Sharks

Why Martin Jones starting Game 5 vs. Vegas shouldn't surprise Sharks fans

Why Martin Jones starting Game 5 vs. Vegas shouldn't surprise Sharks fans

SAN JOSE – It’s perhaps the most talked-about and most controversial topic in the current first-round matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights: Who Team Teal decides to start between the pipes.

The topic has grown more polarizing, to the point that social media poll questions have been created and arguments on Twitter have become the norm. (Take it from a writer who’s had fans fighting in her mentions this whole week.)

The Sharks’ goaltending was a cause for concern throughout most of the regular season, and through those stretches, head coach Peter DeBoer and the bulk of San Jose’s squad has maintained that they have every bit of faith in starter Martin Jones. Even when DeBoer was critical of the goaltending in his comments following a 5-0 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday night, he stopped short of putting all the blame on Jones, or backup goaltender Aaron Dell.

“He’s got to be better,” DeBoer said of Jones, but later added: “When you look at the game, you can’t put this all on the goalies. You have to score, too.”

Jones will get that chance to be better – better than letting Vegas score a goal less than a minute into a period, better than getting upended by a breakaway, better all-around – on Thursday night, because DeBoer has tapped him to start Game 5.

As crazy as it may sound to some, the decision to send Jones back out there despite his troubles is consistent with what the Sharks have said since the beginning of the regular season. Even when San Jose went through that long stretch of losses at the end of the regular season, the team never once heaped the blame onto the goaltending.

“They should have a stat that says ‘belief in your goaltender,’” DeBoer said back on April 9. “If they had that stat, Jonesy would be batting 1.000 with our group. There’s not been one mumble or whisper within our group about him or our confidence in him to get the job done.”

That’s not to say that, even with the Sharks sticking to that same mentality, the decision to put Jones back in the crease to start Game 5 has come with its fair share of raised eyebrows. He has allowed the Golden Knights to score the first goal of the game within the first two minutes of every opening period in each of the last three games.

In Game 3, he was beaten by the puck less than a minute into each period. After the Sharks got down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes in Game 4, Dell replaced him in net. Through just four games in these playoffs, Jones has allowed 13 goals for a GAA of 5.33.

[RELATED: Five observations as Sharks face elimination]

This isn’t to say Jones is the only member of the team that has struggled through the bulk of the current playoff series. After putting on a dominant performance over the Golden Knights in Game 1 and digging their way out of a three-goal hole in the first period of Game 2, the Sharks began breaking down defensively and letting their emotions get the best of them. Add to the fact that the goaltender on the other end of the ice has been playing out of his mind, and you have a recipe for disaster. In that case, DeBoer is right – you can’t put all the blame on the goalie when the offense isn’t scoring any goals to pick up the slack.

Now it’s just a matter of seeing how much leeway Jones is given in Game 5. If the Golden Knights are able to get on the board early yet again, that faith in Jones to get the job done in a do-or-die game is going to be greatly tested.

Sharks emerge from long playoff journey with lengthy list of injuries

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USATSI

Sharks emerge from long playoff journey with lengthy list of injuries

SAN JOSE -- One of the biggest storylines heading into Game 6 of the Western Conference final was that the Sharks would be short a few of their top players because of injuries. But, like so many other teams that make deep playoff runs, there were far more bumps and bruises than the general public realized.
 
While a comprehensive list of every player’s injuries hasn’t been made available, it’s clear that some players dealt with simultaneous injuries through San Jose’s 20-game postseason run -- even players who didn’t miss any game action.

“We had guys who were playing that were injured as well," Logan Couture told reporters. "They weren’t hurt -- they were injured, the injuries took their toll.”

By the time the Sharks had reached the Western Conference final, enough players were dealing with injuries that it became hard to pick up the slack.

Joe Pavelski said the health of the team was a stark contrast from the last time San Jose made a deep playoff run.

“You look at 2016 when we went to the Final, you don’t realize how fortunate we were and how healthy we were at that state, probably,” the captain said. “You can’t really think of too many guys that had major things going on. This year we kind of got caught in the other route where we had a bunch of injuries and different guys were stepping up. It’s how it goes. I’m definitely happy with the character in this locker room and guys stepping up playing hard, playing through things and finding ways to win games.”

Pavelski all on his own was a walking list of ailments. In addition to taking a puck to the mouth and sustaining a scary head injury in the first round, No. 8 aggravated a knee injury from the regular season during Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues -- and had surgery on his left hand.

Both general manager Doug Wilson and head coach Peter DeBoer likened Pavelski and all of his injuries to a car accident victim.

