The FAN 960 Flames Zone

Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has translated his brilliant regular season into something even more impressive in the 2012 NHL postseason.  He’s one of the breakout stars of this playoff campaign, and he bears striking similarities to a goaltender we know very well in this city.

Just over eight years ago, Miikka Kiprusoff burst onto the scene with the Calgary Flames and carried them to the postseason and then to game seven of the Stanley Cup Final.  The then 27 year old Kiprusoff was a relative unknown at the time, pried from San Jose by Darryl Sutter in the hopes of finding a true number one goaltender.  Fast forward to now, where a 30 year old Smith is tearing things up and has his upstart team within striking distance of the NHL’s final four.

The similarities between the two goaltenders are striking, starting with how both came out of nowhere to backstop underdog teams to playoff berths.  Smith played the entire 2011-2012 season with Phoenix, entering the season as the number one goaltender and never relinquishing that title.  People laughed at the Coyotes for handing the reigns to a guy who couldn’t hold a number one job in prior stops in Dallas and Tampa Bay.  Kiprusoff, on the other hand, came in mid-season and played in 38 games for a team that looked poised to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight year.  No one knew at the time the unassuming Finn would turn the Flames into a Stanley Cup contender.  The similarities don’t end there, however.

The regular season statistical comparison starts to show some fairly like traits, as well.  The winning percentages of Smith and Kiprusoff are tough to compare as one played the entire season and the other played around half of one, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to extrapolate their save percentages.  In his 38 games during the 2003-2004 season, Kiprusoff posted a .933 save percentage and a stupidly high .941 mark at even strength.  This past regular season, Smith’s numbers were slightly lower with twice the workload.  The Kingston, Ontario native finished with a .930 overall mark and a strong .936 number at even strength.  Knowing the team in front of him, Kiprusoff’s totals from his first year in Calgary likely would have dropped over a full season, putting him right in line with Smith’s first season in Phoenix.

It’s when you get to the postseason that things get really scary.  At the time of this writing, Smith has played eight playoff games, losing only two of them.  Kiprusoff played a full compliment of games in Calgary’s Cup run, appearing in 26 games and winning 15 of them.  Over that two month run, Kiprusoff put together a stunning resume that included a .943 even strength save percentage, helping boost his overall number to .928.  Smith’s overall number is rather high right now, sitting at .943. but that likely will come down over the course of a gruelling postseason.  But it’s that .947 even strength number that really sticks out at you, as it’s just four points higher than Kiprusoff’s mark from eight years ago.  Taking games played into account, that’s a pretty eery comparable.

To summarize, the most important thing to watch statistically is that save percentage at even strength.  That is the most important and most accurate barometer of a goaltender, and the numbers are very similar.  Knowing how this particular stat evolves over a longer period of time, there’s a very good chance the regular season number for Kiprusoff would have fallen a few points to be even closer to Smith’s and vice versa with Smith’s mark in the postseason.

To me, the way both goalies burst onto the scene and captured attention was the first reason I decided to write this post.  The statistical similarities only came about afterwards and are not a stretch at all; they are very, very similar.  But it’s a little too early to compare Smith to Kiprusoff overall.  The Flames goaltender has put together seven seasons since as a number one goalie while Smith has yet to follow that path.  We’ve seen plenty of goaltenders go the “flash in the pan” postseason route, from extreme examples (Brian Boucher or Ray Emery) to less extreme examples (Jaroslav Halak).  For Smith to be considered in the same class as Kiprusoff, he’ll have to put a few strong seasons together in a row.  The season after Calgary’s 2004 run, Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy, but only after the NHL lost a season thanks to a lockout.  Let’s hope that one similarity doesn’t carry over to next year.

8 Responses to “Smith and Kiprusoff: Eerily Similar”
  1. 1.

    Hey Steinberg get over your man crush already, Phoenix is in the playoff’s and Calgary playing golf, in case you have’nt been paying attention. Does’nt matter what happen’s your alway’s comparing someone to the Flames, give it a rest. it’s getting old, fast.

    - Rick Boychuk
  2. 2.

    @Rick Boychuk

    Read the article Rick. It has nothing to do with the Flames this season, it has to do with the great run Smith is on and how similar this Coyotes team is to the 2004 Flames. We live in Calgary and part of our mandated job is to bring national stories a local flavor. If you don’t like it, don’t read, don’t listen, don’t complain.

    - Pat Steinberg
  3. 3.

    Have season tickets for both teams. The similarity of the Flames 04 run is so much like the Coyotes this season. Both teams were a “bunch of hard working plumbers”, not a bunch of stars. In 04 the Flames were talking of moving the team and in financial stress. The Cup run got them out of trouble. Hopefully this year will get the Coyotes a new owner. Enjoying the playoffs so much. Good article and so true.

    - Rhonda Patrick
  4. 4.

    Hey Pat, liked the post about Mike Smith and how he compares to Kipper in ’04. Liked your response to Rick Boychuk even more. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, unfortunately everyone is also entitled to be a moron! Great job!

    - Justin Whitney
  5. 5.

    @Rhonda Patrick

    Thanks Rhonda. I absolutely see the similarities between the two teams and the way they play in front of their goaltender is similar as well. I hope you’re right about the implications of this run for the Coyotes, because it’s nice to see as many solid NHL teams as possible.

    - Pat Steinberg
  6. 6.

    @Justin Whitney

    Ha, thanks Justin. Not sure how this post can be interpreted the way it was by Rick, but if guys wanna criticize, they’ll find lots of different mediums to do it!

    Thanks for reading the article.

    - Pat Steinberg
  7. 7.

    Boy Pat, some people should engage brain before putting mouth in gear as in Mr Boychuk, wonder if he learned to comprehend when he was learning to read. There definitely is similarities in Smith and Kipper, as well as both the Coyotes and Flames as a team. You could also add the Kings to that mix as well, with the exception they have a little more fire power. I’ve been following the Kings more than the Coyotes, but both have lights out goaltending. Good article.

    - curmudgeon
  8. 8.

    @curmudgeon

    I think Rick had a beef with me and found a way to express it; I thought this was a pretty valid post myself. I equate the current Coyotes to the 04 Flames more than the current Kings, just because of what you said: they have more firepower. The Kings underachieved all year and an 8th place finish was not representative of where their true talent lies.

    - Pat Steinberg
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