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Blackhawks D Erik Gustafsson looks for better defense after benching

NEW YORK — Erik Gustafsson isn’t a bad defender or too lazy to bother with it. He can do the dirty work when it matters to him.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton would like it to matter a lot more often, starting tonight against the Rangers.

Gustafsson, a third-year defenseman, got himself benched for the third period of Monday’s 8-5 loss to the Devils because he appeared far more enthusiastic about offense than his primary role on the ice.

“We know he can defend better, so we expect it out of him,” Colliton said. “If he’s on the ice, he’s gonna produce offense. Part of being on the ice is defending better. So we want him out there, and if he is out there, he’s gonna help us win.

Erik Gustafsson needs to be much better defensively for the Blackhawks on Thursday against the Rangers. | Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

“He views his offensive contribution as a major part of his game, and rightly so. But if you keep it out of your net, it’s also equal to producing a goal, so that’s always something to remember.”

Gustafsson is the team’s most offensively gifted defenseman and leads his position with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists).

He didn’t give the Hawks much at either end of the rink, though, against the Devils. In a season-low 14:17 of ice time, he blocked one shot, had no hits or takeaways and was a minus-2. The only one worse in plus/minus was Duncan Keith at minus-5 in 21:36.

Gustafsson said Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t spoken with Colliton about the benching, but he didn’t seem to need clarification.

“I just want to get better,” he said. “I’ve gotta be better without the puck. With the puck it’s good, but without the puck I’ve gotta be better and stronger. I’ve gotta be defensive a little bit more.

“I’ve gotta be better at it. I want to have the puck and I want to get going and shoot a little bit. Unfortunately, I [overemphasized] that a couple times last game.”