Flyers’ Jones Quietly Rejuvenating His NHL Career

The Philadelphia Flyers fell to the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Saturday night. With both teams removed from playoff contention, the matchup didn’t bring the most anticipation, but Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo added a bit of intrigue with his decision to start Martin Jones in net for the second straight game. 

Jones had won his previous two starts. On Sunday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, he stopped 43 of 46 shots and stole one from a playoff-bound rival who look poised to complete a three-goal comeback with a dominant third period. On Thursday night, he turned away 26 of 27 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-1 victory. Yeo said on Saturday afternoon that he felt like his backup netminder had earned the right to man the crease against Anaheim in his third game this week.

Jones with Flyers in 2021-22

General manager Chuck Fletcher signed Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract in July. The rationale for the move involved a reunion between the struggling netminder and his former goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh. The two worked together during Jones’ first two NHL seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15 with the Los Angeles Kings during the prime years of starting netminder Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers
Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The signing was still a leap of faith. The Flyers suffered because of the worst goaltending in the NHL in 2020-21, and a reclamation project backing up Carter Hart didn’t seem like the most logical choice. Dillabaugh has done an excellent job helping Hart to a rebound season in 2021-22, however, and his work with Jones has been additionally impressive.

Related: Flyers Seeing Desired Rebound from Hart in 2021-22 

The embattled Jones has rebounded well after posting a .896 save percentage (SV%) in three consecutive seasons with the San Jose Sharks. His jump back over .900 is impressive considering the sloppy defense that has persisted in Philadelphia throughout the 2021-22 season. He has posted a -3.2 goals saved above expected average (GSAx), which is a tick above prominent starters like Hart and Jack Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He sits in the same tier as backup-caliber goalies Adin Hill (San Jose Sharks), Jake Allen (Montreal Canadiens), and Mike Smith (Edmonton Oilers).

Flyers Seeing Ups and Downs 

Jones faced 40 or more shots in three of his first six games with the Flyers. He stood tall early in the season against the heavy traffic. However, his numbers suffered in a brutal loss to the Colorado Avalanche just hours after the Flyers parted ways with head coach Alain Vigneault on Dec. 6. Colorado sent 50 shots on net on their way to seven goals, and Jones was left hanging out to dry throughout the evening.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers limped through a horrendous stretch during the month of January, and Jones was one of many contributing parts to their woes. Former Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux announced that the team had hit “rock bottom” after their loss against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 22. Jones allowed four goals on eight shots in under one period of action that afternoon.

The 32-year-old veteran has recovered nicely down the stretch and proven himself as a solid second option at the NHL level, something many people did not expect to happen when Fletcher brought him in. 

The sloppy defensive coverage continued on Saturday. Trevor Zegras and the highly-skilled Ducks produced quality scoring chances throughout the night. Jones made some big saves, especially during the first period on a breakaway attempt by Jamie Drysdale.

“I don’t think Jonesy could’ve done too much on any of those (goals),” Yeo said after the five-goal effort.

Hart will most likely play Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, but a back-to-back sets up Jones to face the Rangers once again on Wednesday night.

Future Between Jones, Flyers

The 2021-22 season has been a living nightmare for the Flyers, and major changes loom this summer. However, their stability in net has been their most obvious point of positivity. The strong season from Hart will allow the organization to depend on him as their franchise goaltender for the foreseeable future.

Fletcher discussed the possibility of moving Jones ahead of the trade deadline on March 21. He reportedly could’ve garnered a fifth-round pick from the Oilers.

“There were some other conversations on a few of the other guys, but nothing really materialized. To be honest with you, (Samuel) Ersson is out for the season. (Kirill) Ustimenko is still battling injuries. (Felix) Sandström is healthy now but has been battling injuries. We wanted to be a little bit careful here when we have 20 games to go and Lehigh Valley is battling for a playoff spot. If there was something meaningful, we would’ve looked at it. Nothing really materialized.”

-Chuck Fletcher

While Jones stayed in Philadelphia through the deadline, he is still an impending free agent. The likely alternative to re-signing him would be a goaltending prospect from within the system. Ustimenko, Sandström, and Russian star Ivan Fedotov will all be knocking on the door looking for NHL opportunities next season.

The Flyers are a team planning to contend in 2022-23, and they clearly saw enough value in Jones to forego the chance to acquire a future asset already. Fletcher will need to evaluate the organization’s desire for a youth movement. Their choice will come don to a 32-year-old who has helped solidify the only reliable position during a lost season or unproven talent that might have a longer future between the pipes in Philadelphia.

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