Sharks

Jones' slump comes at wrong time for struggling Sharks

Sharks
Sharks' Martin Jones

Martin Jones' sixth season with the Sharks can be split into three acts.

In the first, the 31-year-old goaltender briefly ceded his starting role to former San Jose goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Jones posted a .877 save percentage and 3.85 goals-against average in his first 12 starts.

In the second act, Jones looked like the goaltender the Sharks envisioned they'd get when they traded a first-round pick and a prospect for him in 2015, and the netminder they imagined he'd be when they signed him to a six-year contract extension two summers later. Jones posted a .931 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average in his next 12 starts.

In the third act, Jones has regressed to his mean shown in the two seasons preceding this one. Jones was pulled after the first period of Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at SAP Center, in which he allowed three goals on eight shots. In his last eight starts, Jones has a .862 save percentage and 4.03 goals-against average.

"Obviously, the start was a disaster," coach Bob Boughner said of the Sharks trailing 3-0 after the first period. "Right from the first shift, the first goal. And obviously, we're fighting for our lives, so to be down 1-0 on the first shot of the game -- which was a horrible goal -- I think it took some wind out of our sails, but that's an excuse as well. I think we have to be able to rebound. You've got 59 more minutes to play, and I don't think we did a good job of coming back from that adversity."

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Wild defenseman Ryan Suter scored on Jones just 19 seconds into regulation. The Wild then scored two more goals in their next five shots, and Jones was given an early hook for the eighth time in 32 starts.

That's his career high, and just one away from matching one of the most dubious distinctions in franchise history.

The Sharks are playing in one of the strangest NHL seasons in recent memory, just nine games away from completing an abbreviated 48-game schedule amid a global pandemic. But Jones' struggles precede this shortened campaign.

Over the previous two seasons, Jones ranked last in Natural Stat Trick's 5-on-5 goals saved above average (minus-55.83 GSAA) despite ranking 25th out of 78 goalies (minimum 500 5-on-5 minutes) in expected goals-against rate (2.23 xG per hour). He was 66th out of 66 in Evolving Hockey's GSAA metric (minus-24.14) and 64th in goals saved above expected (minus-17.47).

Add up Jones' three arcs this season, and it has been more of the same. He's on track for his third consecutive season with a sub-.900 save percentage, although he has saved nearly a 5-on-5 goal above average (0.74) by Natural Stat Trick's assessment. Not many regular starters have faced a higher rate of quality shots (Jones is facing 2.45 xG per hour this season), but Jones has allowed over seven goals more (66) than expected (58.24), according to Natural Stat Trick's measure.

"We didn't get [saves] early, and now you're chasing the game," Boughner said in his postgame video conference, admitting the Sharks made "young mistakes" on the Wild's second and third goals Saturday.

"You'd love to come out of that tied or leading after one, and build your game and keep getting better, but we didn't get the chance to do that."

Rookie Josef Korenar, Jones' backup, was decent Saturday. The 23-year-old stopped 15 of 17 shots he faced -- including 15 of 16 at 5-on-5 -- in 40 minutes. In 27 fewer appearances, Korenar has saved almost half as many 5-on-5 goals above average (0.36, per Natural Stat Trick) as Jones.

Jones' future beyond this season, then, should be an open question.

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He doesn't have any trade or movement protection, meaning the Sharks can expose Jones and protect Korenar in this summer's expansion draft. Although Jones is from nearby Vancouver, it's difficult to envision the Seattle Kraken selecting Jones without the Sharks sending draft capital to the expansion franchise. It's even harder to envision San Jose holding on to its first-round pick if that's the chosen route.

Buying out Jones this summer would leave the Sharks with a $1.67 million cap hit over the next six seasons, according to Cap Friendly. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has never bought out a contract with more than a season remaining, however, and Jones has three.

Still, amid a season-long eight-game losing streak, Boughner mentioned to reporters that the Sharks' current roster doesn't allow for much margin for error. That applies in net, too.

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"You look at Vegas' lineup in the last two games against ours, you look at Minnesota's -- a lot of things have gotta right to get a win, get back on track and get some points," Boughner told reporters. "It starts from goaltending. It starts from the giveaways, to the defensive plays away from the puck and, of course, special teams."