Goaltenders, much like quarterbacks, get far too much credit when things go right and far too much blame when things go wrong. Martin Jones is no exception in San Jose, where he received something of a coronation over the offseason after the Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Make no mistake, San Jose doesn’t make the Final without strong play from Jones, but they also don’t make the Final without strong play from Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and ... you get the idea. Jones didn’t carry the Sharks to the Final, though you can certainly give him credit for extending the series for six games.
Still, that doesn’t explain his reputation blossoming from “up and comer” to “guy who can put team on back to Stanley Cup” seemingly overnight. Jones is a solid, league-average goaltender at this point in his career, and there’s not a thing in this world wrong with that. He’s not Carey Price. He’s not Tuukka Rask. Not yet. He’s also not Antti Niemi, in both the best and the worst possible sense.
[Note: This is a great read on goaltending from Eric Tulsky that I highly recommend]
While many understandably remember the very worst of Niemi (this is sports and if you don’t remember the bad stuff I’d be worried about you), it’s only fair to remember how damn high his ceiling is. In six postseasons, here’s the full range of the Niemi experience (sorted from best to worst with the year in parentheses; all even strength)
- .9429 (2013)
- .9397 (2012)
- .9193 (2010)
- .9104 (2011)
- .8939 (2014)
- .8690 (2016)
Niemi’s floor is more like a basement, but his ceiling is actually a penthouse. When the Sharks got Jones, I loved the move because he might not ever develop the ceiling of Niemi (but wouldn’t that be spectacular) but he will almost certainly never “develop” the floor.
Words like “consistent” and “steady” get used so often in relation to goaltenders they don’t mean anything anymore. So with Jones the Sharks get a mid-range netminder, for now. Someone with a low variance in his save percentage, if you’ll allow me to talk like a real get-out-of-the-charts nerd for a second. He might not win you a series by himself, but Jones is less likely than your average Joe to lose you a series, too.
That’s why I find his usage this year so baffling. If it’s a decision based on what the Sharks feel will make Jones most effective come playoff time, fair enough. It certainly shouldn’t have anything to do with the play of Aaron Dell, who has been nothing short of spectacular in the few games he’s had a chance to start.
Frankly, it shouldn’t have anything to do with Jones’ play. I don’t know why Jones hasn’t played as well in his second year as a starter, but I know more shots are finding the back of the net. His even-strength save percentage is down to .9157 from .9250 a season ago. That doesn’t tell the whole story; from corsica.hockey, here are some notable statistics:
- Jones is facing slightly more shots this season — very slightly more. He went from seeing 26.68 shots per 60 minutes at even strength last season to a whopping ... wait for it ... 26.95 this campaign. That alone probably does not account for the difference in save percentage.
- He is facing fewer low-danger shots (11.82 vs. 10.08) and saving fewer (98.14 vs. 97.88)
- Jones has seen more medium-danger shots (14.18 vs. 16.13) this season and, yes, his save percentage against those has dropped as well (91.01 vs. 90.4). This seems to be the area impacting his save percentage the most.
- The netminder has also seen an uptick in high-danger shots against (5.97 vs. 6.28) and his save percentage has dipped very slightly (83.56 vs. 83.4).
All that to say Jones is seeing slightly more shots and is allowing more goals on shots of medium danger. You can blame the defense if you’d like, but I wouldn’t. Your mileage may vary.