Reilly Smith has been plagued by inconsistency this season, but his performance in Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders could serve as a catalyst for a strong second half of the regular season.
The Boston Bruins right winger entered Thursday with an 11-game goalless drought and just one tally in his last 17 games. His drought ended with a first-period goal that opened the scoring for Boston.
Smith skated hard down the slot and beat Islanders forward Anders Lee to the front of the net, which allowed him to tip the puck past goaltender Jaroslav Halak off a sensational pass from Milan Lucic.
Smith also earned two assists for his first three-point game of the season. He picked up a secondary helper on Patrice Bergeron’s first-period power-play tally and a primary assist on Torey Krug’s third-period goal. Smith now has a three-game point streak, which he’s done three previous times this campaign and ties a season-high.
The 23-year-old has proven to be a valuable top-six winger since the beginning of last season, but his inability to score goals on a consistent basis can be frustrating. Smith has three separate goal droughts of nine or more games this season and half of his 10 goals were scored in December alone.
Even though Smith has scored only one goal in January, the Bruins are controlling play when he’s on the ice, as evidenced by his 59.3 Corsi-for percentage at even strength (best among B’s forwards this month). Boston is controlling just 48.9 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Smith is on the bench. Playing alongside Patrice Bergeron — an elite puck-possession center — plays a factor in these numbers for Smith, but they’re still impressive.
Smith and Lucic, who also collected three points with a goal and two assists, displayed good chemistry on the top line with David Krejci against the Islanders. This line lost the puck possession battle Thursday night with 14 shots for, 17 against at 5-on-5, but it was on the ice for three goals and created four scoring chances.
Smith spent 12:00 of his 15:08 of even-strength ice time with the Krejci-Lucic combo, and it’s unclear if this trio will remain intact when Boston hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings on Saturday. That said, it’s always an option for head coach Claude Julien whenever he needs to mix up his lines or try to help Smith snap a lengthy goalless drought.
Smith scored just two goals in his last 30 games to end the 2013-14 regular season. The Bruins were able to overcome that because of their incredible scoring depth and the third-best power play in the NHL. Boston doesn’t have the same depth or power-play skill this season, so it’s important for Smith to find some consistency over the next few months.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images. Corsi stats via War on Ice.