SAN JOSE, Calif. – Martin Jones hasn’t been tested in a major way yet this playoffs.
There hasn’t been a game where the San Jose Sharks’ defense was so porous that they needed Jones to win a game for them.
This isn’t really seen as a negative though for Jones, the Sharks’ first-year starter.
“I'm not being asked to steal these games, just make the saves that you expect your goaltender to make in a conference final,” Jones said after the Sharks’ Game 3 win over the St. Louis Blues. “I'm just trying to stop the puck, to be honest.”
Through 15 games this playoff, Jones hasn’t been spectacular but he simply hasn’t cracked. When he’s been hit with adversity he’s come right back with a stellar performance – one that inspires confidence in his team.
After two straight shutouts against the Blues, he has a 1.89 goal-against average and .927 save percentage this postseason. He’s only allowed two goals this series.
The Sharks lead the West Final 2-1 with Game 4 on Saturday at SAP Center.
“He's the backbone of our team. When he's on, we feel we can't be beat,” forward Joe Thornton said. “That's just how it is. Just knowing him from down in LA, just such a big guy, such a calm goalie. We love playing in front of this guy. We honestly believe that he's the best goaltender in the league.”
Before the year there was cautious optimism surrounding Jones in Sharks training camp. They knew he was a good player from his two years as Jonathan Quick’s backup with the Los Angeles Kings. But the 26-year-old Jones had only played a total of 34 NHL games.
How would he handle a full-season workload? Would he go the path of former Quick understudies Jonathan Bernier and Ben Scrivens and struggle once he left Los Angeles?
The Sharks acquired Jones last summer after the Kings sent him to the Boston Bruins as part of a draft day trade for Milan Lucic. San Jose then signed Jones to a three-year $9 million contract – gambling that he could earn that type of pay even without starter experience in the NHL.
He finished the year with a 2.27 goal-against average and .918 save percentage in 65 games played.
Most importantly Jones didn’t let any bad play snowball. In three games this past season Jones allowed five goals and in his next start he allowed two goals total in the three combined starts.
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer had some history with Jones from coaching him in the 2015 World Championships with Team Canada. Jones’ gangly 6-foot-4 frame was probably a big reason why the Sharks scouts liked him, but DeBoer sensed a calmness in the netminder and how he handled his craft.
“I think it's his mental ability, his composure, the attitude he brings to the rink, the way he can shake off tough moments, reset. That's the stuff that I think separates goalies,” DeBoer said. “He's got that.”
This mentality was tested early in the Western Conference Final. At the 9:15 mark of the second period in Game 1 with the score tied 1-1, Blues forward Jori Lehtera fired a shot past Jones for the eventual game-winner.
Jones wasn’t screened and saw the shot clean. He just missed on the save. The Blues haven’t scored since that play.
“It’s not the first time I’ve let in a goal I didn’t like and there’s really no secret. You move on,” Jones said. “There’s not much you can do.”
Jones has made deep playoff runs in the past with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League (Major Junior) but said that doesn’t compare to “the emotional part of it and the highs and lows” of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That’s why in his time with LA he observed Jonathan Quick and how the Kings’ starting netminder – the 2012 Conn Smythe winner – stayed even during the playoffs.
“How he managed the emotional part of it as well,” Jones said. “He’s a guy that competes real hard and I definitely learned a lot playing behind him.”
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