It was worth noting that in all of Craig Smith’s offensive struggles for the Boston Bruins in the first half of the season, there was very little doubt across the board that he would eventually get things going. It required a move to a third line right wing spot alongside Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic, and it took four plus months of grinding it out in order to get there.
But Smith’s two-goal effort in Saturday night’s 3-2 Boston Bruins win over the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden was another sign that the red-hot right winger is right on top of his game again. The second-effort energy is still there and shots that were missing the net earlier in the season are now finding the back of it with regularity.
Smith has seven goals and eight points in six games during the month of March and has essentially doubled his offensive output from the first five months of the season.
“I think you focus on the little things,” said Smith, who now has 13 goals and 27 points in 52 games this season. “Our leadership group does a good job at not letting things going unnoticed, especially with everybody on our roster, and especially in the game. I think little small details can build the guy up, and I think that’s what this team, before I got here, prided themselves on, and it’s carried over.
“It’s definitely on the leadership, and it’s a great culture here. I think that it kind of helps everybody feel accountable and feel good about their game no matter where they are on the ice or what happens. But you’ve got to get yourself in good areas on the ice and make sure you’re shooting the puck. And as long as you’re doing that, it’s a funny game sometimes, and they’ll go in.”
The first goal was textbook Smith as the winger gave a little extra during a line change to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and then went to the net where he banged home the rebound of a Tomas Nosek shot. The second was an initial slot shot off a nice play by Coyle to create the opportunity, and then Smith attacked the net and slammed home the second-chance opportunity for his 13th goal of the season.
The 13 goals puts Smith fifth on the team with one more than Taylor Hall on the season and puts him within a couple of goals of Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and Coyle just ahead of him. That’s a far cry from the player that had just a single goal 11 games into his season and didn’t score goal No. 2 until the day after Thanksgiving.
Now Coyle has locked into the third line right wing spot for the Boston Bruins, and that leaves some question about what they’re going to do with a top-6 right wing spot if they move Jake DeBrusk at the NHL trade deadline. Ideally the B’s would like to keep Smith locked in on a “3-2-1 Contact” line that looks dangerous in playoff scenarios right now, and that goes across the board with No.’s 11, 12 and 13 all working together perfectly.
“I think they’re playing to the identity of how they would need to play to score on a regular basis, which is typically they’re playing behind the D, they’re winning pucks, getting pucks back, good forechecks, in sync together in the O-zone with their spacing,” Cassidy explained. “So, they’re scoring a lot of goals like that. Then they’ve capitalized on the rush by not overthinking it. The goal Charlie scored, they gave him a path to the net. They took away the pass on the 2-on-1, so he took the shot. Smitty’s second goal was again a good forecheck, good second effort but gets into the middle of the ice and has good spacing.
“I think they’re doing a good job with all of that stuff. And away from the puck right now, I think they’ve been very reliable with their board work. Like the last goal, Freddy does a good job on the boards. Even the last couple of minutes, he’s out there. He stays on to make sure they have to regroup so he can get fresh legs. He doesn’t just throw a puck away when he has it in the O-zone, he puts it in a purpose so the next guy – so they’re doing a lot of smart things, too. So, as a coach, you’re going to play them against anyone, so they get an opportunity.”
A big part of that third line’s surge is the play of Smith, always willing to shoot the puck and hustle to create opportunities for himself and his linemates. Now it’s matter of both player and trio maintaining their current level of play where they’ve managed to go an amazing 5-1-1 in the last seven games without a single goal from Brad Marchand. That would have been impossible earlier this season and in year’s past when the Boston Bruins were overly reliant on the Perfection Line, but times have changed for a Boston Bruins team attacking in multiple ways these days.
“It’s still a hard game. Teams play well, they block well, and you’ve got to be opportunistic and get pucks on the net,” said Smith. “I mean, sometimes you’re going have a great look, and it’s not going to go in. Sometimes it’s going to go off somebody and go in and get a bounce, and it’s just the way it goes. Sometimes when you’re not scoring, you feel like maybe you’re 200 feet from the net no matter where you are on the ice.
“So, it feels good right now, but I think we’re staying close. We’re creating turnovers. We created some good energy for the bench especially, and I think that carries on from line to line.”
Smith probably feels like he’s about 10 feet away right now as the red lamp is lighting and the good times are rolling for the energetic right wing.