DALLAS - Nearly two months into the NHL season, he has as many goals as the guy to wear Senators’ jersey No. 15 before him — Minnesota sniper Dany Heatley.
He’s been the first star of Ottawa’s last two games, netting the winner in both, and he has three game-winning goals in the team’s last seven outings. His plus-6 is also tied for the best mark on the team.
Most employees who do their job as well as he is are soon in line for a promotion. But not Zack Smith, the entrenched centre on Ottawa’s third unit, nicknamed “The Bingo Line” by play-by-play broadcaster Dave Schreiber.
Even though the team’s most glaring need remains what it’s been for a couple of years — a full-time second-line pivot — Smith isn’t a true candidate. At least not yet. Probably never.
“I think in our last 10 games his line has probably been the most consistent line, from game to game to game,” coach Paul MacLean said of the Smith-Erik Condra-Kaspars Daugavins troika in a second-floor lobby of the Rosewood-Cresent Hotel in Dallas Wednesday. “They’ve done a good job killing penalties and done a good job against the other team’s second- or first-best line. To their credit, they’ve kept the game simple and done what we’ve asked, and they’ve been rewarded.
“We’re going to see how it progresses, and how it continues to go on, but at this point in time, no,” MacLean added, when asked if he might bump Smith up to a second-line trial. “I like the role he plays on our team right now. That’s enough for him to get used to, without putting any more added pressure on him to do something different, things he can’t do. We just want to make sure he becomes Zack Smith.”
Smith’s fine with that.
Neither his six goals or surprising, successful power-play appearance has gone to his head. Nor did the 24 goals he scored his first year as a pro or the eight, in 12 games, he had during the Binghamton Senators- march to a Calder Cup last spring.
And what he is, well, is no Dany Heatley.
“At the start of my junior career (with the Swift Current Broncos) I was playing the role of third-line checker, not so much known for scoring,” said the 23-year-old Smith, who more and more is reminding people of a young Mike Fisher. “I think it always comes full circle.
“The playoffs (in Binghamton) were good for my confidence. Handling the puck ... I got to play in some situations like the power play, with (Ryan) Potulny and (Ryan) Keller, and I think that’s a big part of my confidence this year. I think it’s had everything to do with it. (The B-Sens run) was the best possible thing that could have happened to a lot of us.
“But I think I’ll always be known as a defensive guy. That’s something I’ve kind of worked towards my whole career. Something that coaches have established since I was young.”
It continues Thursday against a Stars team that’s battling for first in the Pacific Division. The Senators, winners of two in a row, will likely be without defenceman Filip Kuba, who suffered an upper body injury Tuesday in Winnipeg. Brian Lee will likely take his place in the lineup, while Matt Carkner inches closer to his return from knee surgery.
“He’s been playing some significant minutes and playing real well for us,” MacLean said of Kuba. “If he can’t play that would be an opportunity for somebody else.”
Expected to suit up is Nikita Filatov, who was accidentally kicked in the face by Eric Fehr Tuesday. Filatov didn’t return from the first -period incident, but was fortunate to escape with a fractured nose.
Filatov experienced a headache and some dizziness, which is why he spent the rest of the night in the dressing room. He knows it could have been a lot worse.
“Gonch (Sergei Gonchar) was sitting there (on the bench, near the incident) and said the blade was so close to my face,” said Filatov, who has a scar on his nose and one beside it. “Right now, I feel pretty lucky about it.”