(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
After watching the Bruins come out with energy and controlling the tempo of the game Thursday night against the Calgary Flames, what should have been a win for the Boston club ended up going into a shootout. And as has happened all too frequently this season, the Bruins couldn’t get the extra point in this one-on-one skills competition currently used to solve a score still knotted after a five-minute overtime period. If there was any silver lining in this disappointing finish to the game it was that the Florida Panthers also lost in their shootout, keeping them still two points back and having played two more games than the Boston Bruins at this point.
Much attention was put on the return of Johnny “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau, including having some of his classmates from Boston College present to see him score on TD Garden ice, this time not as a collegiate but as a pro. Though for the Flames the man of the hour would have to be David Schlemko who was able to solve Tuukka Rask to win in the shooutout.
However, when looking at the statistics of those who suited up for the Black and Gold, Reilly Smith seemed almost invisible in the game, though he plays with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. During the Flames’ game, Bergeron, in addition to his impressive 67% win in the face off dot, had three shots on net and an assist. Marchand also had a goal on one of his three shots on net. Smith, on the other hand, had zero shots on net, though he did have five that were blocked (Bergeron had four and Marchand had two blocked). Smith had no hits (Bergeron and Marchand each had two) and he had one give away (Bergeron had none and Marchand had one).
So perhaps it was with some surprise that fans awoke to find that the Bruins organization had announced that in addition to having signed Torey Krug to a one-year deal at $3.4 million, that they had signed Smith to a two-year deal that has a cap hit of $3.425 million.
Of course, a player’s worth to a team cannot be based on a single game, but this season Smith has just 12 goals in 63 games. So, perhaps General Manager Peter Chiarelli shouldn’t have been as surprised as he appeared when he was asked about what he saw in Smith that warranted this contract, given his struggles.
“I just—there was a period where I think we were all struggling including [Smith]. But he’s a 20-goal scorer and he’s a very smart player,” Chiarelli told the press Friday morning. “He manages the power play. He’s one of our leading scorers and he’s a good young player. When I mentioned [his] struggles, I’m referring to the period this year where he and other players were slumping as was the team.”
At present Smith is in fifth place on the team in regard to highest scorers, with his 12 goals. Marchand (19), Bergeron (18), Loui Eriksson (15) and Milan Lucic (14) are ahead of him. And as far as the power play is concerned, the Bruins sit in 23rd position of the 30 teams having capitalized on only 26 of their 154 extra man advantages, for 16.9%.
Reilly’s struggles could be indicative of the teams struggles overall, as Chiarelli implied, but with just 19 games remaining and the Panthers breathing down their neck to displace them in the playoffs (they presently trail the Bs by just two points) it is hoped that now that Smith has his two-year deal, his mind can focus on the game more thoroughly.
During the morning’s press conference with Chiarelli, he indicated that Krug had asked for the one-year deal and that Smith had requested the two-year deal and that he had no problem with either one. However, as someone looking on from the outside and not privy to the negotiations that went on, it looks more like Krug wants to continue to prove to the organization that he is worthy of a longer contract.
“I’ve been betting on myself, so it’s another opportunity to do that. I just want to expand my role, I think like any player would,” Krug said after practice. “I want to play more. I want to be a better part of the team and that’s the reasoning behind the one-year.”
This is reminiscent of the one-year deal that Rask took before he was awarded his present eight-year contract, and speaks to Krug wanting to show that he can continue to grow as a player and earn the time on ice of a top 4 d-man.
Of course, with his new two-year deal, there will be some pressure on Smith to produce at that 20-goal level that he is being paid for.
“I welcome [the pressure]. There’s probably a little more pressure, but as a hockey player and playing in this organization and at this level, you welcome that every day,” Smith told the media.
There is pressure and then there is pressure in the hockey market known as Boston. While not as rabid as Toronto and a couple of the other Canadian markets, the fans do demand that their players earn their salaries. Given the tenuous position the team is in at present, Smith and Krug may find additional attention on them in the coming games. At least both players can put the business side of the game aside for now and work on playing and because they will be on time for camp in the fall it is possible that big improvements will come from them this next season.