On a purely practical level, goalie goals tend to be generally meaningless. Take, for example, the 11th goaltender in history to score a goal – the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who turned the trick Saturday night against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
The Coyotes were already two goals up, with time running out, which is why Smith was emboldened to shoot for the empty net in the first place. If he’d missed, they had a cushion – and it wouldn’t have created a dangerous defensive zone faceoff or given the Red Wings a final crack at a tying goal. As it was, the goal had to be reviewed to see if it beat the buzzer – and it did, by less than a second.
There can be a real psychological value attached a goalie goal – and all you had to do was watch the interview Smith gave the Coyotes’ Todd Walsh post-game on the bench to see it. Walsh had the puck, with a little bit of stick tape on it, noting that it was Smith’s first NHL goal. Usually, it’s the sort of ceremony that involves a fresh-faced kid, just up from junior or the minors, not a 31-year-old veteran, with close to 300 NHL games on his resume. But the smile on Smith’s face – and the elation that the team felt afterward – can have a spillover effect on a team’s chemistry. It creates a moment in time that combines laughs, goodwill and generally can help bring a team together.
Smith thought the clock would run out on his attempt or there wouldn’t be enough juice on it to go the full 200 feet. But it did, and there was, and a full house – which happens sometimes in Glendale on a Saturday night when Detroit is the opponent – madly celebrated the goal.
So question: Why do we get so excited by goalie goals?
“I just think it’s because they’re so very rare,” answered Sean Burke, the Coyotes’ goaltending coach and assistant general manager, in an interview Sunday. “It’s not easy to do. Everything has to line up for it to happen. Obviously, the game has to be at a point where the (opposing) goalie is pulled – and your goalie has to be able to get that puck with some time and he has to be a guy that can actually shoot it without it getting knocked down or intercepted. It takes a lot of confidence to do that.”
Smith, of course, has confidence oozing out of his pores. There’s a swagger in Smith’s game reflected in the fact that he did all of his post-game interviews with the team’s player of the game award draped over his shoulder, a bona fide WWE championship belt.
“The way he handles the puck is an example of that swagger,” said Burke. “If he were to have tried that twice before in the game and it had been knocked down, it wouldn’t have stopped him from trying it again. Especially, when it comes to handling the puck, he has no fear. There’s not a question of, if he makes a mistake, he’s going to back off or change the way he plays. That’s the confidence you need to have if you want to be a good puck handler. You are going to make mistakes.
“I’ve told people before, he’s going to score a goal at some point – and he’s probably not done. He’ll score again. The way he fired that puck last night, if you gave him 25 pucks, he can do that 25 times. It’s not just a guy who got lucky and it went in. He can do that consistently.”
Smith won 38 games for the Coyotes two years ago, en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup semi-finals. The Coyotes missed the playoffs last year, but Smith still shared the NHL shutout lead, with five in the shortened season. The Coyotes are on a reset after that season, and are currently in a tough division, with three California teams lighting it up (cumulatively, the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are 19-4-1 in the early season) plus a Vancouver Canucks team that is figuring it out. So they may be in the hunt for a playoff spot via the wild card route.