Working back from thumb injury, defenseman Seth Jones frustrated by his ‘hit-or-miss’ play for Blackhawks
Jones puts a lot of pressure on himself and feels he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. But especially now, with Jones’ thumb locked in a splint, coach Luke Richardson wants him to simplify his game rather than try to do too much.
NEW YORK — For the last two weeks, Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones hasn’t been able to put his formerly broken right thumb on his stick. Instead, it’s ‘‘locked straight out’’ in a splint.
That will be the case for the next two weeks, too.
Yes, he had the same idea anyone else logically would: Why not make a curved splint to lock it in place on the stick? But it turns out that’s easier said than done.
‘‘We tried to make one,’’ a chuckling Jones said Friday. ‘‘They mold it, and they bent it a little bit. But they don’t want it to move too much.’’
Being able to use only four of five fingers on his dominant hand has required some adjustments. Before returning to the lineup Nov. 23 against the Stars, Jones had practiced for only a few days with it. That required those adjustments to be made mostly on the fly.
But at least he’s able to play. And at least his thumb, according to another X-ray a few days ago, is healing as planned.
‘‘It’s a little bit weird when you’re taking your hand off [the stick and] putting it back on,’’ Jones said. ‘‘It can get jammed in battles and stuff, which doesn’t feel good. But it is what it is.’’
Jones has resumed handling his usual massive workload, averaging 24 minutes, 49 seconds of ice time through his first five games back.
In his first two games, Jones and coach Luke Richardson thought he played very well. But in the next two — losses to the Jets and Oilers — his lingering rust after missing nearly a month was more evident. He was a minus-six in those two games combined.
‘‘We talked to him the last few games about maybe trying to get too much into the offense too quickly, too often,’’ Richardson said Friday. ‘‘[He should be] focusing more on defense with his heavy stick and killing plays and starting the rush instead of maybe trying to get ahead and lead the rush. [That way], we can be a little bit more sound, just in case there’s a hiccup and we don’t get the puck out or it bounces over someone’s stick.’’
Jones was also left in a couple of tough situations — by captain Jonathan Toews’ double-pinching errors — as the only Hawks player back against two-on-one rushes by the Oilers in the third period Wednesday.
Nonetheless, Richardson thought Jones could have defended those instances better, too. He suggested Jones should drift closer toward the puck-carrier — instead of staying halfway between the two forwards — and slide a half-second later, once the rush gets closer to the net. Those changes might tempt opponents to shoot rather than try to pass.
Jones entered Saturday with a 41.4% on-ice scoring-chance ratio at five-on-five, the worst mark of his career and ranked 160th among 178 defensemen leaguewide. He was producing more scoring chances himself — 3.7 per 60 minutes at five-on-five, up from 2.8 last season — but opponents were generating a lot more against him, too.
And in the Hawks’ win Saturday against the Rangers, he tallied two power-play assists but the Rangers still recorded a 15-3 scoring-chance advantage during his five-on-five time.
Those ugly numbers largely aren’t his fault. Everybody on the team has advanced stats that are varying degrees of awful. But the struggles and mistakes that have contributed to it do weigh on him.
In spite of the rebuild, Jones knows he’s a Hawk for the long haul because of his enormous contract. Since joining the team, he hasn’t enjoyed a lot of success individually or teamwise. And that bothers him.
‘‘There’s always going to be pressure,’’ he said. ‘‘I put pressure on myself. I’m my biggest critic to be one of the top players on this team every night. Personally, I don’t think I’ve lived up to that so far.
‘‘I’m a professional athlete. I was brought here to do a job, and I’ve been hit-and-miss at it so far. Just being more consistent is going to [make me] better. [I’m] not putting all the burden on myself, but a big part of it, for sure.’’
Jones has learned through his career how to handle that pressure and self-criticism without letting it overwhelm him. Still, it subconsciously might be contributing to his recent tendency to try to do too much every shift. And especially while he remains limited by his thumb, simplifying his game might be prudent.
‘‘I don’t think he needs to lean to the offensive side,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘He has the ability to get up and down the ice so well that he can play his position properly and hard and against the top lines on the other team and still add offensively.’’