Martin Jones

Five reactions to Sharks' rough Game 5 loss to Golden Knights

Five reactions to Sharks' rough Game 5 loss to Golden Knights

This series between Las Vegas and San Jose is giving me a headache.

Not entirely because the Sharks now face the definition of a “must win” game Sunday afternoon at SAP Center.

But mostly because the amount of twists and turns in five games alone, have left me regrouping for answers and insights far too many times already. Just when you think you have a handle on who holds momentum, and what is coming next - you’re proved wrong.  

I suppose that’s the nature of a series which has alternated wins back and forth through five tilts.

Even Friday’s contest, was two games within a single game. Vegas got the first four scores. San Jose got the next three until the home team added their empty netter to conclude a 5-3 victory.

1: “Window Dressing”

That’s how Pete DeBoer described the trio of third period goals his team scored to put the score within one. Was it a matter of Vegas letting up? Or the Sharks finally putting things together? The Sharks head coach didn’t even bother analyzing the comeback, but did essentially dismiss its importance right after the game. I found that interesting, some players and pundits might have felt the (too little, too late) response from San Jose was enough to justify some value moving forward but not the man who knows his team best.  

2: Every Vegas goal mattered, good and bad

The game felt difficult to grasp for San Jose, even when it was 2-0. But then came the third and fourth tallies. Every single goal the Golden Knights potted ended up mattering more in the end. Some were well earned, others were bad goals. Neal’s marker with THREE(!) seconds left in the first period came after several defensive breakdowns by the Sharks: bad goal. Tuch’s first goal on the power play was a sequence where all five Vegas skaters touched the puck before it was buried: good goal. Haula’s goal was essentially thrown at the net from the goal line, and beat Martin Jones on the near post: bad goal. Tuch’s second was hockey’s version of an alley-oop, with Eakin’s saucer pass on the rush being one-timed, before it even laid flat on the ice: amazing goal. I won’t even get into evaluating Marchessault’s empty netter: although it was bold from inside his own blue line.

3: Jones Pulled Again

The timeline of Friday night sure was interesting, how the San Jose response began when Aaron Dell came into the game. But it wasn’t like the Sharks were scoring with Jones in the crease, so how is he to blame? He’s not. Even still, this makes for a compelling situation - should San Jose go on to win this series in seven games, at least two of them would have featured their star goalie being pulled. Definitely not something anyone could have predicted entering this second round. I still very much expect Jones to get every last starting opporutnity in this series. And hopefully beyond.  

4: Don’t believe the Game 6 hype

Prior to this season, the Sharks have participated in the playoffs nineteen times. Ten of those eliminations ultimately came in a Game 6, where the Sharks trailed the series 3-2, just like right now, and couldn’t force a Game 7. You’ll probably hear that stat dug up and mentioned before Sunday’s game, but I’m here to get ahead of it. And my point is: how does that apply right now? I realize the historical trend that started in 1998 does not sound promising, but, this is a different year, different group, and certainly different kind of playoff opponent than San Jose has ever faced before.


5: Must Win Scenario, for both sides?

Refer to page 26 of your sports cliche encyclopedia. Looking back at points of the regular season, I suppose it’s silly to have called any game a must-win. They weren’t. But that’s precisely what Sunday’s Game 6 will be for the Sharks. You know the crowd will be on point. You know the Sharks players will be laser focused. But you also know in some way, there will be a tremendous pressure on Vegas to try and keep the door closed on a Game 7. One thing we’ve previously experienced about Game 7s is that anything can happen, when a whole series is decided by one last night. Vegas can’t like the thought of that, even though they’d be hosting it. This is where I originally suggested San Jose would take the series, but they still have to earn getting to that spot with a win on Sunday.

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

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USATSI

All eyes on the goaltenders ahead of Sharks-Golden Knights series

Don't expect a lot of goals in the second-round playoff series between the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. The goaltending matchup, featuring red-hot shot-stoppers Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, is arguably one of the best in postseason history. 

Since the NHL changed up its playoff format in 2014, no two opposing starting goalies have entered a round with a higher combined save percentage than  Jones and Fleury (.973). Among goalies that played at least 175 minutes in a playoff round (or, about three games) all-time, Fleury and Jones' first-round performances rank 8th and 20th, respectively, in single-series save percentage. No other goaltenders in the top-20 played another in the following round. 

It shouldn't surprise you, then, that Fleury and Jones sit atop the league leaderboard in save percentage and goals-against average during the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. It's also shouldn't surprise you that both goaltenders stopped pretty much every shot they faced, no matter the type, in the first round. 

In five-on-five situations, where they've played the vast majority of their minutes, neither Jones nor Fleury allowed a goal off of a low-danger shot, according to Corsica Hockey. They each allowed one medium-danger goal, and Jones allowed the only high-danger tally.

Their save percentage against each type of five-on-five shot represented an improvement over the regular season, but some of their biggest improvements were arguably a result of improved play in front of them.

