WILMINGTON (CBS) — The way the Bruins are rolling along, with 13 wins in their past 14 games, it’s easy to forget that there are some weaknesses on this current squad.
Among the forward core, Reilly Smith stands out as someone who’s done little to contribute to the Bruins’ efforts in going 14 games without a regulation loss. Smith, whose season totals are still an impressive 19-28-47 in 73 games, has now scored just one goal in his past 21 games.
It wasn’t too long ago Smith was leading the Bruins in scoring and was the talk of the town. Now he’s fifth on the Bruins’ scoring charts. There are nine games for him to break out of his doldrums before the playoffs.
“I feel all right about it,” Smith responded Friday when asked about his game after practice at Ristuccia Arena. “You know if the puck’s not going in the back of the net, it’s not going in the back of the net. The best thing you can do is keep on trying to get chances.”
While Patrice Bergeron has now scored a goal in five straight games (six over that span), left winger Brad Marchand has only scored once in 11 games. That means the right winger isn’t alone in not pulling his weight on the Bruins’ second line. But Marchand’s work on the penalty kill makes up for his offensive lapses, and Smith’s cooled off so much from his sizzling start that it’s difficult to get a feel which player the Bruins will have in their lineup when the postseason starts in a couple weeks.
Coach Claude Julien said he was encouraged by Smith’s performance in the 3-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. Smith landed one shot on net and was a plus-2 against Chicago. Julien’s not panicking about Smith’s play.
“Again, this is a first-year player, a guy in his first year in the NHL. And he’s been put on the top line and playing against top lines, and you know he’s going to hit a bit of a rut along the way,” Julien said. “For us, it’s a matter of letting him fight through it a little bit here and it’s only going to help him in the long run. We’re not sensing maybe fatigue more than it’s the grind of the schedule and being able to get that intensity to the level that he had at the beginning. That’s what young players go through in their first year.”
Smith played in 82 pro games last season, but only about half were in the NHL after the lockout ended. So he admitted that playing in more than 70 NHL games has been a little different and he’s learning how to handle it the way a veteran would. It probably won’t hurt if Julien gives Smith a game or two to relax and take in the action from above before the regular season concludes. Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic, among forwards, have benefited from similar respites in the past. And even with his current defense corps, Julien has been rotating guys to keep the younger players fresh and give them a new perspective of the game.
As long as Smith doesn’t become a liability, there’s probably no reason to consider changing Smith’s line — especially when the other lines are playing so well. In the postseason, the Bruins have proven in past years that they can overcome a slumping line by getting production from other sources. The only problem will be if David Krejci or Carl Soderberg’s line hits a dry spell, will Smith be there to aid Bergeron and Marchand in their efforts to make up for the missing production?
Julien has to hope that when the chips are down, some semblance of the early-season Reilly Smith emerges.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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