Sharks

Martin Jones rebounds from benching to lead Sharks to fifth straight win

Martin Jones rebounds from benching to lead Sharks to fifth straight win

Through the first few months of the NHL season, the spotlight on the San Jose Sharks has spent a lot of time focused between the pipes. Even after Martin Jones’ game turned around at the start of December, his critics were back out in full force last Sunday when he was pulled in the first period after giving up three quick goals to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Clearly, Jones needed a turnaround performance on Tuesday when Peter DeBoer sent him back out to start against the Minnesota Wild. No. 31 did just that, standing tall as he notched his first shutout of the season and helped the Sharks extend their winning streak to five games with a 4-0 victory.

“Everyone has tough games, and obviously that was a tough one for him,” Logan Couture said, referring back to Sunday’s game in Chicago. “But we have all the confidence in the world in (Jones) – that he was going to rebound. He played very well tonight.”

Things did look dicey at the start of Jones’ return to the crease on Tuesday when a long shot by Minnesota's Eric Staal rang off the post. While the puck didn’t find the back of the net, it was a scary sight given Jones had given up three goals on four shots just a couple nights before. (Namely that rough game-opening marker by Alex DeBrincat that trickled right past the netminder’s pad.) After that chance by Staal, however, Jones stood on his proverbial head to keep the Wild’s trickiest shots from finding the back of the net.

DeBoer said he knew from Jones’ body of work over the last couple of seasons that he could have a rebound performance like he did. “I knew right after the Chicago game I wanted to come right back with him,” the Sharks coach said. “In my time with him, he’s always responded after a game like that [against Chicago] with a big game. Every time. I was confident we were going to get that type of game out of him tonight.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Sharks also put up a strong defensive effort in front of him. There’s no denying that stretching a detailed game out over a full 60 minutes and not giving Minnesota any room made Jones’ job a bit easier to do. It’s the kind of defensive effort the Sharks admitted they lacked earlier in the campaign.

“There’s no doubt he was left exposed by the game in front of him,” DeBoer said of San Jose’s woes from earlier in the season. “I think everyone is better than early in the season.”

Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say Jones’ game is coming around at the right time. The Sharks will now head home to host the Winnipeg Jets, who are without a doubt the hottest team in the whole league right now. San Jose might’ve been more concerned heading into a contest with the Central Division juggernaut back in November when they were giving up more goals than they were scoring.

Martin Jones’ successful rebound performance, though, showed the Sharks are ready to take on anybody.

Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

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Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

On paper, it might have been the best Sharks team ever assembled. But it all came to an end on Tuesday night, as San Jose lost the Western Conference final four-games-to-two to the St. Louis Blues.

Here’s a look back  -- and forward -- on where this franchise stands.

Stressful run

What we just witnessed had to be among the most stressful playoff runs in Stanley Cup history. San Jose got to their fifth ever conference finals by winning a pair of Game 7s, but never had a two-game lead in any of the three rounds.  There was never an opportunity to breathe or enjoy the view.

Disappointment

San Jose was one of four remaining teams this postseason, but the journey leaves more disappointment than accomplishment.  It’s an important perspective to remember how incredibly high the standards are for this team.

Jumbo's future

I don’t believe for one second that Joe Thornton has played his last game with the Sharks.  The bigger concern is how many more playoff opportunities he will get, after turning 40 years old as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Western Conference final appearances don’t happen every season, as we know.

Healthy Thornton

It was an important season to have for Thornton.  He transitioned to a third line center role, playing about five fewer minutes per contest, but still being effective. In addition, he racked up more milestones than I can summarize here, and most importantly: was generally healthy.

Captain America

Joe Pavelski had a tremendous rebound season, coming off a hand injury to lead the team in goals at 38, which was up from 22. He also is an upcoming free agent this summer, and will be 35 next season, but proved that his exceptional net-front play of tips and redirects may not have any correlation to age.

Vegas Game 7

The “Pavelski Payback” in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights might have been the best overall moment and win in San Jose’s franchise history. Or at least in the history of SAP Center. Elimination was on the line, and scoring four goals in a four-minute span was an unprecedented tribute to the fallen Captain.  

"Clutch-ure"

Logan Couture had another monster postseason and is only two playoff goals behind the leader Alexander Ovechkin (50) since 2010.  He continues rising to the occasion on the biggest of stages. And despite losing two teeth in the postseason, “Clutch-ure” showcased among the biggest of hearts.

Meier improves

Timo Meier continues to take huge steps in his career.  Last season he reached 21 goals, and this campaign he eclipsed the 30-goal mark in 78 games. Meier also has developed the reputation of a hard-nosed player who can make power scoring moves and add a physical element of the game.  The restricted free agent is well deserving of a raise from his $1.65M salary from this season.