During the regular season, Jones ranked 46th out of 51 goaltenders that played a minimum of 1000 five-on-five minutes in medium-danger save percentage (.900), while facing the 11th-highest percentage of medium-danger shots. In the postseason, Jones has faced the lowest percentage of medium danger shots (25.53), and has the fourth-best save percentage (.958), per Corsica. 

Fleury, meanwhile, cleaned up on high-danger shots in the first round while his teammates limited those opportunities. In the regular season, Fleury's five-on-five high-danger save percentage (.768) ranked 44th out of 51 goalies (minimum 1000 minutes), according to Corsica. While he faced the 10th-lowest percentage of high-danger shots (16.91), he faced an even lower one (9.28) against the Los Angeles Kings. 

If the first round was any indication, though, the improvements of both goaltenders will be tested in the second. In four games against the Golden Knights, 42.71 percent of the five-on-five shots Kings netminder Jonathan Quick faced were of the medium-danger variety, the third-highest percentage of the 18 goalies that played at least 100 five-on-five minutes in the playoffs entering Monday. Against the Sharks, nearly a fifth of the five-on-five shots Ducks goaltender John Gibson saw were high-danger, the fifth-highest percentage (19.51 percent) among those aforementioned goalies, per Corsica. 

Some regression should be expected, but just how much is anyone's guess. Jones has plenty of playoff pedigree, and although Fleury doesn't (.912 career playoff save percentage entering this postseason), he's in the middle of what is easily the best season of his career. Plus, an additional four-to-seven games may not be enough of a representative sample size to expect any meaningful returns to normalcy. 

In other words, if you like to see pucks cross the goal line, there's a good chance this series will disappoint you. 

Playing some of the best hockey of his career, Martin Jones seals Sharks' sweep of Ducks

Playing some of the best hockey of his career, Martin Jones seals Sharks' sweep of Ducks

SAN JOSE -- As the clock ticked towards the end of the second period, Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry gathered the puck on his backhand for his golden opportunity. The veteran forward had not scored all series, and seemed sure to end his drought and tie the game with a power play tally in Game 4 Wednesday night.

But Martin Jones was in the way.

“[Perry] was pretty tight to the net,” Jones said. “He didn’t have any room, so I just tried to take away the bottom of the net there.”

The Sharks goaltender kicked out his right pad, and smothered the shot for his 23rd save of the night, his 121st of the postseason at that point, preserving a one-goal lead. He made seven more in the third period, and led San Jose to a first-round sweep of its division rivals.

His team was outshot 31-17 after fourth-line forward Marcus Sorensen opened the scoring 5:43 into the contest.

“Well, I’m happy he’s on my side,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic deadpanned when asked what he thought as Jones made save after save in the second period.

“He’s part of our team. He’s doing his job, keeping us in it. He’s played really well the first four games [of the playoffs.]”

Jones relented for the first, and only, time all game when Andrew Cogliano tied the game for the Ducks with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation. After Jones carried them for most of the last two games, his teammates responded in kind.

Tomas Hertl’s deflection trickled through John Gibson’s legs and into his net to take back the lead just 1:16 later. The Czech forward checkmated Anaheim, and Jones faced only three additional shots afterward.

Hertl and San Jose would not have been in position to do so without Jones’ play in net.

“[Jones] was excellent,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “For sure both games [in San Jose], without him it would be different results. Even [an 8-1 win in Game 3] definitely isn’t an 8-1 game if he doesn’t show up and play the way he does.

“But, he’s a big part of our team, and has been for a long time and has been doing that for a long time for us. That’s something that we rely on and take for granted.”

Jones struggled for stretches during the regular season, and dealt with an undisclosed injury ahead of the All-Star break. His five-on-five save percentage (.915) was the lowest of his career as a starter, according to Corsica Hockey. He was excellent on the penalty kill, though, posting a four-on-five save percentage (.900) that ranked 10th among goalies that played a minimum of 100 shorthanded minutes.

The latter part of his carried over into the first round against the Ducks, as Jones stopped all but two of the 21 shots he faced on the penalty kill, including all six on Wednesday. Jones really improved five-on-five, however, as Cogliano’s goal was just the second even-strength tally he allowed all series.

His five-on-five save percentage (.979) this postseason is, according to Natural Stat Trick, better than every goaltender but one: Marc-Andre Fleury (.990) of the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose’s opponent in the second round.

Jones, of course, is no stranger to big-time playoff moments. He was San Jose’s best player in a six-game loss in the first round to the Edmonton Oilers last year, and nearly single-handedly kept the Sharks alive in the Stanley Cup Final the year prior.

And yet, somehow, this might be the best stretch of his career in the postseason. He’s never stopped a higher a percentage of shots in a series than he did against the Ducks.

The Sharks will need him to continue to be at his best against a Golden Knights squad that also swept a SoCal opponent, the Los Angeles Kings, out of the first round.

“[Vegas is] a fast team,” Jones said. “They come at you with all four lines. They forecheck hard.

“They’re a tenacious, hard-working team so we need to make sure we’re preparing properly here and ready to go right from the start of Game 1 because they don’t give you any room to breath really. They come at you hard.”

And Jones will be there stand in their way.