Ben Bishop, Jonathan Toews
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:56AM
Ben Smith has his name on the Stanley Cup, but he doesn’t yet have a permanent spot in the Blackhawks lineup. He made his season debut Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, taking Jimmy Hayes’ spot at right wing on the third line.
Smith and Hayes sit next to each in the dressing room, but each player shrugged off the awkwardness.
“It’s part of the sport, part of the job,” Smith said. You’re always competing against a lot of guys, it’s not just going to be training camp. It’s going to continue well on through the year. We just have to play our best every day and hope that the opportunities keep coming.”
Said Hayes: “Nothing’s guaranteed here. We’re all fighting for the same thing.”
Five of the Hawks’ first six games this season are against Eastern Conference teams they haven’t seen since at least the 2011-12 season. After playing exclusively Western Conference teams during the lockout-shortened season, teams will play a home-and-home against every team from the other conference.
It had been nearly two years since the Hawks faced the Lightning, and coach Joel Quenneville said the new opponents could break up the monotony of a long season.
“I think players like playing some guy they don’t know much about and finding out as they go along,” he said.
Quenneville wasn’t concerned that the lack of familiarity could make things a little more difficult on the coaching staff.
“I think everybody plays comparably the same way,” he said. “It’s more important how we play.”
Handzus holding up
Michal Handzus, who missed part of Tuesday’s opener with an undisclosed injury, was in the lineup Saturday. Handzus played with a broken wrist and a torn MCL during the Stanley Cup Final, and playing through pain has become part of the process for the 37-year-old center.
“Honestly, I think it wasn’t that bad,” Handzus said of his playoff heroics. “It was such an exciting time for everyone from our team, so you don’t pay attention too much.”