Blackhawks notebook: Riley Stillman’s injury opens up another opportunity for Caleb Jones

Stillman and Jujhar Khaira were put on injured reserve Saturday by the Hawks.

SHARE Blackhawks notebook: Riley Stillman’s injury opens up another opportunity for Caleb Jones
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Caleb Jones will rejoin the Blackhawks’ lineup in Riley Stillman’s stead.

AP Photos

Caleb Jones struggled during Seth Jones’ absence, letting that crucial opportunity to assert himself in the Hawks’ lineup slip away.

Riley Stillman’s injury, however, opens up another opportunity for him just one game after Seth Jones’ return. But Caleb Jones clearly is the odd man out on the defensive depth chart

Stillman will miss at least four games with the left shoulder injury he suffered Friday. The Hawks put him on injured reserve Saturday, making him ineligible to return until next Saturday at the earliest.

Jujhar Khaira, who missed both Wild games with lower-back spasms, also was put on backdated IR and will be eligible to return Monday at the earliest.

Caleb Jones’ training-camp momentum hasn’t materialized into much regular-season impact. Since the holiday break, he has been particularly poor: The Hawks had been outscored 4-0 and had a 40.6% expected-goals ratio during his even-strength ice time entering Saturday.

If he wants to earn a new contract with the Hawks this summer, he needs to prove that his offensive upside can outweigh his defensive looseness.

First-period woes

The Hawks’ awful first period Friday, falling behind 3-0 by the intermission, continued a bad pattern. Interim coach Derek King described the start as sleepy and unfocused.

Entering Saturday, they were outscored 45-22 in first periods, a minus-23 goal differential that ties the Coyotes for worst in the NHL.

They’re below water in other periods, too, but by less alarming margins: minus-seven in second periods and minus-six in third periods.

Toews reflects

Even as the Hawks continue to play flawed hockey, it’s important to appreciate how much more competitive and competent they are now than they were in October. In fact, they entered Saturday playing at a 94-point pace during King’s tenure — equivalent to that of a borderline playoff team.

Jonathan Toews put the magnitude of the Hawks’ turnaround in perspective Friday.

“The start of the year was tough on everybody with our losing streak and coaching change and all the other things that everyone seemed to be talking about — everything except for us winning games,” Toews said. “It was stressful for everyone. We had a lot of new guys in this room, too.

“We’ve worked really hard and come a long way to get out of that mess and find our identity and our direction as a team. The same goes for myself, personally. So when the pucks start going in, you just start building on that confidence every single night, and you don’t have to think about a million little details. You just go out there and play, and things fall into place.”

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