WILMINGTON – Claude Julien has a message for all of those lacking patience for Reilly Smith while he works his way through recent struggles: he’s not making any snap changes to the Bruins lineup.
The Bruins may move Loui Eriksson on the right wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in one of the final seven games to get a feel for that combination, but there won’t be any crazy line changes going into the playoffs. Smith has more shootout game-winners (two) than goals (one) over the last 23 games, and has failed to get a shot on net in four of his last seven games.
But he’s still working hard, and his coach won’t make any rash moves while there’s still time for Smith to find his game. He’s also still a darling of the fancy stats set as one of only four players with a dougle-digit relative Corsi (13.2) on the Bruins roster this season while also sitting on the verge of a 20-goal season in his first full NHL campaign.
“He’s not playing as badly as you guys seem to be saying," Julien said. "If I hear what you guys are saying, it’s because the stats aren’t there. But I still think he’s working hard. There’s no doubt his stats need to be better, and he knows that. But at the same time we’ve just to keep pushing. If a guy is working hard you’ve got to encourage him rather than being on top of him.
“He did a great job, and put on a great move in the shootout. I was joking with you the other night about it, and said maybe it was my fault for not assuming he was a better shootout player than that. Maybe he should have been in the top three. Maybe we’ll look at that down the road. Maybe sometimes my patience is a little longer than others, but that’s just the way I coach.”
Smith is appreciative Julien has showed enough faith in him to keep him among the top six group despite the meager offensive numbers, but also understands production is one of the big keys at this point. Smith needs to generate more shots than the pace he was on in March putting only 27 shots on net in 17 games while seemingly every other player was blowing up offensively.
“It’s good because you learn a lot playing with those two guys (Bergeron and Marchand), and they’re just really talented,” said Smith. “It’s nice to know they have that kind of faith in me when the puck isn’t going into the back of the net. You try not to think about [potential line changes] too much, and control the things you can control.
“It’s not my decision who I play with. They’re going to have the best interests of the team in the choices they make.”
There is one interesting thing to note about potentially switching up Smith and Eriksson, and voicing trepidation about busting up the Swedish connection chemistry between Eriksson and Carl Soderberg on the third line. Eriksson was one of the coolest players outside of Smith with just two goals in his last 23 games, and there’s a really easy argument to make that a switch could spark both players.
But that’s something Julien should hold in his bag of tricks for the postseason should both players continue to starve offensively a few weeks from now.