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Martin Jones is having his best year as a starter

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Mr. Jones has been his best self this season, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Feb 25, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) dives to make a save in overtime against the Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) at Xcel Energy Center.
Martin Jones had a rough December, but he’s otherwise been his best self
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

To hear some tell it, Martin Jones has been having a rough go of it this year. Early in the season, it seemed Jones either turned in an all-star performance or received the hook early for backup netminder, Aaron Dell. For the San Jose Sharks’ number one goaltender, there was nothing in between.

By December, there was a goalie controversy in everything but name. Jones stopped just 88.6 percent of all shots he faced during the month. With counterpart Dell continuing his solid play, comments section frequenter and Twitter pontificator alike wondered if maybe San Jose might start giving its promising backup a bit more time between the pipes. Others questioned the starter’s health. “Something must be wrong, right?”

Give Dell more time they did, until his once-exciting save percentage fell back toward league average. January held more of the winter doldrums for Jones, unfortunately. The goaltender added four performances of .900 goaltending or worse in his first six January games. After an extended break over All-Star Weekend, Jones has rounded back into form.

The second half of February has been his most impressive feat yet: The 28-year-old ‘tender has failed to sink below a .923 save percentage in the seven games since February 11. Recently, teammate Logan Couture revealed to reporters that Jones had been playing through an injury earlier in the year. His ailment apparently behind him, Jones has reacquired the title of “franchise goalie” every knew he was and has been. Except that this is Jones’ best season as a starter.

What we are witnessing is not Jones returning to normal; it is him continuing the abnormal — a season defying aging curves that say, “no, goalies only get worse!”

2017-18 Has Been Kind to Martin Jones

Below is a table showing Jones’ numbers at 5v5, as well as on the 4v5 penalty kill (PK). These figures are courtesy of corsica.hockey and show the difference between Jones’ actual save percentage and his expected save percentage (dSv%) and the goals he’s saved above an average (GSAA) netminder.

Corsica breaks the 5v5 GSAA numbers down into a per-30-minutes-of-ice-time rate statistic to help adjust for goalies who have played far fewer or far more minutes than their cohort. Goals saved above average is a cumulative metric, so while Jones’ performance on the penalty kill has been impressive so far this season, there is still room for it to slide back toward the mark he left during his previous two seasons as a starter.

Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones is having his best year on the PK and at 5v5
corsica.hockey

A more visual representation of Jones’ three-year performance paints a better picture of how well he’s minded his net this season. The following graph shows a 25-game rolling average of Jones’ goals saved above average. You can see two things:

  1. Compared to his other two seasons as a starter, 2017-18 Jones has a higher proportion of above-average starts.
  2. When Jones has performed above average this season, he has mostly done so to a more impactful degree than in seasons past. His peaks are higher, his valleys narrower.
Martin Jones San Jose Sharks goalie
Martin Jones has mostly had above average performances
corsica.hockey

Thankfully, we also have another goaltender evaluation model available to dig into. Cole Anderson of Crowd Scout Sports built a model that attempts to evaluate goaltenders’ performance above average when controlling for rebounds. The following chart shows, again, that Jones is having the best of his three years as a starter. (Please ignore the Tuukka Rask comparison. That was a random selection in order to capture the entire image with the key.)

Martin Jones the goaltender for the San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones’ year, when adjusting for rebounds, is good
crowdscoutsports.com

The caveat here is that the error bar for Jones’ season shows that there is much more variance in his current season versus his two previous seasons as starter. He has faced fewer shots this year than he did during the entirety of his two previous seasons (which makes sense). As a result, the model cannot be as certain about his performance this year as it can be about seasons in which he faced more shots. Still, it is clear that Jones’ performance to date is an improvement on what he offered in either 2015-16 or 2016-17.

Finally, Anderson breaks down a goalie’s season-long performance into games. In this visualization, he shows a goalie’s game-by-game breakdown of goals prevented and points above expected added, given goal support and chances against (as you can read in the title of each chart). Below the chart is a grey line indicating his overall performance relative to league-average.

A red box indicates a poor game, and a green box indicates a good game. The goals prevented above average (y axis) is a cumulative statistic.

San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones had only a so-so year in 2015-16
2015-16 Jones was very OK
crowdscoutsports.com
Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks NHL hockey team
2016-17 was better
crowdscoutsports.com
San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones plays well in 2017-18
Even his winter struggle was a largely above-average performance
crowdscoutsports.com

You can see that this year’s Martin Jones has a higher proportion of green boxes — good games — than the Jones of the two years prior. He has continually (even through his rough December and January) maintained an above-average performance level.

In 2015-16, it took Jones about 3,000 shots to cross the 10 goals prevented above average threshold. In 2016-17, it took him about 1,000 shots. This season, he first crossed that threshold after only about 700 shots. Though Jones dipped back down below that mark during his difficult December and January, his overall performance relative to average remained positive. It seems we can blame his slump at least in part on the Sharks for allowing dangerous chances.

Jones Has Been His Best Self This Season

There is still time left this season, which means there is still time left for Martin Jones’ numbers to fall back toward average. For the time being, however, it’s difficult to argue against Jones putting up his best season as a starter this year. Here is where things get a little unhappier: Despite Jones’ best efforts as a starter, his save percentage on the season is .917. Average NHL goaltending for the past few years has fallen right around a .914 save percentage. Which is to say that, even at his finest, Martin Jones isn’t likely to provide much more than average goaltending results.