Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 11/16/11
Actor Jack Palance once uttered the line: "Confidence is very sexy." Palance was anything but sexy. I checked with my wife and my mom on this, which makes you wonder where Im going with this thread. I wont string you along. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith is sexy on the local airwaves and media websites these days. Why? You could say Im playing with a lot of confidence, Smith said Wednesday in the midst of the Coyotes brutal five-game road trip in which Smith has allowed just two goals in two wins. Now youre thinking: Wow, what a weak thread, but consider how so-not-sexy Ilya Bryzgalov is in Philadelphia, which is where the Coyotes are right now as they prepare for a Thursday evening game against the Flyers. Now weve tied it all together. Bryzgalov has played better of late, allowing nine goals on his last 148 shots over five games for a .939 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. But a quick comparison of the two goalies season stats offers affirmation for general manager Don Maloneys decision to trade Bryzgalovs rights this summer, rather than give him a nine-year, 51 million contract as the Flyers did. Bryzgalov ranks 31st in save percentage at .899, while his goals against average is more than half a goal higher than Smiths (2.78 to 2.19). Smith, who will make a total of 4 million over the next two seasons, is tied for fifth in NHL save percentage (.933) among goalies who have played at least half their teams games. Thats the best stat available to judge a goalies effectiveness, unless you break into coach Dave Tippetts vault of secret stats but then hed have to kill you. Shocking? Not if you were paying attention. The style Dave coaches allows goalies a chance to succeed, Smith said. The Flyers system? The jury is still out, given Bryzgalovs hot stretch. But it was just three weeks ago that he relieved struggling goalie Sergei Bobrovsky against the Winnipeg Jets in a modified version of Russian Roulette. Bryzgalov allowed four goals on 10 shots in that 9-8 loss -- one night after allowing five on 28 in a loss to Montreal. This led to Bryzgalovs infamous post-game comments which we cant help re-running. "I have zero confidence in myself right now," Bryzgalov said. "If you throw (a) ball instead of the puck, Im not going to stop it. I'm terrible. I want to apologize to the fans and my teammates. I don't know what's going on. I'm lost in the woods right now. Aside from the solid gold quotes it provided reporters that night, it was a shocking admission from a guy who teammates rely on to play with confidence. Imagine the Flyers reaction when they heard their beleaguered goalie bearing his tortured soul. On the flip side, all you need to do is watch the Coyotes -- 7-1-2 in their last 10 games - to understand the impact a confident goalie has on a team. The goalie is the one guy whose confidence can run right through the group, Tippett said. We talk about that trust factor, and hes earned the trust of the team in front of him. As we have stated in this space from the moment Smith arrived, he benefits -- just as Bryzgalov did -- from Tippetts demanding defensive approach which seeks to limit opponents quality chances to the perimeter. But Smith has also benefitted from the patient, calm approach of goalie coach Sean Burke. Burke, a terrific goalie in his day, learned the coaching trade from former Coyotes goalie coach Benoit Allaire, now the mastermind behind New York Rangers All-Star Henrik Lunqvist, who is tied for fifth in save percentage (.933) and is eighth in goals against average (2.13). I dont want to downplay goalie coaching because I do think its very important, but Im not doing anything earth-shattering here, Burke said. It really just goes back to what felt right what sort of environment I could be successful in and then trying to re-create that. Burkes fundamental style an economy of motion while playing deeper in the crease is already apparent in Smiths game this year. But Smith gushes more about the calming influence Burke has on his day-to-day approach because Burke, as anyone whos been around him knows, is a laid-back, easy-to-talk-to guy. Couple that with the obvious confidence Tippett had in Smith to lobby for his signing this summer and youve got the successful marriage that has played out through the seasons first 16 games. Knock on wood, Smith said. Its great to be in this kind of situation and it feels great, but I dont want to get too wrapped up in all of that. I know it can change at any time. Just ask Bryzgalov.
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