Hjalmarsson perfecting a hockey 'art form'

Hjalmarsson perfecting a hockey 'art form'

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
11:01 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

NASHVILLE Niklas Hjalmarsson got up slowly hobbled to the bench after blocking a shot early against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night. A few minutes later the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman was taking a quick whirl around the ice and back in the game.

Defensive partner Brian Campbell called shot blocking an art form, its primary colors being black and blue. But for Hjalmarsson, the bumps, bruises and welts are just an occupational hazard.

I just play like that, ever since I started to play hockey, Hjalmarsson said about sacrificing, even when hes in pain. Im just trying to do as much as I can to try and prevent (goals).

Campbell remembered getting ready to block a shot in Los Angeles last season, only for Hjalmarsson to step in front of him and take the brunt of it.

Hes committed to winning, committing to doing things we need to do to win and he wants others to follow, Campbell said. If someones not doing their job hell be vocal about sacrificing for the good of a team. Not everybody sees the plays and sacrifices he makes but I do. Hopefully some people do notice.

Blocks aside, Hjalmarsson has just been solid in all areas after getting off to a rocky start. He was suspended two games for a hit on Buffalos Jason Pominville in October, and was a minus-10 in the early going. Hjalmarsson said the suspension did not affect his game when he returned.

Still, it took some time. But when Hjalmarsson and Campbell were put together again, the two resumed their chemistry. Coach Joel Quenneville said Hjalmarssons defensive game has been good throughout.

Hes been steadier, Quenneville said. The one thing about his game you always expect is that defensively hes dependable, reliable and positionally strong.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.