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Smith still finding ways to make presence felt

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
While Zack Smith is struggling to produce offensively, the Sens forward has contributed in other ways, such as penalty killing and providing a physical presence for the team (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Zack Smith has been down this road before.

His coach, for that matter, has also seen the young Ottawa Senators forward struggle this way before. And emerge from it successfully.

So while Smith is anything but content with his current 33-game goal-scoring drought, he's found other ways to make his presence felt in the Senators lineup.

"If I’m not contributing scoring goals, then I’ve got to find other ways (to help), which I think I have," Smith said following an off-ice workout in Sunrise, Fla., where the Sens will face off against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) to close out their three-game road trip .

"I’ve taken a bigger role on the penalty kill and playing on the third or fourth line, (you want) to just be physical. Hopefully, you can contribute in some way."

Nobody agrees more than Senators head coach Cory Clouston, who considers Smith a key member of a penalty killing unit that has operated at better than 96 per cent efficiency over the last 20 games.

"Right now, his confidence level isn’t high when it comes to offence," said Clouston. "But when you talk about things he’s contributing, he’s helping out in other areas. He’s a physical presence. He’s dropped the mitts a couple of times and stuck up for his teammates. And he’s part of that penalty kill. To me, when a guy’s struggling offensively, it’s a positive when you can find other ways to be a contributor and I think that’s what Zack is doing."

Smith, a 22-year-old native of Maple Creek, Sask., is the first to admit he's been a streaky scorer at times. Even during his rookie pro season in 2008-09, when he ranked among the Binghamton Senators' top goal scorers with 24, he endured a lengthy scoring drought.

"He had such a good start, then I think he went 29 games without a goal in Binghamton," said Clouston, the B-Sens' head coach that year. "So it’s not new to him. He’s a little bit streaky in the goal department. We do need him to be better in that area. He is getting chances. Last night, he had two or three on his stick and he just missed nets and blew it wide."

While he's naturally frustrated by his lack of finish around the net at the moment, Smith knows from experience that things can turn on a dime quickly in that regard.

"Going through a scoring drought, you think about it all the time," he said. "But at the same time when you’re getting the chances, you know you’re doing things right. It seems like when (goals) come, they come in bunches and at other times, it seems like you can’t buy one.

"I think (scoring droughts) are something pretty much every player goes through. It’s happened all the time, especially with me, but you always come through. It seems like it’s way worse than it is at the time you’re going through it, but when you finally do break through, it feels pretty good."

Given the Senators' movement toward a more youthful future, Smith finds himself in position to carve out a significant role going forward. Clouston, for one, doesn't doubt he'll get there.

"In the long run, he’s going to be able to score some goals at this level," said Clouston. "But to me, he’s going to be a real good player for us, not necessarily because of his offence — I think he has some — but because of other things. He’s a good penalty killer, he’s getting better on the faceoffs, he’s a big, strong physical body and sticks up for his teammates.

"We’re going to have to work to create a little bit more offence from him and just help to build his confidence."

Around the boards

Senators prospect David Rundblad has been named the winner of the Borje "The King" Salming Trophy as the top defenceman in the Swedish Elitserien (Elite League). Rundblad led all blueliners in the league this season with 50 points in 55 games, including 11 goals. His Skelleftea team is currently leading Lulea 3-2 in their best-of-seven Elitserien semifinal, with the winner to take on Farjestad in the championship series ... Clouston elected to forego a practice today in favour of an off-ice workout and a video session. "We've gone 10 straight days on the ice, so felt that mentally and physically, it was best to give (the players) a day away from the ice," he said ... The Senators return home Saturday to face the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place.

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