PLAY­ING THE PUCK

De­spite two mis­takes against Kings, Oil­ers goalie will keep send­ing it up ice MATHE­SON

Edmonton Sun - - FRONT PAGE - JIM MATHE­SON

Mike Smith is ei­ther con­fi­dent or stub­born or both.

Af­ter puck-han­dling mis­takes gifted the Los An­ge­les Kings two first-pe­riod goals Satur­day, he wasn’t las­soed to his net the last 40 min­utes.

That’s not the way the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers goalie is wired. That his team­mates, who rel­ish his un­wa­ver­ing abil­ity to try and get the puck up go­ing north to kick-start an at­tack, outscored his mis­takes and beat the Kings 6-5 speaks to their cur­rent of­fence, also what they think of their new 'ten­der.

“Hope­fully this doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten. I can’t re­mem­ber too many where there’s been two in a game,” said Smith. “I re­mem­ber my first year in Tampa af­ter I was traded from Dal­las, we were in Bos­ton and it hap­pened.

One (mis­take) is ob­vi­ously eas­ier to over­come than two, but it is what it is.

“Mis­takes are go­ing to hap­pen. I’m no dif­fer­ent than any­body else. You want to play a per­fect game but things hap­pen where pucks bounce or plays don’t get made. That’s why you have team­mates to bail you out. For­tu­nately, we scored and got those mis­takes back."

Smith tried to get the puck up ice four min­utes in, but Anze Ko­pi­tar in­ter­cepted it in­side the blue line and rather than bury his head and shoot at the par­tially open net, he calmly fed Dustin Brown for one. Five min­utes later, Smith was be­hind the net, and Kyle Clif­ford got po­si­tion on him along the boards and fed it into the slot where Trevor Lewis made it 2-1.

“There’s the old cliche in golf where there’s no pic­tures on the (score) card,” Smith said. “OK, there’s re­plays in hockey, but I’m not go­ing to go back and watch those. You have to let it go.”

Smith swears he never gets gun shy, even af­ter er­rors that show up on TV high­light pack­ages like those ones.

“If you show your team­mates or the other team that it’s both­er­ing you, they have you right where they want and know you’re not con­fi­dent,” said Smith. “You don’t want to show you’re down. You still want to show you’re bat­tling and com­pet­ing for the group.

“I think this is a good les­son for younger play­ers that mis­takes are go­ing to be made. It’s how you over­come them and be­come a bet­ter player.”

De­fence­man Os­car Klef­bom, who loves Smith’s abil­ity to take for check­ing pres­sure off the guys go­ing back for pucks, shrugged off the Smith er­rors.

“We know it’s go­ing to hap­pen ev­ery now and then but in the long-run he’s go­ing to help us so much more, es­pe­cially the de­fence­men,” he said.

You want to play a per­fect game but things hap­pen where pucks bounce or plays don’t get made. That’s why you have team­mates to bail you out.” Oil­ers’ goal­tender Mike Smith

“Af­ter the first one we were say­ing let’s get it back for Smitty, then af­ter the se­cond one we were say­ing ‘OK, let’s re­ally get it back for Smitty.’” said winger James Neal, his team­mate in Cal­gary be­fore both joined the Oil­ers this sum­mer. “That’s good for a few months. He got rid of them (er­rors) in the se­cond game. It’s go­ing to hap­pen, bob­bled pucks, things hap­pen quickly.”

Smith kept fight­ing and as Grant Fuhr used to say, it’s not how many you give up. It’s when.

And when the game’s on the line at the end, do you crack?

“He made some huge saves on back-door passes to keep it tied up and at the end of the game he’s solid. It wasn’t the pret­ti­est for any of us,” said Neal.

Oil­ers coach Dave Tip­pett said he never con­sid­ered pulling Smith for Mikko Kosk­i­nen af­ter the Brown or Lewis goals on LA’S first four shots when he wasn’t in the net. Or one by Ko­pi­tar that squeezed by his arm on the Kings sixth shot to make it 3-2 af­ter 15 min­utes.

“Smitty kept bat­tling and if it had gone south, maybe. But you want to let him bat­tle through it,” said Tip­pett.

He could stick with the un­beaten Smith to start the four-game road trip in Long Is­land Tues­day or go to Kosk­i­nen with in­put from goalie coach Dustin Schwartz.

Head coaches can be au­to­cratic, demo­cratic or prag­matic.

Why go to Kosk­i­nen when the team is 2-0?

When asked Sun­day if Tip­pett is a “win and you’re in” coach or if he thinks there’s enough time be­tween games (Wed­nes­day, Satur­day, Tues­day in the first three) so Smith can’t be tired, he said he’s not a guy who re­lies on W’s for goalie de­ci­sions.

“He (Kosk­i­nen) will play on this road trip,” said Tip­pett, tak­ing a broad brush­stroke.

He didn’t say if that would be Tues­day against Barry Trotz’s Is­lan­ders or Thurs­day in New Jer­sey against the strug­gling Devils, who play Wed­nes­day in Philadel­phia. The Oil­ers play next Satur­day af­ter­noon (Oct. 12) against the Rangers in New York, then Mon­day Oct. 14 in Chicago.

LARRY WONG/POST­MEDIA

PERRY NEL­SON/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Oil­ers’ goal­tender Mike Smith makes a save on L.A. Kings for­ward Trevor Lewis dur­ing the se­cond-pe­riod NHL game at Rogers Place on Satur­day.

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