Not many people are talking about it, but with his 54-save, 2-0 win Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith set an NHL record for saves in a regular-season shutout.
Even less people are talking about the guy who helped mold Smith into the goaltender he is today.
His name may not come up in headlines or round-table discussions, but Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke deserves a ton of praise for the work he has done with Smith. Burke, an 18-year NHL veteran between the pipes, took over for Grant Fuhr at the end of the 2008-09 season. It’s no coincidence that the first season he took over as goaltending coach marked the first season that Phoenix made the playoffs since 2001-02.
Since that time, Burke has molded two backup goaltenders into playoff-ready netminders. Before Smith was signed this past offseason as a free agent, Burke helped develop the game of Ilya Bryzgalov. Although Bryzgalov had impressive numbers before signing with the Coyotes midway through the 2007-08 season, it was in Phoenix under the watch of Burke that Bryz was transformed into an elite starter. Just two seasons later, Bryzgalov was runner-up for a Vezina Trophy and actually finished fifth in Hart Trophy voting that year.
Looking back at Smith, his stats before he showed up in the desert were dreadful. In one season he only played 13 games and posted a 3-10 record and a .893 save percentage for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His first five seasons of NHL play saw him post only 11 total shutouts. He has eight this season alone. Furthermore, Smith’s latest shutout against the Jackets was his third in a row. His overall statistics for 2012 for remarkable: a 36-18-10 record, 2.25 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.
In short, if it weren’t for the remarkable seasons of Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and the tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslov Halak, Smith would be the run-away winner of the Vezina Trophy. But regardless of how the rest of the league views his play, Smith and the Coyotes have Burke to thank for the development of their netminder.