It’s Hammer’s time.
On a Blackhawks team filled with top defensemen, many people believe Niklas Hjalmarsson might be the best of the bunch right now.
“I don’t know about that,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s fun to hear those kinds of things, but there are a lot of good d-men here on our team. I’m just trying to do my best every game and just trying to help the team win. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Hjalmarsson, who is nicknamed the Hammer, is off to a terrific start. He is plus-8 after 15 games to rank second among defensemen behind partner Johnny Oduya, who is plus-10. He has blocked 37 shots, which ranks second on the team to Brent Seabrook’s 44.
It’s clearly the best Hjalmarsson has played since ex-partner Brian Campbell was traded to Florida.
“I’d say so,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s been going pretty good so far. It’s early in the season so hopefully me and Johnny can keep on playing like this.”
Hjalmarsson, a left-handed shot, has been playing the right side with Oduya on the left and enjoying the change.
“It’s been feeling really good so far,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of confidence playing with Johnny, my fellow Swede, so it’s been a lot of fun. The whole team is playing real good hockey, not just the back end. The forwards are working really hard backchecking and doing their job real good.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has seen Hjalmarsson grow into a dependable defenseman.
“He’s had a great start,” Quenneville said. “That pair, game in and game out, has been getting the job done.
“Offensively, Hammer seems to have more poise and patience with the puck and better play recognition. He’s shooting the puck better, but killing plays, getting into the lanes and blocking shots, strong in the puck areas around the net, there are not a lot of second chance opportunities. He’s killing plays and doing a great job.”
Hjalmarsson is also a key part of the NHL’s top-ranked penalty killing unit.
“Penalty killing has been a huge part of our success right now,” Hjalmarsson said. “We’ve been getting in lanes and our goaltenders are making some big saves.”
Quenneville hasn’t been afraid to play Hjalmarsson and Oduya bigger minutes to ease the wear and tear on Duncan Keith and Seabrook.
“Not just them, but some of our top guys, especially killing penalties, coming back for a shift or two, the rotation helps,” Quenneville said. “I think our defense has been very solid. We like the short minutes and find if we can get minutes from some of the other guys it enhances our team game as well.”
Marcus Kruger has been lights out as a penalty killer with Hjalmarsson and might be the most improved player on the team.
“One thing about Krugs is he’s very consistent in his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s not flashy, but it’s dependable, reliable and predictable. Game in and game out you appreciate his work ethic, his anticipation and reads. He’s getting stronger and smarter. He’s had nice progress and growth chart for him.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.