Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya skates in front of goalie Corey Crawford as the play heads into the Nashville zone in the first period as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators Sunday March 25, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times
Updated: April 27, 2012 8:14AM
The Blackhawks, of course, said everyone will need to step up to compensate for Duncan Keith’s absence. But if there’s one defenseman who will have more opportunities to make an impact with Keith suspended for five games, it’s Johnny Oduya.
While not exactly like Keith, Oduya is still a good-skating puck-mover who can provide similar elements. The Hawks’ system also has proved to be a good fit for Oduya. His arrival from the Winnipeg Jets has resulted in praise from teammates and coach Joel Quenneville.
Oduya’s play at both ends, though, will be even more magnified as his playing time should increase with Keith out, including on the power play. He remained paired with Nick Leddy on Sunday against the Nashville Predators, while the other pairs were shuffled. Oduya played 24:28 and was a minus-2.
“I want to skate and move pucks and try to be a part of the offense, too,” Oduya said. “It’s a good place to be as a defenseman. But everybody knows how we have to play. You have to be responsible, too, and play good team defense to win.”
Oduya was acquired to help the penalty kill, but his sneaky shot earned him an opportunity on the power play with Keith already in the lineup. He rarely played on the power play in Winnipeg.
“For me, it’s a bit of a transition again, getting in and getting some more time to get used to what guys are doing and obviously what we’re trying do as a group and as a team on the power play,” Oduya said. “I’ll just keep working on it.”
On the mend
Jonathan Toews has yet to be cleared for contact, but he continues to make progress as he recovers from his concussion, skating for the sixth consecutive day.
“It’s kind of sucked that it’s gone this long,” Toews, who missed his 16th consecutive game, said recently. “But I feel like this is it mentally. I’m just telling myself we’ll get through this. I’m not going to let those little setbacks that have already happened weigh me down. I’ll find a way to get back to 100 percent.”
Defenseman Steve Montador (concussion), meanwhile, will endure more contact this week during practices. He has missed the last 22 games. Rookie center Marcus Kruger sat out with concussion symptoms, which emerged Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Defenseman Sami Lepisto (left leg) skated Sunday, but there’s still no timetable for his return.
Hall of Fame goalie Ed Belfour, who spent parts of eight seasons with the Hawks, was honored with a heritage night.