Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya instantly stabilizes Blackhawks' blue line in return

Blackhawks

When the Blackhawks re-acquired Johnny Oduya last February, they knew exactly what they were getting in him: A top-four defenseman who can log heavy minutes, contribute on both ends of the ice, and is defensively responsible.

He was an integral part of Chicago's blue line during its championship runs in 2013 and 2015, anchoring the second pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson.

After a year and a half apart, the two were reunited on the same unit Thursday and it felt like old times again.

Oduya fit it in rather seamlessly despite missing the first two games since the acquisition in an effort to get his conditional level back to 100 percent, and instantly stabilized one of the deepest defensive groups the Blackhawks have had in years.

"Yeah it was nice," Duncan Keith said of getting Oduya back in the mix following a 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, which ended the team's winning streak at seven games. "Obviously he's great for the locker room off the ice, but on the ice he brings a great presence for us. He's great defensively, him and (Hjalmarsson) have played together in the past and have done well. We're excited to have him. I think he's a great addition. He had some nice blocks out there tonight, and I think we're just going to keep getting better and better."  

At 35 years of age and coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss 15 games in January and February, there were questions about whether or not Oduya can handle a similar load in his second stint.

 

But he's cut from the same crop as Keith and Hjalmarsson when it comes to eating right and staying in supreme shape, and showed no signs that he can't play the same role that he has on this team in the past.

Oduya and Hjalmarsson led the team in shifts taken with 26 and 27, respectively, and all six Chicago defensemen logged more than 17 minutes of ice time. It's a great recipe for success going forward when the distribution is much more balanced.

The only challenge was trying to get acclimated as quickly as possible to tiny tendencies of the Blackhawks' system, and although it didn't really show, Oduya admitted it will take a little time.

"I think we both felt OK, but OK is not going to be good enough," Oduya said of game with Hjalmarsson. "We'll work at our game and keep getting better. That's pretty much all we can do."

Joel Quenneville had a similar assessment.

“He was fine," he said. "I think that pair, you can tell they can get reacquainted. They’ll get better as they go along here. Being off for some time, their thought process and working together and a couple of little things that we like to do they’ll get better at as well.” 

You take away the positives from a game like this one, and Oduya blocking a game-high five shots is one that stands out, especially to Corey Crawford who can certainly appreciate those efforts.

"Nice to see him in there," Crawford said. "He had some big blocks, too. It's just another guy to help out on the back end. All of our guys have been solid all year, it's nice to get another guy like that."

Oduya said after the game that playing in a Blackhawks sweater at the United Center again brought back old feelings, and "a lot of good memories."

Once the Swedish connection can rekindle the magic they created two years ago, there's a good chance Oduya and the Blackhawks will make a lot of new ones with the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning in one month.