Martin Jones steadies Sharks through uncharted seas
There’s room enough for some warranted emotion behind the mask of Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
It could be frustration at being occasionally hung out to dry under the banner-less rafters of SAP Center — like Monday night, when the Sharks’ defensemen decided it was time for a line change as Phil Kessel streaked down the ice and then ignored Ian Cole as he cruised down the backside for an easy put-back.
There’s space too for a kind of guilty vindication in being the best player on a team that’s staring down a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals, a satisfaction in knowing that your team wouldn’t have gotten this far without your .920 postseason save percentage that elevated to .924 in the Stanley Cup final.
There’s even a kitty corner for jealousy and resentment towards his Pittsburgh counterpart across the ice in Matt Murray, who’s been asked to defend 35 less shots across the four-game stretch.
Jones, however, doesn’t seem to feel any of that.
Sharks forward Chris Tierney told reporters:
“I’ve never seen anything like (Jones getting frustrated). Even in practice. Outside the rink. In goal. He never shows any frustration. I don’t think it’s [because] he doesn’t show it, I don’t even think he even gets frustrated. He’s just that calm of a guy.”
Murray may have deservedly emerged as the 22-year-old hero of a Pittsburgh playoff run that’s two wins closer to fruition than San Jose’s, but Jones has made the series a grind for the Pens’ and given his teammates legitimate reason to push.
Unlike Murray, who’s coughed up a few soft ones en route to his unbelievable .929 save percentage — see Joel Ward’s very blockable game-tying score from Game 3 — Jones hasn’t made any blatant mistakes. His mishaps have ranged from “savable by a slightly more advanced species” to “no chance in hell.”
The closest would be Nick Bonino’s go-ahead score in Game 1, when he chipped a point-blank feed off Jones’ stick-side glove. Other than that, you’d better add a screening element or re-direction to any offerings, because nothing else has found net.
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said:
“We have all of the confidence in the world in him because he makes key saves.”
Save percentages are, at the end of the day, just percentages. Ask Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy how well his .922 series clip and .949 Game 7 mark held up against Pittsburgh’s towering shot volume during their Eastern Conference Finals series. The Penguins pelted Vasilevskiy 39 times in that final game and the 21-year-old Russian denied 37. Unfortunately for him, Murray was able to block a much more manageable 16 of 17.
Head Coach Peter DeBoer said:
“(The Penguins) shoot from everywhere. They sling pucks from everywhere. You do have to look at quality versus quantity. I don’t think it’s as easy as looking at the shot clock and saying you’re getting dominated”
There’s a screaming provision in DeBoer’s theory that shot volume doesn’t supersede shot caliber in the scheme of things. The goalie in question needs to be mentally fit enough to handle being peppered.
By all accounts, the mind of Martin Jones is ready for said peppering.
“That’s kind of just the way they play, they throw pucks from all angles. We’re not too worried about the shot clock.”
One season removed from a stint as Jonathan Quick’s back up in Los Angeles, Jones doesn’t seem worried about the ramifications of a slip while under pressure either, particularly in overtime.
When asked by ESPN reporters if the immediacy of sudden-victory overtime bothered him, Jones said:
“No. That’s horrible thinking.”
It seems for Jones that it’s a matter of see-puck, block-puck, and that the weight of the moment squeezes emotion from his mental canvas. And as the Sharks stare down the first rung of a mammoth 3-1 deficit Thursday at 5 p.m., a blank slate is a refreshing sight.