Sharks

Sharks' Jones tries to find his game during mini-break

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Sharks' Jones tries to find his game during mini-break

SAN JOSE – Among the Sharks' everyday players, perhaps no one needed a five-day break between games more than goaltender Martin Jones.

The 25-year-old, still in his first season as an undisputed number one starter, looked like a borderline Vezina Trophy candidate around Thanksgiving. In his first 17 starts with San Jose, Jones was 11-5-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .929 save percentage through Nov. 21.

Since then, though, it’s been a dramatic decline. In his last 14 starts, Jones is 5-7-2 with a 3.13 goals-against average and .886 save percentage. He has allowed at least four goals on six different occasions.

Perhaps even more concerning is that Jones’ numbers have deteriorated with every passing month:

October: 1.74 GAA, .938 SP
November: 2.45 GAA, .914 SP
December: 3.06 GAA, .889 SP

In his first start in January last Saturday, Jones allowed three goals through two periods, and was pulled to start the third in a 4-1 loss to the Jets.

[KURZ: Ten almost-midseason observations on the Sharks]

At times, coach Pete DeBoer has been direct in critiquing the goaltender, who on far too many occasions lately has been outplayed by his counterpart on the other end of the ice as the 18-17-2 Sharks trudge along. After the Jets game, for example, when asked if Jones was pulled due to his performance or to spark the team, DeBoer replied: “Both. He wasn’t any better than anybody else.”

In a 6-3 loss to Colorado on Dec. 28, when discussing the team’s penalty kill that surrendered four goals in that game, DeBoer said: “[The Avalanche] were making plays through us, and their goalie was better than ours, too. That’s a bad formula.”

At the beginning of the week the coach was again asked about Jones, and what the goalie needs to work on as the Sharks get some down time from game action.

“For him individually, it’s just little things. I talked to him, and so has [assistant/goalie coach] Johan Hedberg about being a little more aggressive at home, especially on stuff around the net,” DeBoer said. “But, it’s just little things. There’s nothing big you can point to. It’s just little things and confidence and getting on a roll.”

Jones agreed he could be more aggressive on “some of the net drives, and things like that. For me, I need to find that balance. I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to be flying around the crease by any means like [Jonathan Quick] or someone like that, but I think those plays in tight, that’s definitely something I’m working on, just being a little bit more aggressive.”

He expressed confidence that he will improve.

“It’s more just a mindset than anything. I think it’s a pretty quick fix.”

Like the rest of the Sharks, Jones needs to be better at home. At SAP Center, he’s 4-9-0 with a 2.93 GAA and .893 SP, as opposed to 12-3-2 with a 2.22 GAA and .924 SP on the road.

The team’s penalty kill is partially to blame for his inflated home numbers, as the Sharks are third in the NHL in road PK percentage (86.1) but 29th at home (72.7). Of course, the goalie plays the most important role in killing penalties, too.

Getting the first goal, especially on their home ice, would help. The Sharks are 0-11 at SAP Center when allowing the first score, and 5-0 when jumping out to a lead.

“We’ve got to give him some more support at home,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got to work harder to get the first goal. We’ve got to play in front as opposed to behind, because that changes everybody’s mindset.”

After three straight days of practice, the Sharks will attempt to climb out of sixth place in the Pacific Division against the Red Wings and Maple Leafs on Saturday, before they go back out on the road next week.

DeBoer, who met with the players individually on Monday, doesn’t sense the team is worried about its situation in net with Jones and struggling backup Alex Stalock.

“The one thing that I got out of our meetings is our guys are very confident in the goalies we have here,” DeBoer said. “If anything, they feel they are letting them down from an offensive support position. That’s been true, we haven’t scored the first goal at home and we haven’t allowed them to play with the lead, which puts them in tough spots.

“There’s a challenge for [Jones] to be better, but it’s also a challenge for our group to help those guys out, too.”

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

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USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.