Reilly Smith ‘finally’ back to scoring for Bruins
|03.18.14 at 9:54 am ET|
When Reilly Smith jumped out to a hot start as the Bruins’ leader in goals through the first three-plus months of the season, he didn’t soak it in the same way other young players might. He stayed quiet and it didn’t go to his head. Respectfully, he was boring.
So when he finally snapped his nearly seven-week-long scoring slump in the third period of Monday’s win over the Wild, there was no triumphant celebration — just hands in the hair and one spoken word: “Finally.”
That, minus the “finally” was pretty much what the rest of his 19 celebrations have looked like. Nothing fancy, and nothing too proud; everything you’d expect from a kid who has maintained that his goals only matter to him if they help the team win.
Yet as even-keeled as he seemed to remain during that slump — which lasted 15 games and began after he notched his then-team-leading 18th goal of the season (he’s tied for fourth on the team now) — it weighed on him. Smith’s clearly the type of player who doesn’t get carried away with success, but when it wasn’t coming, maybe a little frustration did set in.
“He demands a lot, and that’s a trait of a lot of players, to be honest with you,” Claude Julien said before Monday’s game. “He’s just one of those guys that has that trait, and it’s up to us to kind of take some of that pressure off him. He’s just got to go out there and play hard, and most of all you have to play hard but you have to have fun at this game. It’s work, but your work has to be a lot of fun, too.
“I think right now he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. I think he was coming to the rink and getting on the ice there and instead of smiling was just carrying the weight that he didn’t need to carry. So we’re just trying to help him take some of that weight off his shoulders.”
Monday should have helped a little. Smith went to the net and jammed a rebound of a Patrice Bergeron shot past Darcy Kuemper to expand the Bruins’ lead to 3-1. For a player who made a name for himself early with rebound goals and finishing off Carl Soderberg backdoor plays, he was just glad it went in.
“I don’t think I’ve scored a pretty goal this year, so I figured it was going to come that way,” he said after the game. “It was a long time, so it was definitely a good feeling.”
Despite it being a long time, Smith wasn’t playing himself out of his spot as Bergeron’s right wing. The line was still producing — there was a stretch in Smith’s goal slump where he had five assists in eight games — and Smith’s place in Boston’s top six has provided them with superb depth offensively.
If he can get back to scoring the way he did earlier in the season, Boston’s offense — which ranks third in the NHL — will be as balanced as ever. The Bruins figure to end up having at least five 20-goal-scorers this season (Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are already there; Bergeron and Smith are each one goal away), while both Zdeno Chara and David Krejci have an outside chance with 16 goals apiece.
Loui Eriksson doesn’t come up in that conversation because for much of the time he’s been in the lineup this season he’s been feeling his way back from a concussion. His goal Monday was just his eighth of the season, but the play of he and Carl Soderberg lately essentially gives them a third line that looks more like a top-six line than anything else.
A big part of Boston’s nine-game winning streak is the team’s offensive balance, and that was without Smith scoring. If he can get back to his earlier pace — and he had six shots on goal the game before he broke the drought, so maybe that’s coming — the Bruins will be even scarier.
“You could see it turning around, so it was just a continuation of that,” Julien said. “Right now, I think his work ethic and his mindset is good. As long as those two things are there, he’s going to get better all the time.”