If Peter DeBoer had received a good performance from his backup goaltender during the regular season, he might have been inclined to turn to Aaron Dell after pulling Martin Jones twice in Round 1.
While Games 2, 3 and 4 against Vegas Golden Knights were forgettable for Jones, the San Jose Sharks head coach didn’t throw his goaltender under the bus and stuck with him, even as they faced a 3-1 series deficit. The decision — which was the head coach really having no other option — worked out and here we are ready to throw praise on what was an Achilles’ heel for them.
Through the opening four games of Round 1, Jones’ play put him at the bottom of goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was dead last in even strength save percentage (.836), high-danger save percentage (.696), and had a -5.15 goals saved above average, which is the number of goals allowed compared to the number of goals that would have been allowed by a league average goalie.
Those numbers have been flipped in Jones’ last six games, during which the Sharks have gone 5-1. The netminder can boast a .948 ESSV%, .849 high-danger save percentage, and a 2.83 goals saved above average, which is tops among all goalies since April 18.
“I don’t think it’s as simple as Jonesy wasn’t any good and now he’s good. I don’t think that’s the story,” said DeBoer. “He was great to start the playoffs. We fell into a little bit of a whole in the Vegas series where we were chasing games and he came out a couple of those games because of that. And then he re-found his game, and we re-found our game as a team in Game 5, 6, and 7 facing elimination, and he’s been good again.”
Even now, as the Sharks eye a 3-1 series lead against the Colorado Avalanche with Game 4 Thursday night (10 p.m ET; NBCSN; Live stream), DeBoer still pinned most of the blame on Jones’ early playoff struggles on the team as a whole being “off.”
To his credit, Jones didn’t panic and overhaul his game to find a way through struggles. He said he tried to relax and stop overthinking on the ice. His 58-save performance in Game 6 against Vegas certainly did wonders for his confidence.
Jones re-finding his game is a huge boost to a Sharks team that is currently on a roll, one that we could look back on being a key point in a potential run to the Cup Final.
“He’s such a good goaltender. It was a tough year for him, I’m sure,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said after Game 3. “Start of the playoffs didn’t go the way we wanted it to as a team, we left him hanging out to dry a bunch of times and he’s the one who took it. He’s playing great right now.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.