CHICAGO—You’ll excuse new Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya if he didn’t know his point shot was tipped in by Andrew Shaw to tie the game 1-1 in the second period of Friday’s contest against the New York Rangers.
“Was a nice tip by Bryan Bickell,” Oduya said after the 4-3 win.
Oduya might still be learning his new teammates, but Hawks fans are learning fast about their lone pickup at the trade deadline. He flew under the radar a bit that day as many were looking for the Hawks to do something big. Maybe Oduya is that move.
“I thought he had a great game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I like the way he defends. Kills plays, quick in the puck areas, good stick, supports the attack.”
Add accurate shot to that scouting report. Oduya wiggled his way to a shooting lane on his helper in the second period then scored his first goal as a Hawk on a blast from the point late in the third period. It gave his new team its first lead in the game.
“It’s fun to score a goal,” Oduya said. “It doesn’t happen too often to me.”
It doesn’t happen too often to Hawks’ defensemen in general. If Oduya can add that element to his game, his stock will rise as the team heads to the playoffs.
“I was looking at his production when he came here but … I think he had a little more pace on that one,” Quenneville said of his go-ahead goal. “It was a great shot and a huge goal.”
You can sense Oduya is feeling more confident with every game he plays as a Hawk.
“On a team like this with such high skill you kind of get into that flow a little bit,” he said. “You try to feed pucks to the forwards as you can. On the other hand you try to play good defensively and be responsible and use my skating on the defensive end.”
It’s working for him on both ends. With the return of Niklas Hjalmarsson to the lineup, the defense fits like a glove. Each pair can have a skating D-man coupled with a more stay-at-home type.
“Add hammer [Hjalmarsson] to the mix it really enhances our team defense,” Quenneville said. “You have three pairs and you’re comfortable with matchups and even icings. You have guys that are dependable and reliable. He was a nice fill in a needed area.”
So what looked like a small move at the time is having larger implications. Immediately it took the pressure off of Dylan Olsen as his minutes have dropped to a more manageable number for a rookie. It also allowed Quenneville to return Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to the ice as a pair and they’ve played better.
Oduya sent the crowd into a frenzy with his blast that got by Vezina trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist and while it was just his third goal of the season and 23rd of his career , maybe it won’t be his last as a Hawk.
“Hopefully I can jump into some more plays and create some more offense than I did before,” he said.
Friday got him off to a good start on that mission.