Since joining the Sharks in 2015, Martin Jones has only missed one game due to injury. The injury in question happened on November 25, in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets — a game in which Jones would make 38 saves and record a shut out. Sharks trainer Ray Tufts checked out Jones on the ice immediately after the vaguely lower-body injury, but deemed the netminder was able to play the final six and a half minutes.
Jones was unavailable for media after the game and a no-show at morning skate. Antoine Bibeau was called up from the Barracuda and the team went to Philadelphia, where Jones was scratched. Though Dell started in both Philly and Florida, Jones returned as a back up against the Panthers and only a week after an injury described as day-to-day, Jones started in net against the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-2 loss.
In the nearly two months since the injury, Jones — an already hot-and-cold goaltender — has been even more inconsistent in his play, leading many to question the status of his injury.
Paul Gackle of the Bay Area News Group reported that Jones had a noticeable limp following last night’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche. He seemed to be favoring his left leg, indicating an injury on the right side of his body.
Though there was plenty of speculation about the exact details of his injury back in November, with Tufts testing his lateral movement suggesting a potential groin injury, Pete DeBoer later said that Jones had injured his back in that game.
So is this a lingering injury or something new?
DeBoer says neither.
“He was our best player a night ago in L.A., so I wouldn’t call it a funk,” the Sharks coach told Gackle. “You guys like to grab little pictures of things that work for the story you’re writing. It’s (13) games. You can go back six games and write whatever you want. He’s having a great year for us.”
His year certainly started out well. The 28-year-old goaltender posted a .930 save percentage prior to November 25. He was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week on November 6, where he lead the team to a four-game win streak and only allowed four goals in three games, with a .938 save percentage on the week.
And it is true that Jones played well against the Kings, stopping 35 of 36 shots. But only two nights prior, he was pulled against the league-worst Arizona Coyotes, allowing three goals on six shots in 13:48 minutes of ice time.
Since returning on December 2, Jones’ save percentage is .886, a massive drop from where he started the season. In those 14 games, Jones has only won four, going 4-6-3 in that time. Prior to the injury, he had won 10 of his 17 starts.
It helped that the Sharks were doing so well in December. They earned 16 points out of a possible 26 last month, which allowed some of their issues to be masked — including Jones’ play. But now the schedule is far more compact. The Sharks play 14 games in January, 14 in February, and 15 in March. After the All-Star break, they will only have one three-day break between games. They will play nearly every other night next month. Right now, they’re in the middle of eight games over 13 days since returning from their bye week.
If Jones has an injury, he’s going to have a harder time masking it down the stretch. The exhaustion of this schedule is going to weigh on everyone and on nights that the offense looks like molasses and Brent Burns starfishes on the ice, they’re going to lean heavier on Martin Jones to bail them out. Right now, it’s unclear if he’s healthy enough to do that.
We’ll be seeing Aaron Dell more often, but don’t hold your breath for a goalie controversy. With the schedule as packed as it is through the end of the season, it’s inevitable.
Interestingly enough, Dell went 2-3-1 prior to Jones’ injury with a .920 save percent. Since then, he has gone 8-0-1 with a .928 save percent.
Even with the stats on his side, Dell’s consistent reliability hasn’t given him Jones’ job. DeBoer told Gackle, “Dell’s going to play more anyway just because of our schedule. He has to.”