BOSTON -- Reilly Smith hasn’t scored a goal in the last 15 games, and it’s no wonder the 22-year-old found himself pressing through much of the month of March thus far.
“[I’m pressing] a little bit, but the big thing for me is that the team is winning,” said Smith. “You try not to change your game too much, and instead take pucks to the net when you can. Once you turn away from that and try to get too fancy, your game goes into the negatives.”
He had just a pair of assists and 11 shots on net to show for the first eight games in March, and also had a cool, calculated shootout game-winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning that many thought would break the slump wide open.
Instead it’s continued for the four games since the win over Tampa Bay, but Smith started showing signs of a breakout with six shots on net in Saturday afternoon’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes. The effort tied his season-high for shots on net (six), and also began to kick on his own confidence that a slump-buster might very well lurk just around the corner.
Some of it is also a simple regression to the mean: Smith was up around a scalding 17 percent shooting percentage for the first half of the season, and has now dropped to a 14.5 percent mark that’s a little more realistic. Smith is going to wind up in the neighborhood of 20 goals and 50 points in his first full NHL season, and those are the kind of healthy offensive numbers that will keep him the league for a while.
Meanwhile, the youngster is trying not to dwell on it while the Bruins are in the middle of a season-high eight game winning streak that seems them pulling away from the rest of the Eastern Conference pack.
“The more chances you get on net, the better the chances you have of scoring,” said Smith. “It’s definitely one of the things I’m focusing on right now: getting pucks to the net, and eventually one of them is going to go in. But the biggest thing is our team.
“I’m not worried if I’m not scoring because the other guys are doing a great job…especially Looch, Iginla and Krejci. They’re doing a great job putting pucks in the net, and we have to focus on helping them out.”
The young right winger did admit that he’s putting some pressure on himself to escape a stretch since the beginning of January that’s seen him post just four goals and 14 points in his last 30 games. He’s still getting the top six minutes with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and it doesn’t appear there’s any danger of the Bruins replacing him given the organizational depth at forward right now.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has tried to do what he can to ease some of the burden Smith is dumping on his own shoulder.
“I’m not calling it a slump because it’s not for lack of competing. Things haven’t gone his way, and he’s a young player. He’s just been dealing with that for the first time at this level,” said Julien. “As long the guy keeps working and creates the opportunities he had in the last game, that’s the sign of a guy turning the corner.
“It’s been a trait of his that he demands a lot [of himself], and that’s the trait of a lot of players. It’s up to us to take some of that pressure off him. He just needs to go out and play hard. You need to go out and play hard, but you also have to have a lot of fun too. There should be work at this level, but there should be a lot of fun too. He had a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and when he came to the rink – and got out onto the ice – there was a lot of weight he was carrying on his shoulders. We’re trying to help him take some of that weight off.”
Monday night against Minnesota would be as good a time as any for Smith to finally break the ice, and start heating up again with a month to fine tune before his first Stanley Cup playoff experience.