The Sharks and Predators played relatively evenly on Sunday afternoon — until Mattias Ekholm snapped home Nashville's first goal of the contest. The Predators held the edge from that point on, throwing puck after puck towards Martin Jones' net, but the netminder stood tall long enough for San Jose to take a 2-0 series edge.
Through the first two games of this series, the Predators scored just once at even strength. While Nashville enjoyed relative success with the goalie pulled (two goals in two games at least raises an eyebrow), Ekholm's goal remains the only even-strength tally for the Preds in this series.
Jones continues to be a solid, calm presence for the Sharks in net. Jones sits fifth among goaltender with at least 150 even strength minutes played this postseason thanks to a sterling .944 save percentage. By any standard that's a fine mark, but compared to what the Sharks received in postseasons past it's practically Hall of Fame caliber. There's still plenty of time for this to go wrong, of course, but take a look at the Sharks' even strength save percentage over the past 10 postseasons.
Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, of course. While Jones' mark stands as the best in the past 10 postseasons, the Sharks got pretty solid goaltending from Antti Niemi in between 2011-13. Still, unlike the 2014 postseason that saw San Jose absolutely crumble away because of weak netminding it's a pleasant change of pace to see Jones so solid in goal.
Back when I talked to Greg Balloch of InGoal Magazine he described Jones' transformation in the NHL. Here's what he means:
There's a few things that stand out to me in the NHL. I've put a lot of it out there on Twiter already, but for me it's just how his game has evolved over the years. He moved through the ranks pretty quickly, what gives his game an edge is his post-integration. So the way he uses his posts to move around the crease and to know where he is at all times in the net.
That aspect of his game is really what has gotten him to perform to this level. He never looks like he's panicking, he always knows where he is in the net because he uses that post to know where he is. He's very smooth in and out of that reverse-VH where he has one leg on the edge of the post to the blade of his skate is right up against the post.
So he'll spring out to the middle and I think that's huge for him because I don't think he's an elite play reader. I don't think he reads plays at a high level. It's a lot of stuff he can't react to or read against, cause he doesn't have that Jonathan Quick ability to really react to a quick developing play. So I think he doesn't really have to make that save cause he's already in the right position.
This lines up with what we've seen from Jones. When you see Nashville shot after Nashville shot land right in his chest, or right where his pad already was it's easy to chalk it up to good fortune. At times that's certainly true, but so much of Jones' success comes from putting himself in the right place at the right time. Check out a couple of these saves from Sunday afternoon:
Here he reads the play, sees Ellis is preparing to take a shot and drops down to the butterfly as soon as Ellis' stick hits the ice. He does that while peering around the Nashville player parked just outside the crease, no easy task.
This play is more of a read-and-react style and Jones' haphazard scramble shows this isn't an area of the game he's exceptionally comfortable in. Still, what impressed me here is how well he sealed the post. Jones made another solid save late in the third period with the Sharks ahead by sealing up the left post with his shoulder — something I feel he didn't do very well at times during the regular season.
Jones kept the Sharks in the game long enough for them to score twice and then held serve as Nashville poured on pressure. San Jose, and Jones for that matter, could stand to improve on the penalty kill but at even strength Jones looks as dominant as ever. It's nice to have a goaltender that inspires confidence between the pipes.