challenges of adapting to a new system under coaches Guy Boucher and Frantz Jean.

Mike Smith Goalie Tampa Bay Lightning

photo by Scott Slingsby

InGoal: With a new coaching staff this season how are you finding the adjustment to a new system that leaves you and Dan Ellis facing far fewer shots than you have become used to?

Mike Smith: “The biggest thing is we don’t get the feeler shots. That’s hard as a goalie. You go 10, 12 minutes without a shot and then all of a sudden there is a 2-on-1, or a breakdown that leads to a quality scoring chance. You look at the numbers and this team doesn’t favor a save percentage because we give up 15, 20 shots a game and yet eight to 10 of them might be in the slot shot or 2-on-1’s. And I think Elly and I have struggled with it a little bit.

InGoal: There’s a lot of talk about Tampa’s goaltending stats – do you keep a close eye on them?

Mike Smith: “We can’t worry about that because as soon as you start playing the save percentages or goals-against averages your game falls apart. We’ve heard all the media talk about the goalie situation in Tampa and we can’t worry about that – it’s a different system for us. We’ve never been on teams that have played like this, I’ve never been on a team that gives up this few shots and it’s a mental challenge for a goaltender.”

“I went one game against New York at home and for 13 minutes I didn’t have a shot in the second. And even last game we outshot Edmonton 17-1 in the third – you get one shot in the period and then you have overtime and a shootout; I mean, that’s tough. Elly did a great job, a couple huge saves in overtime.”

That’s the adaption we’re making. You have to be ready for those shots when they come and not think about the shot clock or the time on the clock or what the score is or save percentage is, goals against because it’s unrealistic to think you are going to have a .920 save percentage on a team that gives up 20 shots.

It’s just unrealistic. We’re learning how to deal with that and I’m sure we’ll nip it I the bud. [Editor’s note: after the interview Smith had a 2-0 week giving up only 2 goals and a 0.961 save percentage]

InGoal: You’re handling the puck less this year. How is that changing with a new coach and the new system you’re playing?

Mike Smith: “He’s wanted us to do less, which doesn’t really work to my strength. I think we both really handle the puck well.”

“As of late we’ve made a couple mistakes that have ended up being goals and he had a talk with us that less is more right now and we want to eliminate those goals against.”

InGoal: But isn’t that how you stay in the game?

“Absolutely it’s a way to stay in the game and I think it can be beneficial for our defensemen and our forwards and when we’re not getting a lot of work it keeps you sharp. but we have to make good plays with it and if It ends up copsting us, obviously we have to do less.”

Goalie Mike Smith Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Mike Smith. Photo by Scott Slingsby.

ask-a-pro reader questions for Mike Smith

InGoal Magazine reader Allan Freeman asks: Why don’t more goalies poke check?

Mike Smith: “I probably use it a little less than I have in the past but it depends on the situation. If it’s in around the net then I like to get my stick on it. I think I’m using a lot more of the paddle down around the net on the blocker side, and getting a lot more pucks from behind the net, so I think that’s very helpful. I actually started doing knee up (on the posts) but I found when the puck is behind the net, with the paddle down you can eliminate a lot of pucks more coming out front with it when it’s wrapped. Just staying down when the puck is in the corner and getting that stick out there and intercepting passes. So I’ve been using a lot more of the paddle down and using an active stick from that, even if it’s not necessarily a poke check.”

InGoal follow up question: Where does knee up, or what we call VH, come in?

Mike Smith: “It’s the right play from a dead angle, when there is nothing to shoot at. It’s just a matter of knowing when to use it and when to come off that post and butterfly. There’s a fine line there of a dead angle and all of a sudden he’s got something to shoot at on the far side. We’ve been working on it. Franz is open to suggestions. Whichever one you use, he just wants you to do it properly.”

InGoal Magazine reader Matt Racicot asks: I’d like to know which NHL goalies playing today the Interviewee admires, and why. Is it style, work ethic, or something else entirely?

Mike Smith: “A guy like Crosby, his first three strides are incredible. I know my first year I got surprised in Pittsburgh my fist time playing. He was in the corner one second and all of a sudden he’s out front and the puck is in the net. It was impressive how fast his first three strides were.”

InGoal: And goalies?

Mike Smith: “A guy like (Florida’s Tomas) Vokoun, who I wasn’t a huge fan of before. I think he’s giving that team a chance to win every night. I think he’s improved his technique, his style. His butterfly has definitely gotten a lot better He’s just really solid in there. When he was in Nashville I wasn’t a fan at all, but he’s gotten a lot better technically from the games I have seen. I know the games we’ve played against them we’ve had a lot of chances and he’s come up big for them. I also like a guy like (Minnesota’s Niklas) Backstrom. It seems like everything hits him in the chest. When we played them it seemed like he was always in good position and when we did get a good scoring chance, everything was just sucked in and he made everything look pretty easy.”

InGoal Magazine reader Jerry Smithers asks: I know a lot of goalies use practice gloves with extra padding – do you use one, and if so, do still feel Steven Stamkos one-timer through it”

Mike Smith (laughing): “No, I don’t stop it actually. I don’t need equipment at all. It usually just goes in. It’s funny, you know where it’s going but you just can’t stop it. He puts it in places where you know where it’s going but you can stand up, go down, have your glove there, and it just finds a way to go in. He’s just that good. He’s got a very god release, a very fast release and it comes pretty hard.” (Editor’s note: Smith does have three sets of regular gloves, and will get three more gloves in the New Year, so he goes through six a season).

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

1 Comment

  1. Joe Brown

    Hi Smitty

    Very impressive, you looked really good against Boston, I would loved to have seen your name on the Stanley Cup. Maybe next year.

    I know you have professional coaches and you are in the NHL and Taylor is not, but I have a comment for what it is worth. During the Boston series I noticed you were down on both knees. When a pass came out from the corner to a player on the opposite side you seemed to have no leverage to get to the opposite post?

    Comment?
    Joe