Blackhawks forward Zack Smith will face his former team, the Ottawa Senators, for the first time on Tuesday night. Ottawa is the first of three stops (Montreal on Wednesday and Toronto on Saturday) for the Hawks' road trip in Eastern Canada.
Smith played 612 games for the Senators (193 points; 94 goals, 99 assists) from 2009-19 before being traded to Chicago for center Artem Anisimov on July 16. The 31-year-old was an alternate captain with the Senators for two seasons before joining the Blackhawks.
"I haven't thought about it too much," Smith said of the return. "When the trade happened this summer and you look at the schedule, I was like, 'Ah, it's not till January. I don't have to worry about that.'
"Now, here we are. It'll be a little surreal. I'm excited to get back there and see some of the old teammates and staff I've worked with for a lot of years."
Smith, a native of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, has just nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 39 games with the Hawks this season, but has been a bottom-six forward the Hawks can count on in many situations.
"He’s done a great job killing penalties, he’s versatile, can play all three forward positions," Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think he’s had his stretches when he’s been great and his stretches when he hasn’t been as good.
"The last couple of games, he’s been very good. That line was excellent last game (4-2 win on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks). Thought all three of them, very active, pressuring the puck, creating turnovers. They did a lot of good things. So hopefully they can continue that."
Colliton moved Smith to center two games ago after he mostly played on the wing with Chicago. He won nine of 15 faceoffs in those two games.
It always takes a little adjustment, moving from wing to center," Smith said. "But I've done that quite a bit, especially the last three years or so. Played the vast majority on the wing. I don't mind playing center. I played the first 25 years of my career there.
"I like skating the middle; you feel a little more involved. But it's also a little more responsibility, especially in the defensive end, which has showed. I made a couple of mistakes that cost (us), especially last game too. Cost us one goal. For me it takes a couple games. Feeling a lot more comfortable and more involved in the game."
Smith believes the Hawks can capitalize on this week's road trip and the two remaining home games (Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, Jan. 19 and Joel Quenneville's Florida Panthers on Tuesday, Jan. 21) to put themselves in a good position before heading into All-Star break.
Chicago is 20-20-6 and seven points out of a Wild Card spot five games after the halfway point.
"I think the feeling within the team, we're playing with more confidence especially defensively," Smith said. "I think it's almost night and day probably the past four or five games how responsible we've been with the puck.
"A lot less turnovers and just a lot more aggressive defensively. We've had some rough patches over those games a few minutes where we've maybe let up but I think we've made some great strides the last couple weeks. Just a little confidence in this room (on the) defensive side of the puck."
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