Smith rewarding Julien's faith with strong playoffs

Smith rewarding Julien's faith with strong playoffs
May 12, 2014, 11:30 am
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MONTREAL – One of the many good qualities that Claude Julien holds as an NHL head coach is patience, and that’s something that has paid many dividends over the years. Sometimes it’s keeping a line together when they struggle, and then watching them bust out offensively after a stubborn – the good kind of stubborn – refusal to bust things up at the first hint of trouble.

Other times it’s showing confidence and a patient hand with a young player figuring out the roller coaster of an NHL season, and then reaping the benefits of the talented youngster when the pendulum swings back into the “good” direction.

That’s exactly what is going on with B’s right winger Reilly Smith right now, as he’s bounced back from a season-ending slump to share the team lead in playoff goals with four while once again perking up with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I would say he mostly had a great season," Julien said. "Maybe for a month or so he got really quiet, but for the most part I thought he was pretty consistent. The way he’s playing right now is a lot more indicative of the kind of year he’s had. Every young player is going go through a lull along the way.

“Am I pleased with his play? Absolutely. I think he’s come up big in the playoffs, and we’ve seen the Reilly Smith that we saw for most of the regular season.”

Smith’s struggles down the stretch were well documented, and saw him score just one goal in his final 14 regular season games that finally got him to the noteworthy 20-goal plateau for the season.

Smith had just two goals and 11 points in his final 30 games of the regular season, and it appeared that the Olympic break in February really took the sharpness right out of the 23-year-old’s game. But Smith was perhaps energized by going up against older brother Brendan Smith in the first round matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, and has four goals and five points in 10 games along with a plus-rating.

The four goals are tied with Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic for the Bruins playoff team lead through their first 10 games, and have offset some of the slow offensive starts from bigger “name” players on Boston.

“It’s good. It’s a long season and it’s probably going to be a long postseason too. It’s a bit taxing on the body, but one thing I’ve been pretty surprised is how easy it is to get up for every playoff game,” said Smith, who is one of three players from the Tyler Seguin trade in the B’s playoff lineup along with Loui Eriksson and Matt Fraser. “It’s like Game 1 again of the regular season with the energy because everyone is so excited.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully the run just keeps going.”

Even better, Smith has 24 shots on goal in the 10 games, and has been heavily involved in the PP with two of Boston’s eight PP goals in the playoffs. Smith appreciated the way Julien backed him during the regular season, and feels that’s definitely part of the reason behind his postseason production.

Sometimes Julien can get this reputation as being a head coach that doesn’t trust younger players, but that’s simply not true with guys like Smith, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Matt Fraser, Justin Florek and so many others as prime examples.

“This year it’s been great. [Julien] has given me so much opportunity . . . way more opportunity than I could have expected when I came in here,” said Smith. “The best thing you can do is earn that trust and keep it going. I don’t think he harped on me once in the first couple of months, which was nice. He gave me a lot of freedom and confidence to make plays, and I think he’s done that with a lot of the young players here.

“You’re not second-guessing yourself with the puck, and that’s what you need to make plays. We had talked about [the late season struggles] especially at the end of the year trying to get back to the success I’d had earlier. It seems like it’s coming around right now, which is nice.”

Not only is it nice, but it’s a continued benefit to the Bruins from a player in Smith that produced 20 goals and 51 points in his first full NHL season after being just another guy auditioning for a third line role when training camp started all the way back in September.