Blackhawks’ Seth Jones, Caleb Jones making progress as Luke Richardson urges safer play
The brothers produced two of their better games of the season Thursday and Friday, albeit in Hawks losses. With Richardson asking them to be more careful when they jump up offensively, they’ve made fewer costly errors lately.
Caleb Jones has endured a chaotic holiday season.
The spotlight burned a hole in him during brother Seth Jones’ absence in November, and a stretch of several games with brutal turnovers tested his confidence. Then Seth returned, but a hip flexor cost Caleb three games.
But now both Jones brothers are finally healthy, and they produced two of their better outings of the season Thursday and Friday against the Golden Knights and Wild, respectively — even though the Blackhawks still lost. Coach Luke Richardson praised both Friday.
“Seth looked good,” Richardson said. “He never was beaten. And then he added a little bit of offense. [He] wasn’t racing up and down 200 feet all game. We don’t need him to do that. We just need him to look for the right opportunity to dive in there and take advantage of a breakdown.
“Caleb is a pretty responsible guy, and he’s a good skater. Really, he doesn’t need to cheat and get up on the offense; he just needs to be a good second-wave guy. Same thing [as Seth].”
Richardson has been asking his defensemen to be more mindful — and generally more conservative — about jumping into rushes, and the Joneses have been perhaps the most frequent recipients of that message.
It finally might be getting through, though. Since Nov. 23 against the Stars — the game in which Seth returned — Caleb Jones’ expected goals ratio at five-on-five is an impressive 57.7%, which leads the team. And while Seth sits in the middle of the pack at 41.0% over that span, he finished above 59% against Vegas and Minnesota, representing his best two-game stretch this season.
Switching Seth’s first-pair partner from Jack Johnson to Jake McCabe has made a significant difference. McCabe has quietly enjoyed a bounce-back season, and he has been especially reliable over the last month.
Johnson, meanwhile, has settled into a more appropriate workload on the third pairing with Caleb, who experienced similar improvement when Seth’s return previously bumped him from the first to third pairing.
Caleb’s hip injury popped up out of nowhere and knocked him out of rhythm briefly. The speed of the NHL always catches him “off guard for a second” when he returns from any absence. But maybe he’s better when off guard because this week he has avoided many of the poorly timed errors that occasionally plague his game.
“I’ve felt pretty good,” Caleb said Friday. “I’ve been trying to really get up the ice and push the issue — sometimes maybe even a little too much and sacrificing a little bit [of defense], and that can’t happen, for sure. But I look at the year as a total, and I’m on pace to maybe have a career year and break some old numbers. All in all, it has been positive.”
He is correct about his stats. He set career highs in games (51) and points (15) last season; he’s on pace to play 65 games and notch 25 points this season.
And he and Seth also have spent time talking about heeding Richardson’s words and not “trying to force things” offensively.
Now if only the Hawks could make it a little easier on them — and everyone — by scoring a game’s first goal. The Rangers, whom they’ll host Sunday in a potentially feisty rematch, are the only team they’ve scored first against in their last 16 games (and the only team they’ve beaten in their last 15).
“It’s tiring when you’re chasing games because you’re trying to get up and do so much, and then you don’t have a lot of energy left when you come back,” Caleb said. “If you can play with the lead, it gets a little easier.”