Martin Jones

What's behind the Sharks' defensive turnaround?

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What's behind the Sharks' defensive turnaround?

Hours before a Super Bowl featuring very little in the way of defense, the Sharks turned in one of their best defensive efforts of the season.

The 26 total shots allowed against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday were tied for the seventh-fewest of San Jose's season, and it capped off a streak of three consecutive games allowing just one five-on-five goal. It's surely no surprise the Sharks have picked up points in all three of those games, and won the last two. 

They surely welcome the development. We've spilled plenty of pixels on how bad the Sharks have been defensiely since the start of December, and the last three games represent a bit of a turnaround. 

Over the last three games, they've allowed a lower rate of five-on-five shot attempts (4.88 fewer per 60 minutes), shots (2.19 fewer), and scoring chances (1.78 fewer) than they did in the previous 26 (since Dec. 1), according to Natural Stat Trick. That's across-the-board improvement, but is not necessarily sizeable enough to totally explain their recent stinginess. 

It helps, then, that the Sharks have not only given up fewer looks at the net, their goaltenders have stopped a far greater share of those looks. 

In the prior 26 games, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell collectively posted a .907 five-on-five save percentage. In the last three, that's up to .961. 

The duo was especially good when challenged most. They also combined for a .972 save percentage on five-on-five scoring chances, and a .963 save percentage on five-on-five high-danger scoring chances against Detroit, Columbus, and Carolina. From Dec.1 until Tuesday, Jones and Dell combined for a .918 save percentage on scoring chances, and an .849 save percentage on high-danger chances. 

While the Sharks netminders have undoubtedly benefited from facing fewer shots and dangerous chances, it would be far too simple to say the goaltending is better solely because of the defense, or vice versa. The improvements are likely symbiotic, and sustaining one another.

Three games isn't a big enough sample to say San Jose truly returned to its early-season defensive form. But, with five of the next six games against divisional opponents, and all but three of the remaining 31 against the Western Conference, the Sharks are improving defensively and in net at the right time. 

If they can sustain it, their hold on a playoff spot won't feel nearly as tenuous. 

DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

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DeBoer's defense of Jones doesn't paint the whole picture

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer passionately defended goaltender Martin Jones following San Jose's 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. For the eighth time in his last 14 starts, Jones allowed four goals, but DeBoer tried to take a look at the bigger picture. 

"You guys like to grab little pictures of things that work for the story your writing," DeBoer told reporters in Denver after he was asked about Jones' recent struggles. 

"It's 14 games. You can go back six games and write whatever story you want. He's having a great year for us. Our goaltending has been excellent all year."

If you look at his save percentage, Jones is not having a great season.

His save percentage in all situations (.9097) is the lowest in his three seasons in teal, and ranks 22nd out of the 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations, according to Corsica Hockey. His five-on-five save percentage (.9147) is also the lowest of his teal tenure, and sits 26th out of 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes. 

But save percentage doesn't always tell the whole story, as it doesn't take into account shot quality. As we've written previously, Jones has played behind a loose defense this season.

Among those aforementioned 30 goalies, Jones has faced the highest percentage of high-danger shots, the second-highest percentage of medium-danger shots, and fourth-lowest percentage of low-danger shots. 

Luckily, there's a metric that does take into account shot quality: goals saved above average (GSAA). GSAA works much like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball, and considers how well a league-average goaltender would do "based on the shot danger faced," according to Corsica's definition.

Jones has been better than his save percentage would indicate. His 0.54 five-on-five GSAA ranks 17th out of the 30 goalies that have played 1000 five-on-five minutes, and his all situations GSAA (8.69) ranks 11th out of 34 goalies that have played 1000 minutes in all situations. 

GSAA has the same downside as WAR, in that it's an accumulative statistic, and favors players that have played more. In order to equalize for playing time, we can look at GSAA/30 shots faced. 

