Saturday, November 23, 2013
Precocious Smith provides scoring punch
By Joe McDonald
Reilly Smith slips a backhander past Cam Ward to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
BOSTON -- The Bruins weren't at their best against the Carolina Hurricanes, but they found a way to win Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
Thanks to David Krejci's goal at 1:28 of overtime, Boston finished with a 3-2 victory in a game where they had plenty of chances to close it out but failed to capitalize.
One positive aspect of the Bruins' victory was the continued solid play of third-line winger Reilly Smith. He scored a goal and now has four points in the past four games, and nine points in his past 11.
But it's not just the statistics. He's playing well in every aspect of the game, and it's evident his confidence is building.
"We always seem to overlook his age and he's a young player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the 22-year-old Smith. "And the way I think he's handled himself in pressure situations, handling the puck a little bit better and holding onto it. And at the same time, I thought tonight he shot the puck a little bit more; he had a little bit better of a nose for the net and before, [he was] 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."
Smith's goal to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 13:31 of the second period was similar to Krejci's game-winning tally. Like Krejci, Smith showed patience with the puck in front of the net and forced Carolina goalie Cam Ward to move to his left before Smith beat him with a backhander to the short side.
A few weeks ago, Smith wasn't playing with as much confidence as he is now. But Saturday, he had the patience not to immediately shoot the puck, and was able to create more of a quality chance.
"Every day gets a little easier," Smith said Saturday. "When you stay with the same linemates I've had for the last month, it gets easier and chemistry builds every day. Take it day by day, but everything right now is going pretty well and I've got to keep the ball rolling."
Reilly Smith celebrates his fourth goal of the season with Matt Bartkowski.
Even though their paths to the NHL were completely different, Krejci earned a similar opportunity in his first full season in Boston. The highly skilled forward registered six goals and 11 assists in his first 23 games as a 22-year-old during the 2008-2009 season. Krejci would finish with 22 goals and 51 assists for 73 points in 82 games.
"I remember I was just happy to be playing in the NHL," Krejci said of that season. "I played with no expectations, I was just going out there and playing my game and the points were coming my way. It was a great first couple of years, but later on the expectations get higher and it's about how you can handle the pressure. [Smith] is still young. He's looking pretty good, but we'll see how he handles it in the next few years."
Smith arrived in Boston with only 40 games and nine points of NHL experience in Dallas. Now, he has four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 23 games for the Bruins. He's on pace to potentially match what Krejci accomplished at the same age.
"I didn't know much about him before he got traded, but all I know is he's a great player and he's still young," Krejci said. "He's playing like a 10-year vet, so it's good to see him doing well and hopefully he can keep it up."
Bruins veteran forward and future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla played the majority of his career in the Western Conference for the Calgary Flames. He didn't know much about Smith during his brief time with the Stars, but Iginla has been impressed with what he's seeing now.
The aspect of Smith's game that impresses Iginla the most is his poise on the ice, especially with his work on the team's second power-play unit. Along with defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Smith runs the point on the power play -- and that can be a lot for any young player to handle.
"That's a high-pressured situation as a forward and he looks great back there," Iginla said. "Then 5-on-5, him, [Chris Kelly] and [Carl Soderberg], they seem to be getting better and reading off each other. [Smith's] one-on-one skills, he seems to beat one guy a night going down the wing. … It's great, another young guy who is in high-pressured situations, but he's enjoying it and thriving in it. He looks very confident there."
Even before the Bruins acquired him as part of the Tyler Seguin trade on July 4, Boston had been scouting Smith since his collegiate days at Miami (Ohio). Yes, Loui Eriksson was the big return in the Seguin deal with Dallas, but Smith was nowhere close to being considered a throw-in.
Because Smith has acted and played so professionally, his Bruins teammates haven't had to mentor him too much. He's learned by watching what they do on and off the ice and it's had a positive effect on his play.
"He's doing well so I don't want to say, 'You're doing great but in a few years from now you're going to suck.' He's doing awesome," Krejci said. "His head is right in it and it's good to see him doing well."