It seems that at least once in every Blackhawks game you'll see defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson struggling to get back to the bench in some sort of distress after blocking a shot.
But as banged up as Hjalmarsson's body is from taking pucks off his hands, feet and legs, while he sits out most practices these days, the only games he has missed were the two in October from his suspension for the hit on Buffalo's Jason Pominville.
"I'm playing through it and trying to do as best as I can," Hjalmarsson said. "It's just mental, I think. You try to handle the pain in a good way.
"Sometimes you get almost more pumped up because you know you have to be ready from the start because you can't play as you want to. Maybe that prepares you in a different kind of way, although it sounds a little weird."
Hjalmarsson doesn't believe that missing practice is affecting his play in games.
"I did it for a while last year too when I had problems with my feet, a couple cracks, but I'm usually pretty good -- when they drop the puck I'm ready to go," he said.
Hjalmarsson leads the Hawks with 143 blocked shots, getting 3 more in Monday's 6-3 win over San Jose, but he admits lately he has been trying to be more smarter when it comes to throwing himself in front of shooters.
"I haven't blocked as many shots as I did before," Hjalmarsson said. "I got a little banged up and don't want to put myself in a bad situation and get me out for the rest of the season. I've been a little more aware when I'm trying to block the pucks."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hasn't asked Hjalmarsson to stop blocking shots for health reasons.
"I haven't said that," Quenneville said. "We encourage guys to get in the lanes of shots, but I think there's certain shots he feels the goalie can see it, and it's not necessary to take a whack."
After a slow start, Hjalmarsson has been a consistent factor on the Hawks' blue line. He is plus-14 for the season after starting the year a minus-9 in his first 12 games.
Quenneville has been encouraged by how Hjalmarsson has shot the puck in the last stretch of games. He had a goal against the Sharks on a rocket from the deep slot.
Hjalmarsson's role has been more of a stay-at-home defender on a team that has Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell as offensive forces on the back end.
Quenneville sees offensive potential in Hjalmarsson that has yet to be tapped.
"That's as hard as I've seen him shoot the puck," Quenneville said of the goal against the Sharks. "You can always count on him defending and when he chips in offensively it's a bonus.
"That's one part of his game, if he keeps trending, I think he'll really enhance his overall contribution from a defensive perspective. That's part of his game that he wants to develop and grow into."
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