CALGARY – It was early February in Boston when Martin Jones was pulled from a game against the Bruins after allowing three goals on 12 shots in the first period.
At that point, Jones had started 47 of the Sharks’ first 55 games. His numbers had steadily declined month-over-month from November through early February, and his heavy workload was likely a culprit.
But since that game, the Sharks coaching staff worked impressive backup Aaron Dell into the fold much more often. As he’s done all season, Dell did an admirable job even with the increased playing time, as he got eight starts in the next 22 games. Entering Friday’s game in Calgary, Dell is 10-6-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Now that the regular season has just about a week left, though, coach Pete DeBoer indicated that it’s time to increase Jones’ playing time again. The goaltender will get the call against Calgary, playing for the second straight night after he took the loss in Edmonton on Thursday night.
If Jones plays three of the four final games after Friday – a good bet – he will equal his games played total from last season (65), when he got time off over the final few weeks as James Reimer was brought in just before the trade deadline.
“I think we’ve got to get [Jones] in a rhythm,” Pete DeBoer said Friday afternoon before the Flames game. “I think we knew that we were trying to follow last year's formula a little bit and give him a little bit of a break down the stretch. He’d played a lot of games. We did that.
“Deller did a great job, kept us competitive. Now it’s about getting [Jones] in a rhythm. I don’t know if there is a right answer, but I know his character. I know what he’s capable of. I know he’ll be there come playoff time.”
Of course, the NHL schedule this year has forced coaches around the league to utilize their backup goalies more often. In March alone the Sharks had five separate back-to-back situations, and DeBoer used both of his goalies in each of the first four until Friday.
“I don’t know if the schedule maker was drinking heavily that day. It’s been an insane schedule,” DeBoer quipped.
After Friday, though, the Sharks’ final four games will all feature a day off in between, similar to a playoff series and conducive to getting Jones in the kind of routine that’s just around the corner.
The hope is that leads to more playoff success, as Jones backstopped the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final in his first real taste of playing in the playoffs. He finished with a 14-10-4 record, with a 2.16 goals-against average and .923 save percentage, getting pulled only once in 24 games.
The Sharks are also likely trying to right the ship as the regular season concludes, losing seven of eight games in regulation headed into Friday. They are in a heated battle with the Ducks, Oilers and Flames as they all jostle for position in the Pacific Division.