SAN JOSE -- The Sharks went 39-1 last season when allowing two goals or fewer. Scoring rarely was an issue for them, which meant many games were decided on their play without the puck.
“We scored a lot of goals, but unlike other years, where we relied on being tight defensively, those goals came at the expense of being a little looser defensively,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer recently said at training camp. “And they were getting different looks.”
Criticism of goals allowed thickened during the final stretch of the regular season, and fingers were pointed in two distinct places: Team defense and goaltending.
“I’m sure [Martin] Jones is the first guy to say he wishes he played better at times," Sharks captain Logan Couture said of his goalie. "But there were a lot of times we didn’t help him out. We gave up too much."
The plot thickened in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when Vegas took Games 2, 3 and 4 by scoring goals early and often. The Golden Knights looked unstoppable on the scoreboard.
In retrospect, Jones believes he tried to do too much.
“You want to go out and make a difference," he said. "But as a goalie, you need to have more patience and let the game come to you. You can’t race out and make 30 saves in the first period. You have to take what comes to you.“
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Sharks turned their Achilles heel into a strong point.
“Breakaways, odd-man rushes, tap-in goals -- he didn’t have a chance,” Couture said. "I don’t know how we did it, but we flipped a switch, and buckled down after that."
Added DeBoer: “I know the group around him takes some responsibility for the ups and downs of last year. To his credit, he found a way. He dug himself out of that place where he wasn’t feeling great about his game.”
[RELATED: Four players Sharks are counting on to take step forward]
The final 16 playoff games should clearly indicate what Jones -- who posted a career-worst .896 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average in the regular season -- can do, especially in the most critical junctures. That must breed confidence in what the Sharks can accomplish this season, if they can support their goalie.
“I can tell you this,” DeBoer said confidently, “the group never wavered once, even at the lowest moments, about whether he could get the job done.”