ARIZONA COYOTES

Challenge ahead: Coyotes have to ‘hold the fort’ with no Nik Hjalmarsson

Oct 15, 2019, 3:41 PM
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes will have to move forward for a while without a key piece of their defense, Niklas Hjalmarsson, as he is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.

A report from The Athletic’s Craig Morgan said Monday that Hjalmarsson suffered a cracked fibula and will be out about three months.

“Whether it’s two, three months, who knows,” head coach Rick Tocchet told reporters Tuesday in Winnipeg. “But it’s going to be a while. So we’re going to have to hold the fort for Nik. Of any guy on our team, it kills him the most because he came in in great shape and was having a really good year for us.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson played all 82 games of the 2018-19 season and all four of the Coyotes’ games start the new season. He scored one goal already, which was unusual for the defensive defenseman, but more importantly, he contributes mightily as a second-pairing defenseman and penalty killer. He’s regarded as one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL.

“He’s as good as I’ve seen or played with as far as anticipating where pucks are going to go and getting his stick or skates or body on pucks,” Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station last month.

After a full year last year, this will mark the second time in three seasons with the Coyotes that Hjalmarsson will play far fewer than a whole slate of games. He played only 48 games for the Coyotes in 2017-18, his first year in the desert after coming over in a trade from the Blackhawks, and called last year a bounce-back year.

Shot-blocking is one of Hjalmarsson’s best skills, so there’s cruel irony in that he was injured while doing that very thing on Saturday in Colorado. Last year, Hjalmarsson ranked second in the league in blocked shots behind only New Jersey’s Andy Greene. He’s also on the first PK unit for a team that ranked tied for first in that category a year ago.

“He’s a fabulous PK guy,” Tocchet said. “That’s really going to hurt us, so we have some guys that, they’re going to have to PK a little more than usual. We have some guys that haven’t PKed before, so it’s more of a committee thing. It’s a big loss for us.”

In the wake of Hjalmarsson’s injury and the team placing him on IR, the Coyotes recalled Kyle Capobianco from the Tucson Roadrunners (AHL). Capobianco and Ilya Lyubushkin, who was called up on Friday before Hjalmarsson got hurt, figure to fill in while Hjalmarsson is out. Capobianco was expected to play Tuesday night in Winnipeg.

“When he got called up last year before he got hurt, I thought he was coming,” Tocchet said of Capobianco. “So it’s a good team for him to play against.”

Still, Hjalmarsson a big loss. The Coyotes had to play 38 games without Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2017-18. They were 11-18-5 (.397 point%) in those games and had losing streaks of five and seven games in length. They were 18-23-7 (.447) in games with Hjalmarsson.

It would be dishonest to suggest that there weren’t other factors at play coincidentally there. Of the 34 games Hjalmarsson missed, 24 were before the start of the new year, after which point the Coyotes got hot and went 20-14-7 down the stretch. Nonetheless, that disparity sure helps his case as one of the team’s most important players.

Arizona Coyotes

St. Louis Blues right wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) celebrates with center Brayden Schenn (10) and cen...
Associated Press

Blues’ Buchnevich suspended 2 games for headbutting Coyotes’ Crouse

St. Louis Blues winger Pavel Buchnevich has been suspended two games for headbutting Arizona Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse.
5 days ago
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) and St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly battle for t...
Tom Kuebel

Coyotes drop home opener after 2nd-period barrage by the Blues

The Coyotes got out to a fast start in their home opener, but the Blues broke the game open in the second period to put it out of reach.
5 days ago
Arizona Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka (70) makes a save in traffic during the first period of an NH...
Associated Press

Coyotes get first point of the season in shootout loss to Sabres

Arizona Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka made 32 saves to help the team pick up a point against the Buffalo Sabres.
8 days ago
Conor Timmins #25 of the Arizona Coyotes controls the puck against Eric Robinson #50 of the Columbu...
Associated Press

Blue Jackets breeze past Coyotes in season opener

The Arizona Coyotes dropped the season opener and first game under coach Andre Tourigny 8-2 on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
10 days ago
Andrew Ladd #16 of the Arizona Coyotes at a faceoff during a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in ...
Arizona Sports

Arizona Coyotes name alternate captains for season opener

The Arizona Coyotes have named their alternate captains for the season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
10 days ago
FILE - In this July 1, 2021, file photo, Arizona Coyotes new head coach Andre Tourigny speaks durin...
Associated Press

Arizona Coyotes enter 2021-22 with overhauled roster

With a slew of new faces, the Arizona Coyotes are hoping to reshape a franchise that’s been to the playoffs just once in the past nine years.
10 days ago
Challenge ahead: Coyotes have to ‘hold the fort’ with no Nik Hjalmarsson