Ben Smith knows what's going to keep him in the NHL.
The Blackhawks' winger isn't flashy or ultra skilled -- it's hard work that will keep him earning an NHL paycheck.
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"It's what I have to do to stick around here," Smith said. "Be strong on the puck and win puck battles. If I'm on top of my game, then I'm doing all those things."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville says Smith's play of late has been OK. The fourth line of Smith, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig was at its best on the road trip in November when they were the difference in a lot of games.
"Benny's been all right," Quenneville said. "He had a decent start and then that line had a real good stretch where it was effective. Over the recent stretch he's been all right."
Quenneville feels comfortable playing the Smith line against anyone.
"They get some responsibilities where some nights they're facing the other team's top line," Quenneville said. "They're taking faceoffs. It's not an easy job to do because you're always starting in your own end, but they always seem to end up in the other team's end. He's one of those guys who quietly goes about his business, a hard-working type of kid who you appreciate what he brings."
Playing Anaheim on Friday was the biggest test for the Hawks so far this season.
"It's a great test," Joel Quenneville said. "They're coming off an interesting game where their power play was as good as you could ever imagine (6 power-play goals in a 9-1 rout of Vancouver on Wednesday).
"It was an important game the other day when we played Colorado, but (Friday's) challenge is a new challenge. It could be our biggest test of the year to date."
Looking for a start:
Joel Quenneville was still looking for a better start Friday against the Ducks.
Since Jan. 1, the Hawks had trailed in all five games, going 0-1-4.
"For the most part of the first part of the year, it seemed like we had good starts, we had the lead and we were in the area we wanted to be in for most of the game," Quenneville said. "I don't recall being up the first half of any game over the last 6-7 games. It's been trying to work ourselves back in the game. That seems that's where we're at.
"You're going to have stretches like that, but I think it's been a real long stretch where we're not familiar with scoring early or getting the first goal of the game and playing from behind. Hopefully we can get that going the other way soon."
The Ducks are the NHL's hottest team, winning 18 of their last 19 games coming into Friday.
"Fast starts are important no matter who you're playing, but they do a good job of making it tough to score goals and get to that net," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "They like to handle that puck as well. The first goal will be huge, but if we don't score it -- we haven't in the past -- it's not the end of the world. We've got to continue to press on."