Durability has been one of Jason Chimera's greatest strengths in his time in Columbus. In his first three seasons with the Jackets, the Edmonton, Alberta native missed a grand total of three games. So when Chimera hurt his groin and was forced to miss 16 straight from mid-December to the latter part of January, he was a little out of his comfort zone.
At least it was a positive on a personal level.
"A lot of parenting time," Chimera says when describing how he filled the void.
The speedy winger is glad to be back, though the process of returning from the debilitating injury has been a challenge. Chimera's game is built on speed. It's been that way ever since he was a kid, playing minor hockey in the Alberta capital.
"I've always been one of the fastest skaters on my team growing up," says Chimera. "I never had to work on my speed that much. Ever since little mites, I knew I was one of the fastest guys. I maybe didn't have the best hands but I was one of the faster guys.
"Speed sure makes up for a lot of things."
"No one can catch him, no one can stay with him." - Center Jason Williams
Speed may kill but not having it is killing Chimera. He admits to being frustrated not having the trademark burst that helped him get off to one of the best starts in his NHL career, when he racked up five goals and nine assists in his first 17 games this season.
Chimera is trying to stay patient as he works on getting those wheels back.
"I'm still trying to find my game here," says Chimera, who's now been back in the fold for 12 games. "It's one of those things, it takes a while to get back. I'm still trying to battle through little stuff.
"I've never been hurt like that before. Especially your groin, it's what all of your skating strength comes from. The first couple strides are hard to get going. It's a whole new process. You have to get used to it not being there.
"It's a little weird."
Jason Williams can relate. The newest Blue Jacket, who skated on a line with Chimera and Jake Voracek in a recent stretch, had his own groin troubles the past couple years. Having played against Chimera, Williams recognizes that his teammate isn't going full tilt as of yet.
"For a hockey player, your groin is huge," says Williams.
"You know you can get there in your mind but your body's not letting you get there. That's the frustrating part. Once you can get those fast-twitch muscles going, it seems like everything comes around. Everything is off of our core."
Williams says that what's great about Chimera's game is his ability to get to open areas ahead of the opposition. When he's 100 percent healthy, he'll win virtually all of those races.
"No one can catch him, no one can stay with him," says Williams. "He'll be open that fraction of a second."
"He's one of the fastest guys in the NHL and he battles for pucks," adds Voracek. "When me and Brass played with him, we had so much fun. We try to hit him with his speed.
"He's almost (back to) the same old Chimmer that we've seen."
The time out of the lineup allowed Chimera the opportunity to get a different perspective on his team. He says he sees a more balanced group, especially with the younger guys like Voracek, Steve Mason and Kris Russell stepping up and making huge contributions. And while he wanted to get back on the ice quickly, Chimera knew that the team's success meant he didn't need to rush back prematurely. He tried it once, returning to practice weeks back but had to leave the ice after a setback.
The hardest part of being injured was not being around the guys all the time.
"You're at the rink at 7:30 am and gone before they get here," Chimera says. "That's what stunk about it."
But the Columbus iron man is making progress. Chimera's legs are coming back and he's starting to get more ice time (the 18:07 he played against Toronto Thursday marked a high in TOI since his return). While the points haven't been coming like they did in the first month of the season, the second-effort goal he scored in a big win over the Red Wings certainly gave him a mental boost.
"I know what I can do and it's obviously frustrating," Chimera says. "I want to get back to that again, get that confidence back that I had before."