Wizardry and voodoo are words used to describe goaltending in hockey, often in a joking manner; nonetheless, it’s a complicated aspect of the game that’s hard to explain.
Last season, the situation in net for the Sharks was erratic, but didn’t prevent the team from making the playoffs. However, with heightened expectations, it’s an area that will need improving if the Sharks want to fulfill their potential as a Stanley Cup contender.
It’s no secret that any team with cup aspirations needs to have a substantial presence in net, not only with their starter, but the depth behind him as well. In past years we’ve seen the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins rely on Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury while the Washington Capitals depended on both Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby for their run.
The point is that if the Sharks want to have a successful season that results in a long playoff run in the spring, they will not only have to depend on Martin Jones, but back up Aaron Dell, who helped carry the load for them last season while Jones was injured.
Let’s begin with Dell. Last season, he became a well-known commodity. Since his arrival in 2016, Dell has played in 49 games for the Sharks, which is around 20-plus starts over the last two seasons — the typical amount of starts expected for a backup. Nonetheless, Dell is performing well enough to create a goalie controversy at times. Using the numbers provided from Emmanuel Perry’s Corsica Hockey, it helps explain how Dell has played since arriving.
Goals Saved Above Average measures the contribution of a goaltender and is similar to the Wins Above Replacement stat in baseball. When it comes to Dell, his GSAA sat at 1.05 last year, meaning that if the average goaltender subbed in for Dell, the Sharks would give about one more goal on the season in 5-on-5 play. For a backup goaltender, that number isn’t bad.
Further, along with his positive GSAA, it helps that Dell has exceeded expectations when it comes to his raw save percentage (Sv%). In his two seasons with the Sharks, he had an expected save percentage (xSv%) of 92.04, but Dell’s actual save Sv% is at 93.18 in these 49 games.
In the case of Dell, the 29-year-old has given the Sharks every chance to win when he’s out there in net and explains why they made the playoffs despite Jones having an injury and subpar season last year.
Will the Real Martin Jones Please Stand Up?
The Athletic’s Sean Tierney created a chart that illustrates the goaltenders GSAA/60 during the 2017/18 season and Jones’ position on the graphic isn’t in an ideal place. He’s shown flashes of being one of the upper echelons in goaltending, but has yet to put it all together consistently over the past two seasons.
Flashback to two seasons ago, Jones was backstopping the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup berth, where he reached another level in his form. Using the numbers provided by Corsica Hockey, it helps explain how good the 28-year-old was during their run to Stanley Cup Final — he posted an 8.26 Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). Putting this into perspective, Jones was far and away the best goalie that post-season, only Roberto Luongo (6.42) and Ben Bishop (4.11) were close when it came to GSAA.
Jones’ performance in Game 5 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final was the stuff of folk heroes; he deserved a large portion of the credit as the team forced a Game 6 (sorry if I’m opening up old wounds). Now, what do numbers from two seasons ago have to do with the upcoming year?
It sets up the notion that since that cup run Jones has transformed himself into an inconsistent goaltender; showing flashes from that Spring 2016 on some nights, but having an off-performance in his next start.
Since then, Jones has put up a Sv% of 91.57 and -7.41 GSAA over the last two seasons, which is subpar for a number one goaltender. Another statistic that helps evaluate a goaltender is Delta/Adjusted Save Percentage (dSv%) which helps tell the difference between a goalie’s xSv% which was 91.9 and his actual Sv%. When it comes to Jones, he possesses a -0.28 dSv% over the past two seasons, which isn’t great because it means that Jones is underperforming to the level of an average goalie.
After the trade for Erik Karlsson signified that the Sharks are in win-now mode and for the team to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, they’re going to need their goaltending to improve as a unit from last season. Dell will pick up the slack if Jones needs a day off or needs a few weeks to recover from an injury. However, for the Sharks to reach the promised land, they’re going to need Jones to rediscover his 2016 form.