Karlsson's decision

Will Erik Karlsson be a Shark next season?  From my view, it’s a 50-50 proposition.  Sure, both side had months to work something out.  But at the same time, free agency is a huge opportunity for any big name, and I don’t blame Karlsson for exploring the options.

Should Sharks retain EK65?

Regarding Karlsson, it’s also a huge financial commitment by San Jose if they are to retain him.  He would likely become the team's highest-paid player and would become a big piece under the salary cap. It’s a large decision for the Sharks in the coming weeks, who made a huge personnel commitment to even acquire Karlsson from Ottawa.

Karlsson's up-and-down year

Karlsson’s regular season shouldn’t be held against him, but it was no doubt frustrating for San Jose. His first third was mostly acclimating to the new surroundings, his second third was dominant and impressive, and the final third was spent with an injured groin.  In total, he tallied three goals and 42 points in 53 games.  His playoffs were much better with 16 points in 19 games, especially impressive considering the injury he played through.

[RELATED: Sharks expect offseason of change after falling short]

Hertl's career season

Another career season goes to Tomas Hertl.  He scored 35 goals, but most importantly made the critical move from winger to center back in December. By the playoffs, he was taking almost 30 draws per contest, and often winning around 20 of them.  

(Mostly) steady Jones

Let’s be frank, there were questions surrounding Martin Jones in the regular season, and for the first four playoff games. It’s hard to argue with the body of work he showcased in all the playoff games since then.

Spotlight

San Jose enjoyed the national hockey spotlight more than ever in 2018-19.  The Sharks might have made the biggest trade of the season, acquiring Erik Karlsson in September.  SAP Center hosted the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in January.  And here in May, the Sharks got to play all of their third-round games on exclusive nights.

How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards outplayed Sharks in West finals

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How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards outplayed Sharks in West finals

Vladimir Tarasenko heated up at just the wrong time for the Sharks. 

The St. Louis Blues winger picked up eight points (three goals, five assists) in their six-game Western Conference final win over San Jose, including the game-winning power-play goal in a 5-1 win in Tuesday's Game 6 at Enterprise Center. Tarasenko led all players in the best-of-seven series with his scoring output, but the Sharks' problems did not stop with the 27-year-old in the conference final. 

"I think what made the St. Louis Blues successful wasn't just Vladimir Tarasenko, it was the production of every line," NBC Sports California guest analyst Kendall Coyne Schofield said after Game 6 on Tuesday. " ... I think a forward on every line had a point tonight. So, every line produced and that's not easy to do. It's going to take a complete team to get to the Stanley Cup Final, and I think that's what St. Louis did during this series."

Two of St. Louis' five goals Tuesday were scored in 5-on-5 situations, but the Blues got contributions from up and down their lineup. David Perron opened the scoring 92 seconds into the contest, while Tarasenko doubled the St. Louis lead just shy of 15 minutes later. Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko's linemate, answered Dylan Gambrell's first career NHL goal with another power-play tally. Tyler Bozak, normally the team's third-line center, was credited with the Blues' fourth goal after his pass deflected off of a defending Gustav Nyquist's stick. St. Louis' fourth line, after being a thorn in San Jose's side all series, left no doubt with an empty-netter with 2:15 remaining in regulation. 

Twelve forwards suited up for the Blues in the Western Conference final, and all but one ended the series with multiple points. The Sharks, by contrast, only had six forwards record at least two points. Four more scored one, and four didn't score at all. 

It didn't help the Sharks on Tuesday that they were without one of those multi-point forwards (Joe Pavelski), as well as one who was red-hot entering the conference final yet still looking for his second point against the Blues (Tomas Hertl). Despite that, San Jose created more high-danger chances at full strength in regulation (11) than in any other game this series, although six came as the Sharks attempted to climb out of a two-goal hole in the third period. 

That didn't translate into goals, Coyne Schofield said, because of what the Blues' defensemen did. 

"I thought they did a really good job boxing out, not allowing second opportunities, allowing Jordan Binnington to see the pucks and ultimately slow down the San Jose offense," she said. "A San Jose offense that was injured, that wasn't complete and [was] trying to string together lines and string together offense in any way they can when, on the other isde of things, the Blues were clicking on all cylinders."

[RELATED: Sharks expecting offseason of change after falling short]

The Blues clicked up front for much of the series. Only two St. Louis forwards (Perron and Ryan O'Reilly) were on the ice for more expected goals-against than for in 5-on-5 situations, according to Natural Stat Trick, and only one (Robert Thomas) was on the ice for more goals-against than for. 

In large part because of that edge up front, the Blues will play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Memorial Day and the Sharks will pack up for the summer beforehand.