NASHVILLE -- Center Craig Smith is heating up for the Nashville Predators, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.
After scoring 21 goals or more in three consecutive seasons from 2013-16, Smith scored 12 goals this season. He went 25 games without scoring a goal from Jan 31-March 28, and had to battle through frustration at times.
"Everybody has expectations, you know?" Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think [Smith] has proven that he can put up a lot of points and be a contributing factor on a team. Like any player, I think when things don't go exactly the way you want, it can be frustrating at times."
Smith's offensive production started to pick up in the final 10 games. He had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) during that span and thought he played his best hockey of the season.
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"I feel good," Smith said. "I feel confident in where I'm at and how I'm playing and who I'm playing with. I think we found a little bit of chemistry with [Colin Wilson and Colton Sissons], and if [Mike Fisher] was in there too. It's been great. Getting a couple of looks on the power play has been good, too."
The Predators will need Smith, 27, to continue to be productive offensively in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has played mostly on a line with a combination of Wilson, Sissons or Fisher during the past 10 games and consistently has been creating offense.
"He's getting some of his confidence back," Wilson said. "He always works hard, but it seems like when he goes in on the forecheck, he's always turning over these pucks. It creates a lot of offense, and it's really made it easy to play with him. I think it's just a little bit of confidence kind of working in the right direction."
The line of Sissons, Wilson and Smith seemed to have instant chemistry when Fisher was out of the lineup with a lower-body injury. Smith's offense was jump-started, and he carried it forward the rest of the season.
"It's tough to talk about some of that stuff because some of it is sixth sense, I guess, and you don't know why or rhyme to reason," Smith said. "We always seem to be around each other. It seems like there's a breakdown and I turn around and [Sissons or Wilson is] right there. I think one of the biggest things is we're working hard and turning over a lot of pucks."
It was a challenging season for Smith, but he worked through it and has a chance for a fresh start in the playoffs. The Predators hope his work ethic leads to being a key player in a long playoff run.
"The one thing I will say about [Smith] is that he works hard every day," Laviolette said. "He works at his game every day. He tries to get better. I think he's pretty honest about his game and what goes on out there. He's getting hot at the right time of the year. He's playing really well right now."