Caleb Jones’ ability to play either side gives Blackhawks’ defense flexibility

Be it alongside Ian Mitchell, Isaak Phillips or Jarred Tinordi, Jones can flip-flop from left to right without much difficulty.

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Caleb Jones passes the puck.

Caleb Jones has flip-flopped from right to left frequently the past month.

AP Photo/Matt Marton

Blackhawks defenseman Caleb Jones has spent the last month flip-flopping more than an indecisive person placing an order at Chipotle. Or, to use a more topical example, more than Stan Bowman in his final years as the Hawks’ general manager.

But Jones’ ability to do so — to adjust to being a left-side or right-side defenseman without much difficulty — has given the Hawks some much-appreciated defensive flexibility.

‘‘It has been a little back and forth, but that’s something I’ve done my whole career,’’ Jones said recently. ‘‘I’ve always been the guy for the last three, four years — wherever I’ve been — that has gone over to the right side. I’m used to it.’’

Added coach Luke Richardson: ‘‘In the game now, with the agility and speed, everybody should be able to do that. But, for sure, some guys do it better. For a guy [who] . . . has been in and out of lineups and fighting his way to get to where he is now — [with] more of a higher status and a little bit more experience — it has probably helped him. It’s smart for guys to practice that.’’

Jones’ chaotic stretch began against the Lightning on Jan. 3, when he filled in as a left wing because Tyler Johnson was a late scratch with an illness. By comparison, nothing since has been quite as foreign as that.

On Jan. 6 and Jan. 8, Jones played the left side — his preferred side as a left-handed shot — with Ian Mitchell, a right-handed shot, on his right. On Jan. 12, however, the Hawks inserted left-handed prospect Isaak Phillips, forcing Jones to move to the right side.

He spent two more games there, then moved back to the left when Mitchell came back Jan. 19. Phillips was swapped in again Jan. 21, and Jones moved back to the right.

On Jan. 22, Mitchell regained his role and Jones moved back to the left, where he also spent the remaining three games before the All-Star break. The Hawks kept that combination together Tuesday and Friday, having returned Phillips to the AHL during the break.

But in the Hawks’ 4-1 loss Saturday to the Jets, left-handed veteran Jarred Tinordi made his return after missing two months while recovering from facial surgery. Trying to ease Tinordi back in, Richardson didn’t reunite him with Connor Murphy — instead keeping Jack Johnson in that spot — but rather put him with Jones, forcing Jones to move over to the right again.

This roller coaster isn’t likely to end soon. The trade deadline will shake up the Hawks’ defensive corps even more, and all the prospects who might move up into the vacated NHL spots — including Alex Vlasic, Filip Roos and Ethan Del Mastro (once his Ontario Hockey League season ends) — are also left-handed.

For Jones, the flip-flopping requires resetting his vision and frame of reference.

‘‘You see the game differently,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s different things on your off-side that you have to do . . . [to] put yourself in different positions to make a play. You can get on your backhand a little more. I’ve done it a lot, so I’m used to it, but it definitely is a little bit tough going back and forth every night.’’

Meanwhile, Kevin Dean — the Hawks’ assistant coach who oversees defense — has worked with Jones on coordinating breakouts more cleanly, regardless of whom he’s partnered with.

‘‘Just giving your partner a good, clean puck so he can make the next play without a lot of duress [is important],’’ Dean said. ‘‘If Caleb’s got the puck, Ian has to be in a good spot. When Ian runs out of space and time, Caleb has to be there to help him out. We’ve gotten better at that.’’

After scoring the game-winning goal in overtime Friday against the Coyotes, Jones has two goals and nine assists in 42 games this season. He is averaging just more than 18 minutes of ice time.

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