Are the San Jose Sharks done?
Balloch talks about how the Vegas Golden Knights have exploited Jones, what Jones might have done to damage his game last summer and why San Jose should turn to Aaron Dell right now, but still rely on Jones long-term.
Fear the Fin: How has Vegas taken advantage of Martin Jones in this series?
Greg Balloch: The big scouting report thing with Martin Jones is his lack of rotation, back to the post. I’m starting to think it’s not a technical choice but a physical limitation.
It’s really obvious on his blocker side. If he pushes out on a shooter and is forced to go back to the post on his blocker side, he can’t do it. He can’t get that rotation to push on an angle back to his post. He just pushes straight across every time.
FTF: Can you elaborate?
GB: It’s when he’s at the top of his crease in the butterfly, he has to go back to the post on the blocker side. You need to do that rotation to turn your body to get back on an angle. He just pushes straight across. Half the time, he ends up sliding out into the guy who’s passing or shooting the puck.
What Vegas has done is they’re planting a shooter backdoor on his blocker side. They’re waiting until he makes an aggressive move and they’re just shifting that puck backdoor.
We look at some of the plays and we’re stunned. If we’re noticing this kind of stuff and Kevin [Woodley] is writing this kind of stuff, the NHL teams have to be taking note as well. It’s so obvious.
FTF: How much of this can be put on the shoulders of San Jose’s defense?
GB: A lot of teams that don’t have success with goalies, it’s because they don’t play a way that’s suited for their goaltender.
Martin Jones does a lot of things right. If they realize he has this inability to come back on an angle, back on his blocker side, it’s on them to protect that area, protect the backdoor, a little more so than they would with a different goaltender.
GOAL. Paul Stastny nets his second of the game to make it 4-1. pic.twitter.com/omFM9QmwIN— x-Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) April 15, 2019
FTF: Tampa Bay goalie coach Franz Jean told Alex Prewitt that Jones was vulnerable to high glove and high blocker shots. Is that a fair assessment?
GB: It’s a broad statement. It’s always a symptom. You can say a goalie is weak high glove; I want to know why. Is is their tracking? There’s a variety of different things.
Plays develop in all sorts of different ways. To me, that’s a tough way to describe a goalie, just to say they’re weak here.
Is it their skating? Is it their play reading ability?
There are five or six things that go into stopping a puck, all of them can come into play when a goal beats you.
Is a particular set play? Is there a particular type of shot? Like a screen shot from the point that you can beat him high glove? If it’s a guy walking off the wing and ripping one high glove on him, I would say it’s tracking.
You need a little more context.
If you went to a shooter on your team and said, “This guy, you can beat high glove” — he’d probably scoff at you and say, “I’m probably shooting there anyway. Is there any more detail you can give me?”
FTF: What’s going on with Jones’s game in general this year?
GB: I think there was a change this year. I don’t know where this change came down from. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. I don’t know if it’s coming from his own team or personal goalie coaches.
There was some word going around that going into [last] off-season, he wanted to shed the label of being a “cookie-cutter” guy who relied on technique, a goalie school kind of goalie, rely more on his instincts, be more aggressive.
Maybe he thought that would bring out another level in his game.
I think it’s worked against him, not just because of the results, but you just look how out of position he is on certain plays. You can tell that he’s trying to rely on his reflexes, rely on his timing, but it’s just not there.
I think he’s better suited to being a guy who’s 100 percent technique. Might be boring, the ceiling might be a bit lower, but it’s how he has success. He’s kind of learning that the hard way this season.
FTF: After the All-Star break, Peter DeBoer said that Jones and San Jose goalie coach Johan Hedberg had worked on some tweaks. Was this Jones going back to his old style? Has he looked different after the All-Star break?
GB: I think it’s been consistent throughout the season. It’s tough to see, a lot of goalies are stubborn. To me, it looks like it’s been consistent throughout the year.
The things we’re talking about aren’t easy fixes either, which doesn’t bode well for this series. These are the types of things that are engrained in the off-season, that you train months and months toward changing your game. This is muscle memory. This is all about your approach, stuff you work on in the off-season.
Unfortunately, if he wants to go back to how he was playing before, it’s probably going to take a few months of training to reset himself.
FTF: If Jones’s problems, in theory, can’t really be addressed until the summer, is there an argument for replacing Jones with Aaron Dell?
GB: I think there’s a huge justification for putting Dell in.
I’m still pretty high on Dell. I think he’s capable of carrying more of the load.
With Dell, you’re going to see more ups and downs, just simply because of the style he plays.
He’s all about timing, he’s a rhythm-based goaltender. He’s aggressive, he attacks. He’s flexible, you see the types of moves he can pull off. He’s athletic. I hate to use that word, but he really is.
He’s a guy you can put in and he could go on a run.
But on the flip side, he’s a guy, if the timing is off, it could dig your hole even deeper.
Guy like Ryan Miller, he’s rhythm-based. Your timing is a little off, things can get pretty ugly. Another guy like that is Jaroslav Halak. You put on some gaudy numbers sometimes because you’re on it. There’s other times, you can’t stop shots from 80 feet away.
FTF: Is it fair to say a rhythm-based goalie has more potential to succeed with more reps, more games played?
GB: Yes, a lot of times, it’s about getting your timing. If you don’t have an opportunity to get that timing, you enter cold, it’s especially difficult for those types of goaltenders.
It’s a riskier way to play, but the risk-reward is a lot higher for those guys. Even Jonathan Quick is another one I’ll use as an example. When he’s on his game, he’s unbeatable.
FTF: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Jones?
GB: I still believe in him. You can win with a goalie like Martin Jones. I don’t want to pile on him because he’s having a tough season; all goalies go through it.
I wouldn’t fret much if you’re a Sharks fan long-term. This is all fixable stuff that he can work on in the off-season. But they’re not easy, quick fixes. In the context of this playoff series, it probably doesn’t look good.
It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches this off-season. I’m interested to see what changes he makes.
FTF: Since they’re playing Vegas, I have to ask, would you bet on San Jose coming back to win this series?
GB: No. I would not put money down on the Sharks coming back. Unless they go with Dell and he catches fire. That’s the only real wrench that can be thrown into the Golden Knights winning this series.
Coaches tell you, you live and die with your goaltender. We’re finding that out first-hand right now.
Along with Jones, the Sharks' penalty kill has faltered in this series.
The San Jose penalty kill ended the season on a roll with a five-game shutout streak, raising hopes that they had found their way after an up-and-down campaign. Instead, the Vegas power play has torched them, scoring four goals in 13 attempts.
“Our penalty kill has obviously not been up to the standard that we are used to,” Erik Karlsson admitted. “Just small things.”
“The first one they got [in Game 3] was a shot off the faceoff. Screen shot, I don’t think our goalie had a chance,” Logan Couture said. “We need to do a better job as a team of getting in the shooting lanes.”
Justin Braun agreed, “We have to get in more shot lanes. That first goal, I wasn’t in the shot lane. I need to be short side.”
Of the second Golden Knights power play goal, the Paul Stastny backdoor tap-in highlighted above, Couture acknowledged: “The second one they got was off an entry. They found a seam between Braunie and I. A nice play, but one of us has got to get our stick on it.”
Does San Jose have any answers?
Braun could only offer: “Guys are working hard, we just got to get the job done.”