While there's no question that last night's 6-1 loss to St. Louis was a stinker of the highest order, one thing we can take heart in so far this season is the play of Nashville Predators leading scorer Craig Smith, who has redeemed himself after bottoming out in 2012-13.
#15 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators
Sep 05, 1989
|2013 - Craig Smith||12||2||5||7||+3||4||0||0||1||40||5.0|
Back in September when we polled OTF readers on which player would lead the Nashville Predators in scoring, Smith didn't even factor in the conversation. After his awful 2013 campaign (12 points in 44 games), the bigger question was whether he'd even make it out of training camp with the Preds. Instead, he's been the team's most consistently dangerous forward so far.
Can he keep the good times rolling, however?
Firing At Will
The most impressive thing about Smith's start is that he's once again driving shots on net with abandon, but this time to an extent we haven't seen before. During his rookie 2011-12 campaign, he placed third on the team in shots on goal with 172, a rate of roughly 2.5 per game. That figure dipped below 2 last season (83 shots in 44 games) but has skyrocketed this year (3.3), as his 40 shots in 12 games leads the Preds and is on pace to challenge Patric Hornqvist's 275 in 2009-10.
Currently, he stands 20th in the NHL in shots on goal, tied with Corey Perry and Patrick Kane despite getting much less ice time than those star players. That's also as many shots on goal as Colin Wilson, David Legwand, and Gabriel Bourque have combined.
As they say, good things happen when you put the puck on net, and Smith is creating plenty of opportunities to help the Predators succeed.
Unlike recent breakout offensive seasons by guys like Sergei Kostitsyn and Colin Wilson, Smith's performance isn't tied to lofty shooting percentages by either himself or his linemates. Currently Smith is scoring on just 5% of his shots, and the team is shooting at a 6.7% clip during his 5-on-5 ice time. Those are numbers which are unlikely to dip lower, and if anything, would more probably regress upwards to levels like 9% and 8% respectively, contributing greatly to increased scoring totals.
Going With The Flow
Even beyond shooting less often, the most frustrating aspect of Smith's game last season was the constant turnovers which sent play heading in the wrong direction all too often. Just by the "eye test" we can tell that things have improved on that front, and the fancy stats bear that out as well.
So far this season, the line of Smith with Matt Cullen & Gabriel Bourque leads the way in puck possession stats, with those three the only Nashville forwards other than Filip Forsberg above the break-even 50% mark. Instead of short-circuiting his own team's breakouts, Smith is now part of the group that is leading the attack on a regular basis.
Can He Keep It Up?
What are your thoughts on Craig Smith's season so far? Is he just riding a hot streak like the early days of the 2011-12 season, which fizzled out during the second half? Or has he taken his game to another level, and can establish himself as a Top 6 forward in Nashville?
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