Smith, Karlsson and Stamkos named NHL 'Three Stars' for February
Mike Smith was acquired by the Phoenix Coyotes to be the No. 1 goalie who could lead the team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Erik Karlsson's role is to give the Ottawa Senators a top-flight offensive threat from the blue line. Steven Stamkos gets paid by the Tampa Bay Lightning to do one thing better than anyone: Score goals.
Those players did their jobs so well last month that on Thursday they were honored as the NHL's Three Stars for February.
Smith, the First Star, won all 11 of his starts for the month, posting a 1.42 goals-against average and stopping 315 of 331 shots for a .952 save percentage. Signed as a free agent over the summer after Ilya Bryzgalov left for Philadelphia, the 29-year-old Smith set a franchise record for consecutive wins, a personal-record shutout streak (171 minutes, 26 seconds) and led his team from 12th place in the Western Conference at the start of the month to the Pacific Division lead. In his final game of the month, Smith stopped 39 of 40 shots to lead the Coyotes to a 2-1 shootout victory against the defending West champion Canucks.
"I knew Smitty would come in and be a good player for us. I just had a feeling that he was ready to take that next step," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "The credit has to go to Smitty himself, but Sean (Burke, goalie coach) has done a great job with him. He makes sure his thought process going into each game is just top notch. I had a real feeling those two would hit it off together and it could be a really good thing for us."
Karlsson, the Second Star, is solidifying his resume as a top candidate for the Norris Trophy in just his third season in the League. The 21-year-old leads all NHL defensemen with 66 points (setting the Ottawa single-season record) and is second in the League only to Henrik Sedin with 51 assists. His month got off to a slow start, as Karlsson was held without a point in the Senators' first four games in February, but he finished by piling up the points at a Paul Coffey-like rate, amassing 7 goals and 11 assists during an eight-game point-scoring streak he carries into March. Karlsson had multi-point efforts in six of those eight games, including a pair of goals and a pair of assists Feb. 20 against the Islanders. Three of his goals in February were game-winners.
"As a player, he's grown," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean told the team's website. "You're allowed to learn and you're allowed to get better, and I think that's what he's done. His success is more an indication of his ability to grasp the game and to grasp it quickly. His skating ability, I think, is what separates him from a lot of people. He's not a big man, but he defends with quickness and speed, and he's learned how to do it real well."
Stamkos, the Third Star, has kept the Lightning in the fight for an Eastern Conference playoff berth by scoring goals in bunches, putting him in the driver's seat to claim the Rocket Richard Trophy all for himself after sharing the honor with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby two seasons ago. The 22-year-old Stamkos, completing his fourth NHL season, scored 11 goals in February and amassed 22 points. He had a pair of multi-goal efforts, scored the decisive goal in wins against the Panthers, Sabres and Capitals, and had seven multi-point outings, including a pair of goals and a pair of assists Feb. 16 against the Sharks. Stamkos has 44 goals, seven more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, and his 76 points trail Malkin by three in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.
"His game has really evolved," Lightning coach Guy Boucher told the team's website. "He came into this season with that willingness to want more and more from himself, so that has really impressed me."