Hawks’ Smith has become a hit

After sitting for seven of the first 13 games to start the season, Ben Smith has quietly become a staple in the Blackhawks’ lineup.

Not having to worry about whether or not coach Joel Quenneville will pencil him in the lineup on a nightly basis seems to have done wonders for the young forward.

“It’s nice from a confidence standpoint,” Smith admitted. “When you’re in and out of the lineup you never know when Q’s going to come over and tell you to get a good skate in.

“It’s fun to be able to contribute to what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.”

That’s just what the energy line of Smith, Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig have provided — solid contributions night after night.

“I thought Benny, he’s really improved as we’ve went along here,” Quenneville said recently. “I thought that line got clicking together with Krugs and Bolls and getting that job of checking against top lines and important shifts in our end.

“Benny has been a lot more comfortable playing in that situation. His game has been elevated since they’ve been together.”

The consistent ice time is something the sixth-round pick in the 2008 has earned through old-fashioned hard work.

“I think so,” said Smith, who entered Tuesday’s game against Colorado with 14 points in 41 games and a plus-4 plus/minus rating. “But having said that I still have improvements to make in my game and try to be more consistent and do the smaller things better — win more faceoffs, block more shots, bring more energy.”

The clock is ticking:The Hawks have quite a stretch of games coming up, including weekend matchups with red-hot Anaheim and a matinee Sunday against the Bruins as the Olympic break approaches.For captain Jonathan Toews, now is the time to turn on the overdrive.#147;We don#146;t have much time before the Olympic break and we want to play really good hockey and earn as many points as we can knowing that if we can still sit at the top of the standings by then we#146;ll come back refreshed and ready to finish the season the right way,#148; Toews said.In praise of Hossa:Marian Hossa celebrated his birthday Sunday with a goal for his 24th point in his last 25 games.Not too shabby for a 35-year-old.#147;He#146;s a top athlete in amazing condition,#148; coach Joel Quenneville said. #147;He#146;s not showing any signs of slowing down ... he#146;s getting better in some situations.#147;That#146;s a compliment to him. We#146;re fortunate to have him.#148;

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