Niklas Hjalmarsson could return Thursday for Blackhawks

Niklas Hjalmarsson could return Thursday for Blackhawks

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."

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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."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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