WASHINGTON, DC – The effort to reconnect Reilly Smith with his game continues to go on for the Black and Gold.
For the bad news: Smith didn’t score in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center, and now has one goal in his last 22 games while running head-long into a scoring slump he has yet to escape. The 22-year-old was pulled from the B’s second power play unit in favor of Andrej Meszaros to start the game, but was back on the unit for Boston’s final two power play possessions of the game.
The 27 shots on goal in 16 games during the month of March isn’t exactly a blistering pace. Smith would certainly benefit from a dose of assertiveness and aggressiveness on a forward line where the offense should be plentiful, and the Bruins have been patiently waiting for it.
“We’ve got a few weeks to go here, and if he can find his stride like he’s started to [in his last few games] then we’re going to be okay,” said Julien, of Smith. “This is a first year player. He’s been on a top line and playing on top lines, and he’s going to hit a bit of a rut along the way. For us it’s about letting him fight through it a little bit here, and it will only help him in the long run.
“We’re not sensing fatigue here as much as the grind of the schedule, and maybe not sensing the same kind of intensity as he had at the beginning of the year.”
The good news: Smith is still skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and he’s still getting his scoring chances. Marchand set him up with a golden scoring chance from the slot in the second period, but Braden Holtby robbed the right winger with a flashy glove save that had Smith laughing and talking to himself.
Claude Julien admitted prior to Saturday’s game against the Capitals that switching Loui Eriksson into Smith’s spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand is something that could happen in the final weeks of the season. The danger there is busting up a B’s third line that’s been dominant with Carl Soderberg and Eriksson working their Swedish mojo to great effect.
It would only be something to give the coaching staff a different look at that forward, but it’s also a pretty clear message to Smith: top six forwards need to not only get offensive chances, but they also need to be productive with results.
“You never know,” said Julien. “There are going to be some things happening here…not necessarily this weekend, but after this weekend we’ll start looking at some scenarios moving down the road with seven games left. I don’t want to keep it to the last game, and it revolves around discussions with management and with the players.”
Clearly this is something Smith is well aware of as he’s on the verge of a 20-goal campaign in his first full NHL season.
“I’m not trying to be too fancy, and just sticking to the things that have given me success,” said Smith. “You go hot, and you go cold. It just happens. Confidence is big. It’s something you work on. It can be the difference between bobbling the puck, and getting a clean pass. One thing is just staying positive, and keeping things moving in a positive direction.”
There haven’t been enough results for Smith lately, and he needs to change that if he wants to retain his top-six role and power play position. It’s in his control at this point, and Smith has eight games to really get things on track headed into the postseason with a hockey club loaded for a long run.