The sight of Niklas Hjalmarsson hunched over in pain after blocking a shot is almost as common during Blackhawks games as shots of a Joel Quenneville scowl when he disagrees with a call.

Hjalmarsson has been the best shot blocker on the Hawks throughout his career, but this season is different.

Hjalmarsson is blocking even more shots than usual and is on pace to set a career high in that category. Entering Tuesday, Hjalmarsson ranked fifth in the league with 120. He never has finished higher than 13th and needs just 47 to surpass his career high. His average of 2.4 blocks per game is up 0.5 from last season.

"Maybe I make more mistakes in our own zone and I have to cover for myself. It just happens," Hjalmarsson said. "It’s not like I go into a game thinking about the shot blocking total in the league. Not at all. It’s just the situations in the games."

The increase in blocks for Hjalmarsson is both good and bad. It means he is effective at preventing shots from getting to goaltenders Scott Darling and Corey Crawford, but it also means opponents are in the Hawks’ zone enough that he has to block shots.

Part of that Hjalmarsson really can’t help because he is one of the Hawks’ most potent penalty killers, so his shot-blocking acumen is a vital in slowing down opponents’ power plays. But when the sides are at even strength, the Hawks want to play in the opponent’s zone so Hjalmarsson’s shot blocking isn’t Savoybetting needed as much. Hjalmarsson said one reason his amount of blocks may be up is because of all the tight games the Hawks have led late.

"We’ve had a lot of one-goal leads so we’re playing to defend a lead which is a big difference than being on the opposite side of it," Hjalmarsson said. "You’re playing more defense and playing more in front of your own net."

There is an art to blocking shots as well. Hjalmarsson doesn’t block everything in his path. He tries to block a shot if he feels someone is behind him and might tip it. Otherwise, he tries to let shots go through to his goaltender.

His goalies certainly appreciate his efforts.

"I don’t know how he does it," Darling said. "I have a hard enough time putting my face in front of pucks sometimes and I have all the gear. He’s great at it and (no one’s) as fearless as him."

Hjalmarsson isn’t a big believer in advanced statistics, but Corsi percentage, which measures the amount of overall shot attempts a team takes when a player is on the ice, shows he likely is playing in his own zone more often this season. Hjalmarsson’s percentage is 49.4 percent, the lowest of his career according to

Perhaps that number is reflective of the tight games the Hawks are playing and the assignments Hjalmarsson draws in those situations.

"I match up against the other team’s top lines pretty much every shift and it’s a different animal every night. It’s a task I take a lot of pride in," Hjalmarsson said. "I don’t really care if they spend the whole game in my end as long as I do my job and keep the other teams’ top guys away from the scoring sheet."

But doing that this season has required putting his body on the line more often.

Twitter @ChristopherHine

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