Giving up “soft” goals can forever damage a goalie’s reputation.
It happened to former Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. He was a Vezina finalist in 2013, and stopped a higher percentage of shots than any goaltender in Sharks franchise history. And yet, Niemi’s time in teal was defined by the goals he gave up, and more specifically, how those goals looked. It didn’t matter that his game has fallen off since leaving San Jose, as the narrative was that it already had.
It started to happen to Martin Jones last postseason against Edmonton. It didn’t matter that Jones set a Sharks playoff record in save percentage and kept the Sharks alive in a series in which they were largely outclassed. Just run a Twitter search for “Jones five hole” from April and see the results for yourself.
It’s happening now, too. Jones has been bad by just about any measure. He sits 34th out of 41 goaltenders that have made one start in overall save percentage, and 31st among the same group in even strength save percentage. He’s given up eight goals in two starts, yet most of the concern has been about the appearance of those goals.
On a visceral level, that makes some sense. Goaltender is notoriously tough for scouts and management to evaluate, let alone media and fans, and appearances are easy to identify.
But the aesthetics shouldn’t outweigh the amount of goals allowed.
In two starts, Martin Jones has given up eight goals. That’s not good enough, and it’s where the conversation should really begin and end. Sure, you might feel better about Jones’ performance so far if all of the goals he allowed were the result of an opposing player picking one of the top corners, but the end result is the same. There’s no special classification on the scoreboard for “good” or “bad” goals, after all.
If there was, it would only dilute what makes save percentage such an effective metric: the sample size. At the end of a regular season, a starting goaltender will have faced thousands of shots, giving us enough information to reliably evaluate their performance. If you start picking and choosing goals based on appearance, you’re just cherry-picking data.Right now, we’re talking about 59 shots over two games. That’s hardly enough information to make any long-term conclusions, so why whittle it down even further?
A goaltender’s job is to stop shots, and Jones simply hasn’t stopped enough early in the season. Everything else is just noise.