Another player to battle multiple injuries was Tomas Hertl. Sharks fans are well aware Hertl didn’t play in Game 6 of the conference final due to injury, which he confirmed was a head injury sustained when he was hit by Ivan Barbashev in Game 5. What viewers probably didn’t know is that Hertl also broke his finger before the first-round series with Vegas even got underway and had been playing through it.

“I just got it fixed yesterday,” Hertl said on Thursday, speaking to the press with multiple bandages around his left pinkie finger. He then joked: “I think it was actually working. Probably (had) my best faceoffs of my career in the playoffs. So maybe I have to do it more often.”

Of course, not every player was able to play through their injuries. Erik Karlsson ended up missing the third period of Game 5 and all of Game 6 against the Blues because he aggravated his lower-body injury from the regular season. At this point, Karlsson is hoping he doesn’t need to have off-season surgery.

“We’re still in that process,” Karlsson said. “All I know is it’s not going to be anything that will be a problem moving forward. I’m going to be able to have a normal summer with training and everything and getting ready. That’s great. It’s just unfortunate it happened when it did.”

Doug Wilson said that, as of Thursday, no Sharks players were scheduled to have off-season surgery. Nevertheless, there are still multiple players who will now be going through summer rehab stints to get healthy for next season. Joe Thornton, who sustained a groin injury during the conference final, knows all too well how much of a toll that process can take.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses whether he will return a Shark]

“It’s a grind, that rehab process,” Thornton said. “Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be.”

Hopefully, for the injured Sharks, the outcomes are positive.

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

Joe Thornton discusses whether he'll be back with the Sharks next season

SAN JOSE -- Even before the Sharks’ 2019 playoff run got underway, the “Win For Jumbo” mantra and the idea of getting into the Cup Final at cap off Joe Thornton’s Hall of Fame career picked up a ton of steam.

But Thornton is a team guy. So it wasn’t too surprising when No. 19  told the media on Thursday morning that he didn’t buy too heavily into that line of thinking.

“I think that was more for you guys,” he laughed. “I think this whole area needs a Cup.”

Not that anyone in the greater Silicon Valley would dispute that. But the desire of the Sharks’ fan base to see No. 19 win a Cup Final ramped up as the 39-year-old forward skated in what many think could be his final season.

As Thornton stood clad in a hoodie as he addressed the press one last time this season, his future continues to remain uncertain. Although he made it clear he hasn’t ruled out a return next season.

“I’ve got to talk to Pete and Doug and Hasso – but we’ll see,” he said. “I haven’t made any decision. I feel like I can still play, that’s for sure, but I haven’t made any decision at all yet.”

One of those decisions, of course, revolves around his health. For the first time in a few years, Thornton is entering the offseason without a serious injury that needs rehab. Nevertheless, how he feels with the general bumps and bruises that come with a long playoff run will also play into his decision.

“It weighs on you man, it does,” he said of coming back from injuries. “It’s a grind that rehab process. Some guys are going to have to go through it this summer and it’s a grind. It’s mentally tough to do that every single day and not sure what the outcome is going to be. For me personally, don’t have that issue. We’ll see.”

Thornton’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of impressing. After missing time at the start of the season due to complications with his surgically-repaired knee, he evolved into Team Teal’s third-line center and began climbing up the NHL’s all-time points list. For him to get so close to going to another Stanley Cup Final and coming up two wins short was hard for even his teammates to watch.

Tomas Hertl, who was watching San Jose’s Game 6 loss to the St. Louis Blues from afar due to a head injury, called seeing Thornton’s disappointed face on the television screen on of the toughest parts of the playoff exit.

“On the TV, when I saw Jumbo, that was the hardest moment,” Hertl said sadly. “We lost and we see Jumbo, how he wants it and how he played in the playoffs, how he was hunting the Cup. To see him lose two games before the Final was really hard.”

Now the questions as to whether Thornton will return carry even more weight as the Sharks offseason – and likely an eventful offseason at that – gets underway. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson has many questions to answer before next season, but he made it clear he would love to have Thornton in the mix.

“I have such tremendous respect for him, not just as a hockey player but as a man,” Wilson said. “He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him. But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him. Whatever decision he makes, we’re there for him.”

[RELATED: End-of-season observations on Sharks]

“I’d love to see him again,” Hertl said, “and try to help him because he’s a great teammate and he’s a great locker room player. I started with him and he showed me the way.”

There is one thing Thornton made clear. If he does in fact return for another season, he won’t be playing for any other team.

“I’m a Shark,” he said. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”