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Hjalmarsson back for Hawks vs. Rangers

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 5:27 PM / News
By Brian Hedger  - NHL.com Correspondent
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Hjalmarsson back for Hawks vs. Rangers

Hjalmarsson
CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews isn't ready to return from his concussion just yet, but the Chicago Blackhawks will get a key member of their team back from a similar injury Friday night at the United Center.

The Hawks will host the New York Rangers and will have defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson back in uniform for the first time in six games after he, too, has battled recent concussion symptoms. In fact, Hjalmarsson has missed 13 of the past 14 games because of his injury, after initially sitting out seven consecutive games because of it, then returning for a game and leaving the lineup again.

Hjalmarsson could be paired with rookie Dylan Olsen and will likely see time on the penalty kill, as well.

"It gives you important minutes," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate. "I think [he] defends as good as anybody in our own end. He can kill penalties for us and play important minutes."

Hjalmarsson has scored one goal to go with 11 assists in 55 games thus far, but he's got a plus-six rating and is consistent defensively. He also blocks shots well and returns to the lineup just in time to replace Sami Lepisto -- who is out "indefinitely" after sustaining a left leg injury in a 5-1 loss Tuesday in St. Louis.

The Hawks also picked up puck-moving defenseman Johnny Oduya before the trade deadline expired last month, which gives Quenneville some of that quality depth on the blue line that coaches crave this time of year. Chicago also has 40-year-old Sean O'Donnell in its stable of defensemen.

"It's nice to have that predictability that [Hjalmarsson] provides us back there and with the recent addition of Johnny [Oduya] it helps with three solid pairs," Quenneville said. "Getting one more back there really helps us."

Chicago's Marian Hossa didn't participate in the team's morning skate Friday, but Quenneville said he will play against the Rangers. The same wasn't said about injured defenseman Steve Montador, who's been out for 14 straight games with what's believed to be a concussion.

Montador had been skating on his own last week, but hasn't been able to get on the ice this week. Quenneville deemed it a "sideways step or a backwards step" in his recovery process.

The Rangers, who lost 4-1 on Thursday night in Ottawa, didn't hold a morning skate. They played the Senators without forward Brandon Dubinsky, and he still might not be ready to go against Chicago.

If not, look for former Blackhawks enforcer John Scott -- who was dealt to New York on trade deadline day for a fifth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft -- to fill a spot on the fourth line. Ray Emery will get the start in net for the Hawks, while Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start for New York.