Peter DeBoer had a choice to make before Game 5 of the Sharks’ first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights: stick with Martin Jones or give Aaron Dell the reins and hope he could save San Jose’s season.
Understandably, armchair bench bosses were split on the decision. Sure, Dell hadn’t been all that spectacular in relief, stopping only 31 of the 36 shots he faced through two appearances, but his .861 save percentage seemed to make the case that it was time to turn to the second-stringer with the Sharks facing a 3-1 series deficit and the possibility of an all-too-early off-season. And Jones’ detractors had a point. After all, San Jose’s No. 1 netminder had been pulled twice in four games – both times before the second frame – and posted an unsightly .838 SP through the front half of the series. He wasn’t the sole reason the Sharks were on the brink of elimination, but Jones’ play certainly hadn’t helped matters.
It didn’t help, either, that the told-you-sos were in no short supply. Entering the post-season, Jones was perceived to be the Sharks’ Achilles heel. Not without reason, mind you. Of all netminders to appear in at least 30 games, of which there were 48 over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, Jones’ abysmal .896 SP was better than only three. His 5-on-5 numbers were mediocre, at best. And it was fair to say that San Jose had won a good number of Jones’ starts in spire of his play, not because of it. Thus, it had been said and written that the Sharks would only go as far as Jones could take them. And through four games of the first round, it appeared the answer to the question, “How far can Jones propel San Jose?” was, “Not very.”
So, suffice to say when DeBoer went back to Jones for Game 5, there was a certain level of surprise. But, boy, has Jones ever done his part to reward DeBoer’s good faith.
That night, Jones saved the Sharks’ season with a 30-save performance. He followed it by stealing Game 6 with a 58-save outing that had all the makings of a season-ending contest. In Game 7, while he was beaten four times, Jones made the saves he needed to in overtime – all nine of them – to help San Jose complete the improbable comeback. And in the time since, he has continued to pen the second half of a tale of two post-seasons.
Consider his numbers beyond Game 4 of the first-round series. Since taking the crease in Game 5 of Round 1, Jones has posted a stellar .928 SP, allowing 23 goals against on 319 shots. And measured against the rest of the netminders who have suited up in the post-season since April 18, Jones has been among the best of the best. Of the nine goaltenders who have played at least four games in that span, Tuukka Rask (.947) and Ben Bishop (.929) are the only goaltenders who have outperformed Jones. At five-a-side, too, Jones’ .935 SP across his past 10 games is in line with the SP of Petr Mrazek and not too far behind the marks of Rask (.948) and Jordan Binnington (.943).
Making Jones’ numbers all the more impressive is that he has posted his totals despite facing inarguably the most pressure of any keeper. As measured by NaturalStatTrick, Jones’ 2.65 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is the second-highest mark – and highest of any keeper to play into the second round – over the 10-game span since he began this post-season turnaround. Over that same span, Jones has also faced the most high-danger shots against per 60 minutes at five-a-side of any keeper left standing and made more high-danger saves per hour than all but Curtis McElhinney, whose numbers are skewed slightly by virtue of his three appearances.
Truly, Jones’ performance is enough to make one reconsider if ‘Playoff Martin Jones’ is more than a silly moniker, not least of all because his performance throughout the past 10 games is unprecedented given his regular season play.
In fact, going back through Jones’ regular season, there was not a single stretch of 10 games during which he played to this level. Did he come close? Absolutely. From Dec. 2 through to Dec. 27, Jones posted a .922 SP at all strengths across his 10 appearances. But altogether, Jones only had seven 10-game segments with a .910 SP or better, let alone anything else in the .920 SP range. The same goes for his 5-on-5 performance. During the same 10-game span in which he posted the aforementioned .922 SP, Jones turned in a .930 SP at five-a-side. But only two other 10-game segments featured at least a .920 SP at 5-on-5 and only seven segments saw Jones post a 5-on-5 SP of .915 or better.
The result of Jones’ play is not only that the the Sharks are in the Western Conference final, but that he’s become a reasonable fringe candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy. That’s particularly true should San Jose advance and Jones keep this up or better his performance against a St. Louis Blues outfit that hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut in the post-season. Regardless of his potential candidacy as playoff MVP, though, Jones has made sure of one thing over the past 10 games: he’s shut up the critics – present company included – who said he would be responsible for San Jose’s playoff downfall.
And if he guides this team to the promised land, he might just make sure his detractors think twice about opening their collective traps ever again.
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