Jones ranks 17th and 10th in five-on-five (0.03) and all situations (0.31) GSAA/30, respectively, among goaltenders that have played 1000 minutes in such circumstances. In other words, Jones has been about average during five-on-five play, and one of the league's better goalies across all situations, at least based on the kind of shots he's faced.

That's not neccessarily "great," but Jones has been better on the whole than his recent play would indicate. Of course, he's also been outplayed in his own crease.

Backup goaltender Aaron Dell not only boasts a higher save percentage than Jones, but his GSAA/30 in five-on-five situations (0.15) and across all strengths (0.44) are also higher than Jones'. Every 30 shots on the penalty kill, Dell (2.05 GSAA/30) saves nearly a goal more than Jones (1.06). 

DeBoer also acknowledged that Dell will have to play more out of necessity, with the Sharks halfway through a stretch of eight games in 13 days. That includes a difficult back-to-back this weekend, hosting the Penguins Saturday and facing the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday. 

The coach was on to something on Thursday. Yes, Jones has been better than his recenty play, and his season-long save percentage, would indicate. 

But that doesn't mean he's been "great," nor does it mean he's San Jose's better option in net right now. 

Why Stars goalie Ben Bishop is a cautionary tale for Martin Jones, Sharks

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Why Stars goalie Ben Bishop is a cautionary tale for Martin Jones, Sharks

Ben Bishop, who will start in net Saturday against the San Jose Sharks, was supposed to be the answer in Dallas.

The Stars, with a return to the playoffs on their minds, traded for Bishop’s negotiating rights and signed him to a six-year deal worth nearly $30 million. After two seasons of subpar goaltending from Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen seemingly sunk the team, Dallas wanted a proven option.

On paper, he seemed like an immediate upgrade. Entering this season, Bishop was 14th out of the 40 goalies that played at least 5000 minutes since 2013 in five-on-five save percentage (.927), according to Corsica Hockey.

Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, his predecessor and current backup, respectively, ranked 35th and 36th over that stretch.

With that in mind, Bishop’s contract may have even seemed like a bit of a bargain, considering 16 goalies carried a higher salary cap hit entering this season. Bishop’s been anything but this year.

He’s 25th in five-on-five save percentage (.917) among the 29 goalies that have played 1000 minutes this season, despite Dallas’ defensive improvement. Under Ken Hitchcock, the formerly run-and-gun Stars have been the league’s best team at suppressing shots (27.72 five-on-five shots against per 60 minutes) and shot attempts (52.01 five-on-five attempts against per 60 minutes).

There’s still plenty of time this season, and in his contract, for Bishop to turn things around. The problem is that goaltenders tend to get worse, not better, with age, and Bishop just turned 31.

Not all goalies are the same, and some prove to be legitimate outliers to aging curves, but Bishop’s decline this season should worry the Sharks before Martin Jones’ six-year contract extension kicks in next season.

Jones has been better than Bishop this season, but is still only 21st in five-on-five save percentage (.922) among the goalies that have played 1000 minutes. But of the 40 that played 5000 minutes over the last five years entering this season, Jones ranked 27th (.923).

Next season, Jones is set to have the 11th-highest salary cap hit among netminders (tied with Marc-Andre Fleury), and would receive the sixth-highest goalie salary in 2018-19. The Sharks will be paying for near-elite performance when Jones hasn’t necessarily reached that level.

Like Bishop, Jones’ postseason record speaks for itself, but his postseason sample size is decidedly smaller than his in the regular season. Basically, San Jose is betting on Jones to be the goalie he was in 1500 five-on-five postseason minutes over the last two years, as opposed to who he’s been over 7100 in the regular season since he joined the Sharks in 2015.

That doesn’t seem particularly prudent, especially as Dallas, arguably, had better reason to believe in Bishop long-term than San Jose did in Jones. Considering Bishop’s performance in the infancy of his own six-year deal, the Sharks have to wonder what comes next when Jones begins his.