Sharks

Sharks' Martin Jones finding his groove, offering hope for next season

Sharks

SAN JOSE -- Martin Jones stopped all 30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins' shots Saturday night for his fifth shutout since the start of last season. All five have come against either Pittsburgh or the Minnesota Wild.

So, what gives?

"Nothing, really," Jones said after the Sharks' dominant 5-0 win. "Coincidence."

Whatever you want to call it, Jones will take it. He has had a rough go of it, to say the least, and dabbles with success have often been separated by long stretches of significant struggle.

Saturday not only marked Jones' first home shutout since the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, but also established his first set of victories in consecutive starts since the end of November. In fact, it was his first time starting back-to-back games since San Jose's final two games of 2019.

As Jones' struggles continued, his backup Aaron Dell surged and at least temporarily took hold of the starting spot. The two netminders had alternated starts over the Sharks' last eight games, but interim coach Bob Boughner stuck with Jones against the Penguins after he was solid in San Jose's 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. Counting the shutout of Pittsburgh, Jones finished the month of February with a 3-2-0 record, .951 save percentage and 1.40 goals-against average. It isn't a huge sample size, but it's promising nonetheless.

"He has been good for a long stretch here," Sharks captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He played well on that road trip, too. We're confident in him. He looks confident in the net. He's making tough saves look easy. He made a big save in the third, coming across on his glove hand. It energizes our group when he's playing like this."

 

To regain his form, Jones had to go back to the drawing board. When Dell seized the starting role, he put in more practice time with goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov, which appears to have paid off.

"It's nice to play and get in a little bit of a rhythm," Jones explained, "but it could have been a good thing to have me get some of that practice time in. It's tough. I've played a lot of hockey over the last five years. I just wanted to work hard in practice and make sure I was ready when I did get the call."

He got the call Thursday and Saturday, and from the sounds of it, he'll get it again when the Sharks continue their homestand -- undefeated thus far -- against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

"The fact of the matter is, now, it's been a healthy competition," Boughner said of San Jose's goalie tandem. "They've both given us some great goaltending in the second half, but Jonesy is a guy who has a lot of pride and he has won a lot of games here over the last few years. If you win, you're gonna stay, and we want both of them to be competing for the net all the time."

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In terms of the competition in net, it would appear Jones currently has the upper hand. But, given the lack of consistency that has been at the root of his struggles over the last couple of seasons, the leash isn't long, nor should it be. 

If he can continue to build off Saturday's performance, Jones has an opportunity to generate some positive momentum heading into next season. There arguably isn't a more important thing at stake for San Jose in the final 17 games that remain in the current one.