OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 19: Jarkko Ruutu #73; Chris Campoli #14; Matt Carkner #39; Zack Smith #47 of the Ottawa Senators argues with the Chicago Blackhawks, at Scotiabank Place on January 19, 2010 in Ottawa, Canada. The Ottawa Senators defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
When the Sens shocked the hockey world last season by making the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Zack Smith was a big part of it. He improved tremendously on his 2010-11 season, scoring 17 more points, and solidified himself as a gritty 3rd line center with some offensive ability. His 2011-12 season gained him a ton of praise from the team and fans alike, and earned himself a $1.887 million extension, which kicks in next year.
After going goal-less for the first 23 games of the season, and with just 4 goals total to date, Zack Smith has been on the receiving end of some criticism for his lack of production.
One reason for his struggles is that the bounces aren’t going his way. Here are his numbers from 5-on-5:
Despite shooting at the same rate, Smith is scoring fewer goals, most likely because of bad luck. Some may argue over the quality of those shots, but according to the league’s shot distance measurements, Smith’s average shot distance is about 4 feet closer to the net than last year, although the accuracy of those measurements are questionable.
Smith’s Corsi rating has improved despite less favorable usage. Last year Smith was 8th in quality of competition among Senators forwards, but ranks 1st this season, meaning MacLean has been playing his line against the opponent’s top forward units more often. This could be because MacLean has more faith in him, or because of lost forward depth to injuries, forcing the team to dress an all-rookie second line which needs to be sheltered.
His possession numbers have also increased despite no longer getting minutes with Karlsson and Condra. Smith's increased Corsi rating despite no longer being with as good linemates (possession-wise) is an indication that he's making the players around him better.
Smith has also seemingly improved at face-offs, as he is winning about 3.5% more draws this year, making him a better option for defensive zone draws.
One part of Smith’s game that he has done worse in is drawing penalties, as he is no longer drawing them at the same rate as he was last season. He is also being used a lot less on the penalty kill, although I’m fine with that since he wasn’t very good at it anyways.
All these numbers point to Smith being a better player this year despite not being able to find the back of the net. Most of his criticism is due to his shooting percentage regressing after a season where he got some luck in his favour. This goes to show how our perception of a player changes when he isn’t “getting the bounces”, even if he’s playing better.
There are only 7 games left in the season, so I’m sure we’ll see a lot of people heading into next season wondering whether his 2011-12 season was a fluke or not, and if he’s actually deserving of his new extension. I'm confident that Smith's shooting percentage will regress to a more realistic number. Best case scenario for the Sens would be if that could happen in the playoffs.
Stats are stats.hockeyanalysis.com and Behind The Net