Aaron Dell

Sharks will start Martin Jones with season on line in Game 5 vs. Vegas

Sharks will start Martin Jones with season on line in Game 5 vs. Vegas

Facing elimination in Game 5 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, the Sharks will turn to goaltender Martin Jones on Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, Jones and coach Peter DeBoer told reporters Wednesday. 

Jones was pulled in a 5-0 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, after giving up two goals on seven shots. It was the second consecutive game in which Jones allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, and his struggles in the Stanley Cup playoffs continued. 

In four starts, Jones has posted an .838 save percentage and 5.33 goals-against average. He has faced a higher rate of high-danger shots (13.13 per hour, according to Natural Stat Trick) than any other goalie this postseason, but his playoff performance largely has been a continuation of his regular-season play. 

[RELATED: Jones avoids media after Game 4 loss]

The Sharks' starter ranked 61st out of 70 goalies who made at least 10 appearances in save percentage (.896), and dead-last in 5-on-5 save percentage out of 56 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes at full strength. Backup goaltender Aaron Dell, who relieved Jones in Games 2 and 4, wasn't much better in the regular season or in relief for Jones in this series. 

Jones will need to quickly turn things around if the Sharks are going to fend off elimination in Game 5 of the best-of-seven series.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones avoids media after Game 4 loss to Golden Knights

Sharks goalie Martin Jones avoids media after Game 4 loss to Golden Knights

"Wanna get away?"

It's a short flight from San Jose to Las Vegas, and goaltender Martin Jones certainly fit Southwest Airlines' slogan after the Sharks' 5-0 loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday in their first-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, the team "couldn't find" Jones after the game when media was speaking to players. 

No, Jones wasn't literally missing from the Sharks (make jokes on your own time), but oh boy, look at the replies to the tweet above. Jones allowed two more goals in Game 4 before being pulled for Aaron Dell, and then avoided speaking to the media after the loss. 

Jones has been pulled from the net in two of his last three games. He's allowed 13 goals in the four games against the Golden Knights and has just an .838 save percentage on the series. 

[RELATED: How Sharks' defense has struggled without Vlasic vs. Vegas]

The Sharks are on the brink of elimination down three-games-to-one heading into a must-win Game 5 on Thursday. It's yet to be determined who will start in net, but either way, Jones and the Sharks will have to face plenty of questions.

Sharks maintain controversial penalty was turning point in loss to Vegas

Sharks maintain controversial penalty was turning point in loss to Vegas

SAN JOSE – You could point to a couple of reasons why the Sharks lost the second game of their best-of-seven first-round matchup against the Golden Knights, but the controversial goalie interference call early in the second period was perhaps the biggest turning point of the entire contest.

Not surprisingly, the two teams are split on how everything unfolded and whether the officials made the right call.

At roughly 51 seconds into the second period with the scoreboard knotted up 3-3, Marc-Andre Fleury came out of the crease to defend a shot from Brent Burns, which Logan Couture appeared to tip into Vegas’ net. But the goal was almost instantly waived off, with the ref calling goaltender interference on Couture before sending him to the box to serve a two-minute minor. 

Instead of the Sharks going up 4-3 on Couture's tip-in, the Knights converted on the ensuing power play less than a minute later on their way to a 5-3 victory. 

Here’s where some explanation is necessary. According to NHL Rule 69.4

“If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper.”

The issue of whether the “appropriate penalty was assessed” is where things get messy.

When Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer discussed what he referred to as a “devastating” call, he argued that Couture should not have been penalized and that San Jose should have been able to challenge the ruling on the ice.

[RELATED: Sharks and Golden Knights combine for historic first period]

“The problem I’ve got with that is that, for one, (Couture’s) entitled to that ice,” DeBoer recounted, “and because Fleury is outside the crease and he’s just going to that area outside the crease there’s no intent at all to run into Fleury.
 
“The travesty of the call is that if they had called it goalie interference, we could have challenged it,” he continued. “I think the league would’ve recognized Fleury was outside the crease, probably would have awarded us a goal and we’re up 4-3 at that time and it’s a different game. But it’s a two-goal swing, because he calls the penalty, even though there’s zero intent to hit Fleury and Fleury’s outside the area he should be.”

Members of the Sharks agreed, not holding back that they thought Fleury was too far outside of the paint for Couture to avoid him. 

“They do a lot of complaining about Fleury and the traffic in front,” Evander Kane said. “But, when you’re exiting the blue paint three extra feet, it makes it awful tough as an opposition to try and stay away from him without battling a d-man in front of the net. So, it was a pretty good reaction by [Fleury] and he tricked us. Tricked them.”

It probably doesn’t help that the players don’t think there is much consistency in enforcing the rule. “I was under the impression that if it was outside the blue, it’s not goaltender interference,” said backup netminder Aaron Dell, who was on the other side of the ice when the call occurred. “It looked like [Couture] barely touched him, from what I could see. I’m not sure what the ref saw on that side, he had a better angle of it. I don’t know, it’s just been kind of murky on the consistency on that one.”

Knights’ head coach Gerard Gallant, on the other hand, saw something very different from where he was standing behind Vegas’ bench. 

“(Couture) hit him in the head,” Gallant said to the press after the game, using the word “awesome” in reference to the call. “(Fleury) tried to play the puck, he's defending his goal. He's trying to play the puck, and the guy skates through the blue paint and bumps him in the head. So, to me, it's pretty obvious. I don't know what they're saying over there, but did you guys see? Did you guys see it? I mean, it's pretty obvious to me."

Fleury had his own view of the play when asked about it after the game. "I didn't have much of a view, it was just somebody in my face,” the netminder said. “I don't know. I was looking at the puck, and then I couldn't move to my right because he was there and that's where the puck was going. I'm glad the ref made a call."

The results of the call put Vegas in a position to take back the momentum of the game. Even though San Jose had four opportunities on the power play after that, they weren’t able to add to their score. Although the Sharks could have tied the contest back up, it’s hard to ignore the turning point less than a minute into the second period.

“That one call is a two-goal swing in the game and it’s devastating for our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s a shame.”