Niklas Hjalmarsson isn't used to this.
The Blackhawks defenseman has had the "warrior" moniker associated with his name for his seemingly impervious-to-pain threshold. Sitting out, waiting to heal, this hasn't been easy.
"It was a long time ago I missed this many games in a row," said Hjalmarsson. "So, I don't like watching the games when you're not playing. You kind of feel like you should be out there."
Good news is, Hjalmarsson should be out there again soon.
Hjalmarsson skated again on Monday, and as long as all keeps going well he should return on Thursday when the Blackhawks face the Anaheim Ducks. Hjalmarsson (upper body) skated over the weekend with Johnny Oduya, who could also play on Thursday; the two are probably going to be paired when they return, working off the chemistry they had a few seasons ago.
Hjalmarsson has been out the last four games, the most he's missed due to injury since February/March 2012 (six games with another upper-body injury). If there was any consolation it was that the Blackhawks played well in his absence, winning all four contests. That, and this current break, gave Hjalmarsson more time to get ready.
"For him, he does play a lot, takes a lot of shots, takes a lot of hits and he gets beat up a little bit. But you never hear or see him complain. He finds a way to fight through it all," coach Joel Quenneville said of Hjalmarsson. "This one kept him off the ice a little bit but let's make sure he's more than ready to come back. You always have his competitiveness down the stretch."
Hjalmarsson and Oduya were paired together at Monday's practice. Considering their success during Oduya's first stint here, Hjalmarsson was ready to see what they could do on this go-around.
"We know what kind of guy he is and we know what type of game he brings to the team and leadership," Hjalmarsson said. "Yeah, we all got really happy about it and we've definitely got a great D-corps now. I think we're just excited for the last 17 or 18 games, or whatever's left here of the season, and just try to get us as good a position as possible for playoffs."
The Blackhawks' latest break benefits a few of their injured/ill players. For Hjalmarsson, the wait has been that much longer but it's just about done.
"The guys obviously did a great job. I didn't feel like they needed me; they've been playing unbelievable," Hjalmarsson said. "So, hopefully I can just come in and play my game, and contribute defensively and playing well on the PK, and just keep the team rolling here."
• Nick Schmaltz returned to practice on Monday. He's expected to play on Thursday.
• Quenneville reiterated that several players will take some time off during this extended break. The Blackhawks had an optional practice on Monday. "We gave some guys some options this week, whether they want to stay away for three days, four days. We'll leave it up to them if they want to skate on Wednesday or not."