Seth Jones and other Chicago Blackhawks defensemen are on track for scoring highs. What’s behind the turnaround?

Seth Jones and other Chicago Blackhawks defensemen are on track for scoring highs. What’s behind the turnaround?

Something had to change for Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones.

It’s hard to consider yourself an “offensive defenseman” when you have one goal through the first half of the season.

“One goal wasn’t enough, right?” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”

For Jones, the push to change came after missing 15 games with a left shoulder injury. When he returned in January, his approach to offense was going to be different.

“I wanted to at least give myself a chance to score instead of passing and try to look for the open man every time,” he said.

Still, it would take a while to see results.

Something clicked in March, and not just for Jones but all Hawks defensemen. They started shooting. No, like, really shooting.

Jones averaged 2.2 shots before the injury and 3.1 after the injury, but in March it’s 3.3 per game. He’s producing 0.92 points per game in March compared with 0.4 before this month.

Jones scored the opening goal Tuesday in a 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames — a game after scoring two against the San Jose Sharks, including the overtime winner.

Meanwhile, defensemen Kevin Korchinski and Wyatt Kaiser tied Jason Dickinson for the team’s second-most shots on goal (three), trailing only Connor Bedard’s five. Jones is leading the way for his group.

Hawks defensemen have produced eight goals, 107 shots on goals and 237 total shot attempts this month, according to the NHL Stats and Information — all represent season highs — with two games remaining in March.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • March (through Tuesday): 8 goals, 14 assists, 22 points, 107 shots on goal

  • February: 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points, 77 shots on goal

  • January: 3 goals, 11 assists, 14 points, 83 shots on goal

  • December: 2 goals, 23 assists, 25 points, 83 shots on goal

  • November: 3 goals, 14 assists, 17 points, 94 shots on goal

  • October: 0 goals, 12 assists, 12 points, 83 shots on goal

It’s quite an uptick for a team that’s still in the bottom of the league in points from defensemen (96) and tied for second-to-last in goals (18).

“We’ve just been focused on shooting the puck a lot more when it comes low to high to us, where in the offensive zone we’re not trying to go D-to-D (defenseman to defenseman) all the time and make the perfect play,” Jones said before Tuesday’s game.

“The more we shoot, the more it creates, based on playing a little higher on us, and then our forwards have a little more time (for chances) down low.”

Several of the defensemen talked to the Tribune about the turnaround.

Seth Jones

He’s an 11-year defenseman but he’s not above taking cues from rookie forward Bedard — even when it comes to how to shoot like a blue liner.

“A lot of guys can take a page out of his book when it comes to that,” Jones said after the morning skate Tuesday. “He crosses the blue line — obviously he’s got one of the best shots in the league already — so when he shoots the puck from inside the blue line, you always think it’s going in or has a chance to.”

“We’ve struggled getting shots to the net early in games sometimes, and he comes over the blue line and he fires it a lot, so we all took a page out of his playbook.”

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Jones has tried to be an example for others in his group, and he’s noticed Alex Vlasic shooting more too.

“I know I go out with him — Deaner (defensive coach Kevin Dean) and Korch sometimes too — and we shoot pucks early, and I’m trying to get that mentality out of them,” Jones said. “I’m just kind of trying to lead the way with that a little bit more in the second half of this year.”

Added Korchinski: “I just watch that and try to replicate it, get as many pucks to the net as possible and good things happen.”

Jones put those principles into practice during a first-period power play Tuesday.

His first shot sailed wide left and his second was blocked, but he stuck with it and the third try proved the charm. He scored the game’s opening goal with a rocket from the point with 15 seconds left on the man advantage.

Coach Luke Richardson explained how Jones’ teammates shared in the credit — just like Jones didn’t deserve all blame for his early struggles.

“Seth’s been criticized a lot for not shooting the puck where I think we haven’t been as accurate on our passing on our power play earlier in the season,” he said. “That hesitates the D because the puck’s rolling or wobbling or it’s not in the wheelhouse. You have to stop and then your lane’s gone and then the whole building’s like, ‘Oh,’ because he didn’t shoot it.

“Well, tonight it was bang-bang, on the tape, in the wheelhouse with a net-front screen (by Nick Foligno). So that was the right time to shoot it. And he’s scored a few goals lately, so I think his confidence is high.”

Kevin Korchinski

The rookie broke a 14-game drought with goals in back-to-back games last week, but he hasn’t been shy about pulling the trigger. His 86 shots on goal are second only to Jones’ 153 among defensemen.

Korchinski leads the team in shooting percentage (5.8%) among qualified defenders (must average at least a shot per game). His key to becoming a better shooter this offseason? Weightlifting.

“I think getting stronger just helps with your shot,” he told the Tribune.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll dispense with target practice.

“I’m a guy who loves to be around the rink and I just like shooting pucks,” he said. “So it’s almost therapeutic in the sense that it’s just going (to the rink), rip pucks, listen to music and something I love to do.”

Korchinski plans to work on his shooting with skills coaches Jordan Trach and Tim Turk.

“Turkey, I’m going to go see in the summer and work with him. So excited,” Korchinski said. Trach is “an unbelievable skating skills coach. He’s worked with all the best players my age and a bit younger above that are turning into NHL prospects and players.

“He’s on the come-up.”

Alex Vlasic

Vlasic prioritizes stability on the back end, but he’s no slouch in the offensive zone. His 15 points are second among Hawks blue liners, including two goals.

“Vlasic has had a lot of great looks this year and chances and it just hasn’t gone in for him that often,” Richardson said.

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Jones said Vlasic isn’t just looking to break out but carry through the neutral zone, and that approach has led to more offensive chances.

“I talk to him every game, let’s skate the puck, let’s go D to D in the neutral zone and skate the puck up and make stuff happen for our team,” Jones said.

Vlasic said he’s seeing dividends from focusing on his shot during offseason workouts.

“That was something I worked on in the summer, my one-timer from the point,” he told the Tribune. “You find yourself getting a lot of opportunities like that where the forwards pass it up to you off the wall, kind of like a (Carolina Hurricanes defenseman) Brent Burns, almost that type of shot, just a quick release and getting pucks to the net.”

Vlasic credited a lot of his development to Hawks director of skill development Brian Keane and plans to work with him in the offseason.

“He’s got a great mind for the game, so I love to learn from him and he does a great job breaking down video of your shot mechanics,” Vlasic said.

Vlasic said Keane’s analysis was the basis of their focus on his one-timer.

“On a one-timer, I would bring my stick almost across my body as opposed to straight up, more like coming down like a golf swing so you get more leverage on it,” Vlasic said. “And recently I’ve recently been focused on getting my top hand behind my left leg when I wind up for a one-timer slapshot, just to get a little bit extra power.”