Prior to December 2013, Smith was a prospect who came to Boston in a blockbuster trade the summer prior. He established himself as one of Boston’s brightest young players during training camp and earned himself a permanent spot on the Bruins’ roster.
For the first couple of months of the season, he was solid wherever Head Coach Claude Julien put him, which was, for the most part, with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly.
But then Loui Eriksson went down with a concussion on Dec. 7. It was Eriksson’s second concussion of the season, and it would keep him out of the lineup for over a month. Boston needed a right winger to complement Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Smith stepped in, he excelled and he never looked back. And now, almost exactly a year later, Smith has once again stepped in and excelled when the B’s truly needed him.
The start to the 2014-15 season was not the smoothest for the 23-year-old Toronto native. As a restricted free agent, he missed the bulk of training camp while he awaited a new contract. It took him some time to rediscover his game. After he put up 20 goals and 31 assists in 2013-14, Boston expected to see his much-needed scoring touch once again to start his second full NHL season.
But after scoring a goal in the season opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 8, Smith struggled to find the back of the net. He would score just two goals in his first 14 games of the season before scoring in back-to-back games against Edmonton and New Jersey at the beginning of November.
Then, another drought hit. Smith was held pointless from Nov. 12 to Dec. 2, a span of 10 games that coincided with the Bruins’ toughest stretch of the season thus far. Amidst a rash of injuries, the Bruins were coming off two losses in their last three games, both to Eastern Conference heavyweights, and they were headed out on a four-game swing through the West Coast.
They needed Smith to step up, and starting with a Dec. 4 contest against San Jose, he did — in a big way. The team was desperate, he was desperate, and it was time to make something happen.
Smith scored twice against the Sharks, his first goal coming just 29 seconds into the contest. The Bruins would lose that game 7-4, but Smith’s offense marked one of the few bright spots for Boston. He was starting to right the ship for himself, and two nights later, the team would follow suit.
“You go on a road trip and you don't have a win after three games, and you're heading home the next day — you need to get some points,” Smith said on Saturday. “It’s a waste of a trip if you don’t.”
In a 5-2 win over Arizona on Saturday night — Boston’s first win in four games — Smith set up linemate Brad Marchand for both of his goals, earning two points and ensuring the Bruins would not return from their road trip winless.
“Smitty had another great game [on Saturday],” Marchand said. “On both my goals, he made them happen, and he's all over the ice — backchecking, forechecking, being strong on the puck, and that's what we need out of him, especially right now.
“It's a lot of fun watching him when he's playing like this.”
It was no secret that as the Bruins headed out to California, they were having trouble finding the back of the net as a collective unit. They had scored just four goals in their last three games, and with matchups looming against some of the Western Conference’s strongest teams in Los Angeles in Anaheim, they needed to score any way they could. That, as Julien put it, meant doing the little things that were perhaps difficult to do.
It meant going to the front of the net. It meant screening the goalie and jamming in front. It meant taking the hits, the nicks and the bruises to make sure the puck went in, by any means necessary.
Smith did it, and he kept doing it until the results came, too.
“The thing with Reilly — although he hadn't been putting the points up, for quite a while now — probably in the last week and a half or so, I’ve found him really working hard and competing hard,” Julien said on Saturday night. “And then, the last couple of games, I thought you started to see him make more plays and get that confidence back.
“[Against Arizona], he played really well. I thought last game, he was a good player for us —even in LA — so I think his game is starting to come around right now. [The] timing is good.”
The Bruins returned from the West Coast with two points of a possible eight. It wasn’t ideal, but aside from a one-game outlier in San Jose, the B’s did what they needed to do out West. They played the way they needed to play. They were physical and, in three of the four games, stingy, and now they must carry that over as a matchup against Chicago looms on Thursday.
“Pride was definitely a word that was thrown around [during the trip],” Smith said. “I don't think it was such a horrible road trip. [In] the first two games, the process was good; we just didn't get the results that we needed. The third game against San Jose, we came out hard but couldn't put a full 60 minutes together.
“[Against the Coyotes], we were able to put both of those together, and it's a good stepping stone for our next game because it's going to be a tough one against Chicago.”
It has been a little while since the Bruins have managed to put together a winning streak. Boston won three in a row from Nov. 15 to Nov. 21, but since then, there have been a handful of losses and two wins, which came eight days apart.
The Bruins seem to have rediscovered their scoring touch. They put forth a full 60-minute effort versus the Coyotes. The next item on the agenda is putting together a winning streak, and there is no better time than Thursday to start.
“It's always the little things and the hard work that goes into getting those streaks going,” Smith said. “We have a couple more days of practice before we get [back to] playing, so get back to the little things and hopefully we get something going here.”