Reilly Smith, Third Line Building Consistency
BostonBruins.com - There was a time, mid-September, when Reilly Smith was shooting to make the Bruins.
"It’s probably the easiest thing, to just lay back and act like the hard part is over. But it’s the exact opposite," Smith had said, upon making the opening night roster. "Just making this team, it was a big challenge, but sticking with it is a whole different story.”
Now, 23 games into the season, the right winger has surpassed his career season-high with four goals in the spoked-B.
His 15 points are four more that he notched through 37 games last season with Dallas, after making the jump from the college game.
Smith's fourth goal came in the Bruins' 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon. At the time, it gave Boston a 2-1 lead. It gave him four points in his past four games.
With Kelly planted in front of the net, Soderberg threw a turnaround shot towards the goal. Smith then swooped in, picked up the loose puck, walked around the crease, and waited as long as he could before backhanding it through the space between Cam Ward's glove and left pad.
Smith showed patience. The patience of a player getting more comfortable, and well-adjusted with the Black & Gold.
"Absolutely," he said. "Just little things like that where probably a few weeks, or a month ago, I probably wouldn’t have done that, I probably would have tried to get it on net right away. With every day, you build confidence."
Smith is building consistency as a Bruin and showing the "slick" and "silky smooth" player that General Manager Peter Chiarelli knew he had acquired on July 4 in the trade with Dallas; his teammates are noticing as well.
"I didn’t know much about him before he got traded," said David Krejci, who showed patience of his own on the overtime winner that followed up Smith's goal, and lifted the Bruins over the Canes. "I know he’s a great player, he’s still young, but he’s playing like a 10-year vet."
"It’s good to see him doing well; hopefully he can keep it up."
Since the B's earlier win against Carolina, a 4-1 victory in Raleigh on November 18, in which Smith and Soderberg each notched multi-point nights, their production has been a topic of conversation after each game.
They continue to build momentum.
"They just feel better, and it's more about playing together. They’re reading off of each other extremely well; they’re anticipating, so they’re always on top of the puck," said Head Coach Claude Julien.
"They know exactly where they want to go and where they’re going to put the puck so they’re on top of it all the time, and the last few games, they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of offensive zone time."
"I think me, Carl, and Kells are doing pretty well together," said Smith. "You get more familiar every day, chemistry gets a little better…Just getting pucks to the net, trying to crash."
In the Bruins' four-game stretch leading up to their game against Pittsburgh on November 25, the trio accounted for four goals and six assists.
"Those new guys have stepped in, and done a great job. You look at Söderberg and Smith, what they’ve done for us this year in that third line role where last year we were struggling to find a third line," said Julien. "So that’s been great."
As Smith gets more comfortable, he's not only getting pucks to the net, but he's also finding his teammates more often.
"We’re talking about a young player here. I keep saying it all the time, we always seem to overlook his age and he’s a young player, and the way I think he’s handled himself in pressure situations, [he's] handling the puck a little bit better and holding onto it," said Julien.
"I thought [against Carolina] he shot the puck a little bit more; he had a little bit better of a nose for the net and before, looking to make plays versus shooting the puck. So he’s really turned a corner and is really coming along well for a young player."
Krejci, the bona fide playmaker, recalls his first few years in the league well.
"I remember I was just happy to be playing NHL and played with no expectations," said the alternate captain. "I was just going out there, and I played my game, and the points were coming my way so it was a great first couple of years."
"But later on, the expectation gets higher and it’s about how you can handle the pressure."
The pressure may come later, but the patience is already there.
"You get used to how to handle situations like that around the net and it’s just about how you feel about your confidence, how you can do the same thing at this level," said Krejci.
Now, for Smith and his linemates, it's about continuing their confident play.
"Every day gets a little bit easier. When you stay with the same linemates, for a few weeks or a month, every day gets easier, chemistry builds, so just take it day-by-day," said the winger.
"But I think everything is going pretty well right now; just try to keep the ball rolling."