CHICAGO | They don’t use “domino effect” much in hockey with its unique sport-specific terminology often originated north of the border.
In the case of Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya, he surely has toppled dominoes in a positive way up and down the Hawks’ corps of blue-liners, and moving out in expanding circles throughout the entire team.
Oduya’s teaming with fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson, a veteran of the 2010 Stanley Cup champs, has in itself formed a good second defensive unit after top pairing Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Their stability has meant everything to the Hawks.
“I think anytime you have such good (talent) as we do, you want to have that depth, you want to have that stability,” Oduya said Wednesday as the Hawks prepared to start a four-game road trip tonight at Columbus.
The No. 2 duo has solidified the defense so Keith, almost the NHL’s version of a marathon man, does not have to play punishing minutes to cover up a drop in quality below.
“A lot of guys play a lot of situations, a lot of minutes,” Oduya said. “In the long run, that’s going to show up.”
Keith certainly will take the few minutes’ worth of breathers Oduya’s reliability provides when the line shifts.
“He’s good defensively, good on the penalty kill,” Keith said. “He brings a lot of good qualities to our team we need as far as leadership. He’s been in a lot of good organizations.”
Oduya’s presence also enables promising defenseman Nick Leddy, 22, to continue to learn his craft on the third pairing and not have to play amid heightened pressure above his level for now.
The second and third pairings in particular have tightened the defensive numbers, which took a hit when two losses yielded 12 goals to the Avalanche and Oilers on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Combined with usually-stingy goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, the blue-liners enabled the Hawks to lead the NHL with 1.79 goals allowed per game. That number rose to 2.12, dropping to second in the league, after the weekend batterings.
Still, Oduya, Hjalmarrson, Leddy and Michal Roszival all are at least a plus-10 rating (on ice for 10 or more goals scored than allowed). The 31-year-old Oduya’s overall attributes make him one of general manager Stan Bowman’s better trades, coming to the Hawks from Winnipeg for second- and third-round 2013 draft picks on Feb. 27, 2012.
“I felt very welcome,” Oduya said of fitting in immediately. “The style of play we have here is pretty good. I melded in pretty good. Coming to a team like this, with tremendous skill and tremendous talent, it’s pretty easy to play well."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has not been disappointed.
“Johnny’s defends well,” he said. “He’s got a nice gap. He’s got real good patience when he does have the puck. He sees plays. He can kill plays. He defends around the net really well. The consistency of how he’s played and reliability has been the things that stick out.”