Mike Smith, looking for a bounce-back game, is hoping to reproduce his impeccable away form when the Calgary Flames host the Blackhawks tonight.
Overall, Smith has enjoyed a stellar season between the pipes. He’s unarguably one of the team’s most consistent performers and rarely takes a night off, with the exception of a frustrating evening against Tampa Bay on Thursday.
A large discrepancy, however, does exist between Smith’s home and away outings.
The 35-year-old has a .948 save percentage away from home, the best of any NHL netminder in unfriendly environs.
He is the embodiment of a road warrior, going 9-3-3 in 15 away starts. Smith’s paltry 1.83 goals against average (GAA) in road games would, in isolation, put him behind only Carter Hutton (1.70 overall GAA) and Marc-Andre Fleury (1.79 overall GAA).
Smith hasn’t been able to match those otherworldly numbers in front of Flames’ faithful at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The contrast is stark, with Smith’s save percentage dropping almost five percent, to .905. His GAA swells on home ice to 2.89, a large enough gulf to warrant further inquest.
What’s wrong with Smith’s Calgary Flames home cooking?
Firstly, the sample size probably has something to do with the existing chasm between Smith’s home and away performances. He’s played in 28 games at home, while only making 15 road starts.
That caveat isn’t reason enough to explain his drop in form at the Dome, though. While not nearly as demanding as Montreal fans, Flames’ faithful have high expectations of their number one netminder. But Smith’s expects just as much from himself, if not more, than the exacting Calgary crowd.
Plus, you wouldn’t expect a wily, well-versed veteran like Smith to succumb to pressure, no matter how immense. You can’t put it down to bad fortune either, as the gulf in numbers is too big to substantiate that reasoning.
That leaves me with one clear-cut explanation: Smith is only as good as the support his team offers in front of him. Calgary, as a collective, have been poor in what are supposed to be friendly confines. The Flames have a grotesque 12-13-3 home record, the fourth worst in the Western Conference.
For Smith to assimilate unconditionally to life in Calgary, his team must improve markedly at the Dome, making their relatively new netminder feel more at home.
Until that happens, Smith won’t be able to enjoy and appreciate the home cooking Calgary has to offer.
(This piece originally featured no Flame For Thought. Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)