Reilly Smith Working Through Scoring Dip
BostonBruins.com - It’s not unusual for the average young player to experience occasional dips during his first full season in the league.
Reilly Smith, though, is not the average young player.
When Smith came to Boston and cracked the roster out of training camp, most of the expectations around him were coming from within — and not from the fans, the coaching staff or even his teammates.
Through 64 games, Smith put up 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points, good for fourth on the team. It's also 36 more points than he registered through his first 40 games in the NHL with the Dallas Stars.
Smith’s offense has been a welcome surprise for the Bruins. But right now, the 22-year-old is going through his biggest scoring drought of the season. His last goal came 12 games ago, on January 28.
Since the beginning of the season, it's been easy to forget that Smith is still a very young player — young enough to reference his college days when going through a dip in offensive output.
“He’s a young player that's exceeded every expectation we've had of him, so all of a sudden now, because the expectation's become real high, maybe he slumps a little bit and everybody worries about him,” Julien said prior to Sunday’s game at the Panthers.
“I think that's just a natural trend for a young player to go through, and for me, I just want to see him work his way through it, which he's doing."
During an 11-game span that stretched from January 30 to March 8, Smith hadn’t scored a regulation goal, but he mentally broke out of his slump in a big way against the Lightning last Saturday night, netting the game-winner in the ninth round of a shootout. It put the Bruins on a four-game winning streak.
Smith’s successful attempt was a welcome reminder that he has a tendency of rewarding his coaches’ faith in him — and a welcome reminder that every slump does come to an end.
“You get that gut feeling, and I said, you know what? This is probably a good chance for Smitty to get himself going,” Julien had said of choosing Smith to go in the ninth round.
“And I even told one of my assistant coaches, it's going to end here. And he scored a big goal for us, so hopefully that's a lot of weight off his shoulders.”
This season has presented a plethora of changes for Smith. Not only does he have a new home and a new team, but he’s seeing significantly more ice time under Julien than he did in parts of two seasons with the Stars. In the shortened 2012-13 season, Smith averaged 11:55 minutes per game, recording a total of three goals and six assists in 37 contests.
Smith, who is admittedly his own toughest critic, is well aware that the goals haven’t been there for a while. For him, getting back on track just comes down to staying calm, having patience and playing his game.
“It’s tough,” said the winger. “One of my goals is to try to help out this team offensively, so if I’m not doing that, you try to work on other facets of your game and try to help out in other spots.”
“I think I’m most productive when I’m getting on the scoreboard and helping the team out offensively, so you know, you get on yourself a little bit to do that. That’s one thing I try to focus on is trying not to get overly upset if the puck’s not going in or if things aren’t happening, but just to keep trying to make plays.”
Smith credits his linemates with helping him stay positive when things aren’t going his way.
“There’s times when I’m starting to get, you know, a little bit upset about myself, and they’re pretty good at keeping me back and keeping me on an even keel,” Smith said.
The forward followed up Saturday’s shootout goal with an assist on Andrej Meszaros’ power play strike in the 5-2 win over the Panthers on Sunday. While that would certainly seem to indicate that he’s on his way back up again, Smith understands — just like his coaches do — that offensive slumps are just a part of the game.
“Even during a lot of the interviews when I was scoring, I mentioned that, you know, just as hot as you can get you’re scoring goals game after game, you can go through cold streaks just as easily,” he said.
“So, just something you've got to focus on is not trying to change too much up when you go into games and stick to the same mindset.”
To Smith's credit, he often referenced his "hot" linemates Marchand and Bergeron when the line was on a significant point streak in January. "I'm just riding their coattails," he would joke.
It's that type of mindset that's kept him on the right path with the Bruins, regardless of the points the young player is producing.
"When I wasn’t playing a lot in Dallas and joining a team that’s been pushing for the Stanley Cup the last three years, and they’ve done a great job doing that, it’s one of the first things that crosses your mind — how am I going to be able to crack this lineup? — but you know, at the same time, it gives you a pretty good goal to push for," said Smith, reflecting on the significant change in his career.
"And it seems like everything just snowballed into a positive impact."