The Blackhawks have now been without defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in three straight games, and have (obviously) lost all three.
But have they really missed his presence on the ice?
When Steve Montador was placed on IR, rookie Dylan Olsen was recalled to fill the spot among the team’s top five defensemen vacated by Montador and Hjalmarsson. In his three games since the recall, Olsen has skated 56:29 (or roughly 18:50 per game).
There have certainly been a few rookie mistakes from Olsen, but the team’s defense in Nashville looked like it was taking steps in the right direction. Olsen was paired with Duncan Keith for a big part of the evening, while Brent Seabrook was with the other rookie on the blue line, Nick Leddy.
Through 54 games, the Blackhawks are allowing 29.5 shots on net per game, a number that’s coming down lately but is still higher than most fans would like (despite the Hawks allowing the 11th fewest average in the NHL).
But in the last three games, losses in San Jose, Phoenix and Nashville, the Hawks have been doing a much better job of keeping the puck away from the net. They have seen 73 shots get to their goaltenders in those three games (24.3 per game), including only 19 in the loss Tuesday night.
Perhaps equally intriguing, the Hawks haven’t allowed a power play goal while Olsen has been on the ice short-handed in those three games. They have killed all four penalties in the last two games, and Olsen has seen significant ice time with the PK unit in those two games (2:38 total); only Keith and Seabrook have seen more time on PK in those two games.
Do the Blackhawks miss his team-high 126 blocked shots? Certainly.
But Hjalmarsson has also been credited with a team-leading 39 giveaways. And while Hjalmarsson has averaged the second-highest short-handed ice time per game on the team (2:32), he has been on the ice for the most power plays goals on the team (20).
I am in no way advocating that Olsen replace Hjalmarsson right now. But where we have seen a glaring hole in the rotation when Keith and Seabrook have missed action this year, there hasn’t been a noticeable hole in the team’s rotation on the blue line while Hjalmarsson has been out.