It has not been an easy start to the 2021-22 season for Craig Smith. Currently in the second year of a three-year deal with an average annual value of $3.1 million, he was one of the bright spots to come out of a disappointing 2020-21 season. In 54 games last season, he had 13 goals and 32 points. He was on track for about 49 points in a full 82 game season, which would have been one of the most productive seasons of his career behind his 52 points in 79 games in 2014-15 and 51 points in 79 games in 2017-18.
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The other bright spot about Smith last season was that he really turned it on when the team needed him most. In March and early April, the Bruins were struggling and slipping down the lineup. But he became the spark the team desperately needed. The second line of him, David Krejci, and Taylor Hall was one of the best parts of the 2020-21 season.
Despite the loss of Krejci, expectations were still high for Smith and Hall coming into this season. With them, it finally felt like the Bruins had made some improvements with their issues of depth scoring. But things have not gone as anyone would have liked.
Through 10 games, Smith has one goal and two points. The 32-year-old is also a minus-six and has only registered 24 total shots on goal and a shooting percentage of 4.2 percent. When looking at his slow start, there are several factors to consider.
Smith In and Out of the Lineup
Injuries have played a huge factor for Smith in the early part of the season. The nature of Smith’s injury has not been disclosed, but it has been described by coach Bruce Cassidy as a “nagging injury.” While that doesn’t give us the specifics of the injury, it does tell us a lot about what he is playing through at the moment.
With a nagging injury, it isn’t hard to draw the conclusion that he may be playing hurt even when he is in the game. He has thankfully missed only five games, so whatever it is, hopefully it is not super serious and won’t worsen to the point of needing surgery and having to miss a larger chunk of games. With last week’s five days off, which many around Boston have plenty to say about the horrible schedule so far this season, hopefully it gave him a chance to rest. Given he had his first points of the season in Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, it very well might have.
While there is no information on the specifics of Smith’s injury, it is clear to see that it is affecting him on the ice. He’s not the same player he was in the second half of last season. He’s way below his career shooting average of 9.5 percent, which is exactly what this team does not need. With how much the Bruins struggle to score, having one of last season’s bigger contributors dealing with a nagging injury is a really dangerous situation for the team, especially if it continues to linger as the season progresses.
Smith Took Time To Find Rhythm in 2020-21 Season
The nagging injury may also be compounding a larger trend with his game. Last season, his first with the Bruins, he had a slow start. Unlike several members of the Bruins who started off hot right out of the gate and then slowed down towards the middle of the season, Smith didn’t truly hit his stride until March. It wasn’t quite as slow of a start as this season, but it was definitely nowhere near where he finished 2020-21.
In the early parts of the 2020-21 season, Smith was moved around the lineup a lot too. He started playing wing with Charlie Coyle and even spent some time on the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron before finding his chemistry with Krejci. Even then, his game took another big leap with the addition of Hall to the team. As already mentioned, the three of them were really something last spring.
For the last few weeks, when he has been playing, he’s been on the third line with Jake DeBrusk and Erik Haula, both of whom have had their own struggles this season. Obviously, Krejci is no longer an option for him to play with at center, but no longer playing with Hall when he’s been in the lineup must have also been an adjustment that could contribute to the slow start.
Don’t Sound the Alarm Yet
Smith is a talented NHL player, and that is a fact. We all saw what he was capable of in the latter half of last season. But it is also a fact that he’s had a very slow start to the 2021-22 season. He has not been the player that the Bruins desperately need him to be.
Of course, he is not alone. Many Bruins players have had slow starts to the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the weird schedule has played some role in that. Nevertheless, there is definitely reason to be concerned with not just Smith but this whole team.
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With that said, it isn’t time to completely sound the alarm, blow up the team, and throw in the towel for the season. There are still 67 games to go in the season, and a lot can change between now and the start of the playoffs in April. Never forget when the St. Louis Blues went from looking completely out of it in December and then winning the Stanley Cup in June. Anything can happen when it comes to the NHL. For all we know, we could be talking about another incredible Smith run next month.
We just have to trust that the Bruins’ medical team is managing his injury to the best of their ability and that Smith starts to generate more chemistry with DeBrusk and Haula. It is by no way too late for him to turn it around and have a good season.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. Currently, I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting at Boston University. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.