With how tight the Pacific Division race is right now, Monday night in Calgary was an incredibly important game for San Jose. And in a game the Sharks should very well have lost — a contest in which they were outshot 48-23 — Martin Jones made 47 saves and helped San Jose take home a big two points.
With the victory, San Jose sits five points back of the Ducks with 17 games remaining in their season and continue to keep pace as best they can with the division’s powerhouse squads in Anaheim and Los Angeles. Incredibly, San Jose has a shot, one few would have expected them to have, at taking the top seed in the Pacific.
That they kept pace Monday is in no small part thanks to Jones’ performance. In turning his first-star worthy game, though, one can’t help but wonder where this Sharks team would have been this season if not for its trust in Jones?
You’ll recall that before the off-season began, the Sharks were heading toward the draft and free agency with a massive question mark in goal. San Jose had moved on from unrestricted free agent-to-be Antti Niemi by trading his rights to Dallas and Alex Stalock hadn’t shown he was capable of shouldering a full-time load in the NHL. And when it came to depth options, San Jose’s prospects still looked years away, and that’s including Troy Grosenick, who burst onto the scene with a 45-save shutout in his big league debut. There simply wasn’t a standout to take the reins in goal.
But down in Southern California, Jones was finishing his first full season as the Kings’ backup. He had made waves by posting seven shutouts in his first 34 career appearances, and it seemed inevitable that he would be pried away from Los Angeles, especially with him due a raise as a restricted free agent. He seemed a fit in San Jose, but it was hard to imagine the Kings trading the standout backup to a divisional rival. As luck would have it, though, the Sharks would manage to land Jones after he was shipped to the Boston Bruins as part of a package for Milan Lucic. San Jose didn’t get a discount on the netminder, either — they shipped a first-round pick in 2016 and unsigned prospect Sean Kuraly to Boston to land Jones.
"We obviously feel very strongly about him," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said at the time of the deal. "If you see something that you really want, we have no problem paying full value and going up and getting him. That's what we did."
Wilson went on to say Jones was the top player the Sharks had targeted in the off-season. No matter how much the Sharks wanted Jones, though, it was a bold move. Jones had never been a starting netminder and it’s not rare for backups to have difficulty assuming a starting role. It wasn’t a sure thing that he would work out as the No. 1 guy in San Jose, but the Sharks were willing to give him a chance. Some 60-plus games into the season, it sure looks like that gamble has paid off.
Only two goaltenders this season, Pekka Rinne and Cory Schneider, have logged more minutes than Jones, and the 26-year-old’s 33 wins are tied for third-most in the entire league while his five shutouts are tied for second best among all netminders this season.
One of the most important statistics for a goaltender, though, is performance at 5-on-5 — after all, that’s where the bulk of the game is played. Jones hasn’t necessarily been posting league-topping numbers, but he’s been San Jose’s only real option in goal and he’s been good when the Sharks needed him.
While Stalock was still with the Sharks — he has since been flipped to Toronto in a deal that brought James Reimer to California — he posted an ugly .884 save percentage in more than 500 minutes at 5-on-5. That’s the worst mark of any of the 65 goaltenders who have played at least 500 minutes this season. As for Jones, he ranks 33rd among those 65 netminders, comfortably in the middle, with a .926 SP at 5-on-5. It’s not as if he’s in terrible company, either. Schneider, Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Jake Allen and Craig Anderson have all posted similar numbers this season at 5-on-5.
Of course, Jones’ performance didn’t happen in a vacuum. He has no doubt been helped by a San Jose defense that has been stellar in allowing only 9.9 high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes, according to War-On-Ice. However, it can’t be overlooked that it was that same defense that protected the net with Stalock in goal. They were possibly even stronger with Stalock between the pipes, truthfully, having allowed only 24.9 shots against per 60 minutes with the former Shark in net compared to the 26.9 they’ve allowed with Jones manning the net.
Jones probably won’t be named the Sharks’ MVP when the season ends — that honor should go to Joe Thornton — but in his first year as a starting netminder, he has performed as advertised in San Jose. The Sharks couldn’t have asked much more of the netminder, either. It was a bold move to go Jones and one Sharks fans should be thankful for.