Jones' workload to increase again as Sharks approach playoffs

Jones' workload to increase again as Sharks approach playoffs

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.

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run


Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

The Sharks have had a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net lately. 

San Jose has lost three straight games, and allowed at least four goals in each of the last four. During that span, starting goaltender Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell have combined for an .847 save percentage in all situations, and an .865 at full strength (per Natural Stat Trick). 

That represents a continuation of the team's season-long goaltending woes. The Sharks entered Wednesday 31st in save percentage (.891), and dead-last in 5-on-5 save percentage (.900).

As NBC Sports' Adam Gretz observed on Tuesday, that perfomance is not befitting of a Stanley Cup contender. It also puts San Jose in some not-so-elite company historically. 

Gretz found that only 16 teams have made the playoffs with bottom-five goaltending over the last quarter-century. Only two (2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers) made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and every other team failed to advance past the second round. 

This context should concern the Sharks, especially in light of Dell's and Jones' solid play in net prior to the last week.  

From the end of the Sharks' bye week until March 11, Jones (.919 5-on-5 save percentage) and Dell (.929) were far better than before the NHL All-Star break. Jones got the bulk of the work in the crease, and his 5-on-5 save percentage matched that of his first three seasons in teal. 

But since the Sharks' 5-4 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 12, Jones (.837) and Dell (.900) have struggled. Neither received much help defensively in San Jose's loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but the Sharks haven't been that much worse in their own end in front of the two goalies -- at least at full strength.

In the last four games, the Sharks have allowed 5-on-5 scoring chances (22.14 SCA/60) and dangerous chances (7.7 HDCA/60) at lower rates than they have on the season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Per their data, Jones has actually faced 5-on-5 shots at a further distance (42.88 feet) in the last four games than the season as a whole (36.11 feet). 

It's possible that Jones and Dell are just experiencing an ill-timed blip on their season-long radar, which is a definite possibility considering how small of a sample size we're dealing with. That's also why their penalty-kill save percentages over that span, in fewer than 11 minutes of shorthanded action apiece, aren't all that meaningful in terms of predictive power. 

[RELATED: Sharks clinch NHL playoff spot, now chase Pacific title]

You could probably say the same about each goaltender's improvement after the All-Star break, too. The full-season sample is far more meaningful as the postseason nears, and as Gretz noted, it's far from encouraging. 

Jones has turned it on each of the last three postseasons for San Jose. He posted a higher save percentage in the playoffs than the regular season every time, including during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. 

If San Jose is going to get back there this spring, he'll have to heat up in a hurry. 

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild


Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

For the fourth consecutive season, Peter DeBoer has guided the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thanks to the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Sharks became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames (45-21-7), whom the Sharks (43-22-8) trail by three points for first place in the Pacific Division, were the first. 

The Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last year. If the playoffs started today, second-seeded San Jose would match up with third-seeded Vegas in the first round.

[RELATED: 'Concerned' Sharks can't look too far in future after loss to Vegas]

DeBoer took over as Sharks coach in 2015 after the franchise ended a 10-year run of making the playoffs. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but they haven't advanced past the second round since.

The franchise also seeks its first Pacific Division crown since the 2010-11 season. A division banner would be the first of DeBoer's career as an NHL head coach.