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Johnson filling key role for Hawks

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO – Those who follow the Chicago Blackhawks should know who Ryan Johnson is by now.
The 34-year old center might have been an afterthought when the Hawks signed him in mid-December, but there's no overlooking what the shot-blocking, faceoff-winning veteran is doing for Chicago now.
After scoring his first goal as a Blackhawk and winning 14 of 19 draws in Friday night's 5-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Johnson is starting to fill the role that John Madden filled in last season's Stanley Cup championship.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville agrees, saying Johnson brings a similar brand of game to the Hawks, who couldn't afford to re-sign Madden because of a salary-cap crunch that caused a roster upheaval last summer.
"Comparable," Quenneville said, when asked if Johnson is this season's Madden. "Killing penalties, (winning) faceoffs and that line energy. He's been doing a good job. He's helps faceoffs. He helps penalty-killing. But he's a good pro, and we like his leadership qualities that he brings, as well."
Johnson, who's playing his eighth NHL season, was about as unheralded as you can get before signing with Chicago.
After breaking both feet while playing for Vancouver last season, he used the summer and fall to recover. It didn't exactly cause a flurry of activity among League general managers when Johnson hit the open market, but Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman took a chance.
Bowman looks pretty smart now that Johnson is solidifying a line and helping the penalty kill unit for the defending Cup champions.
The Hawks are 11-4-1 in the 16 games Johnson has played this season, and his goal 2:50 into the third period Friday night gave Chicago a 3-1 lead. It also sparked a three-goal outburst that cemented the win. Yet it's been blocking shots on the penalty kill and winning draws where Johnson has made a huge difference.
Against Carolina, he blocked one shot and won 14 of 19 draws (74 percent). That was after winning 11 of 12 (92 percent) during Wednesday's 6-4 victory against the Calgary Flames.
"That's what he's done his whole career," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "You don't stick around the NHL for that long if you don't have any special talents. Obviously he wins draws, he blocks shots with any part of his body and he's been great on the penalty kill.  Now that he's going good, he fills a big part for us."
He's also bent on winning. Johnson refuses to change his style of play, even though it led to him breaking both feet while blocking shots. He now wears hard covers over his skates to protect his feet, but won't avoid shy away from getting in front of flying pucks.
"He looks like a pretty boy to me, you know?" Hawks forward Tomas Kopecky said jokingly. "But he's a really competitive guy and you can see that on the penalty kill. He's blocking shots and every face-off, he's so focused. It's nice to play with him."
It's also nice not to face him, as Chicago did last season while Johnson was a member of the rival Canucks. Campbell said the Hawks have picked his brain regarding things that have happened in the Chicago-Vancouver rivalry, but overall he's just happy to have Johnson as a teammate now.
"He's just reliable," Campbell said. "I love playing with the guy, because he's so reliable out there. You know he's going to come back and help out and make some smart plays."
Kind of like a certain guy they called "Mad Dog" a year ago.

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