ANAHEIM — Max Jones has watched his ice time tick steadily upward, going from an average of less than 11 minutes in the first month of the season to 14:34 in March.
Coming off a torn chest muscle injury that limited him to two full games last season, the Ducks wanted to gingerly feed him back into the lineup and make sure he could handle the role with easier matchups in the bottom six.
Essentially, not getting thrown into the deep end.
Jones’ role has increased as his productiveness and impact have grown. What he has done in March is what the Ducks hope is the real Max Jones – a fixture in the top six and a power forward complementary piece that has enough ability to play with skilled players but can also do some of the heavy lifting.
That was on full display in the Ducks’ 7-4 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at Honda Center. Jones, who has been on the second line with Troy Terry and center Mason McTavish, played a season-high 17:07 and scored the game-winning goal late in the third period, a breakaway which featured speed, skill and grit.
It ain't over till it's clover!
Max Jones restores the Ducks lead with the nifty backhand breakaway deke. pic.twitter.com/heU0Xb1cgC
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 18, 2023
Jones has points in four of the past five games, including two goals, giving him 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 56 games. In an interview Tuesday, he tied the production directly to the time on ice.
“Playing more minutes helps,” he said. “The minutes are the biggest part. Playing more, you feel like you’re in the game. Your heart rate is up. I know what I can bring. I know what I can do.
“Looking back at these past five, six games, the amount of Grade-A chances I’ve had has been ridiculous. I’m glad I’m getting the chances, but I’ve got to score on them. Once I break through and start getting that scoring touch, that’s when I can start doing some damage.”
Prophetic words, indeed.
“He (Jones) likes that move,” Ducks rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal said of the winning score. “Usually against me (in practice) he goes for the shot. It was a good goal. I’m happy for him. He deserves it – after the injury and everything. It was a big moment for the team too.”
The injury last season occurred early in the Ducks’ third game of the season, at Calgary. It would be 11 more months until Jones took the ice again in a preseason game.
He had to exorcise some Calgary-related demons when the visiting Ducks played the Flames at the Saddledome on March 10.
“I knew right when I was there,” Jones said. “That morning I felt like I was just there. Everything seemed so memorable like I was just there yesterday. That’s what it felt like to me. The last time I was here, I got hurt. When I was going through the room, I was remembering everything. Which (stunk).”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins noted in training camp that the injury-related adversity helped Jones develop better tools to deal with the next challenge. Which is what happened when Jones was starting to feel frustrated when he couldn’t finish his chances.
“When you’re getting chances, the finish is eventually going to come,” Eakins said. “Obviously, always good when a kid’s worked that hard. He not only helps his team win, but he’s rewarded with points as well.”
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