Martin Jones’ Troubling Start

For the San Jose Sharks, one thing they count on is Martin Jones turning in a solid season. Jones has never been a serious candidate for the league’s top netminder, but he has yet to have a problematic season in his first three as a starter.

Now in his fourth season manning the net for the Sharks, Jones is giving reasons for concern. He posted a .902 save percentage for the month of October and is at .893 so far in November. In a league with 31 teams, Jones is 30th in save percentage among goalies (minimum six games). And it is worth noting, Jones isn’t dealing with poorer numbers because of one or two really poor games. The most goals he’s allowed in an outing is four, but he’s allowed three or four goals in nine of 13 starts.

The bigger concern here isn’t Jones having a poor month. He’s had those before. It’s his history. On a composite basis since he became the Sharks starter, his best month is October and his second best month is November. If these are his best months again in 2018-19, well, it won’t be good.

Martin Jones’ regular season save percentage, by month, cumulative for the seasons 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18

Goalies are Voodoo

Goalies are notoriously fickle. A goalie can have a bad season or bad stretch, then suddenly look like a world beater. The refrain “goalies are voodoo” is a fair summary. Even the elite goalies tend to have a clunker of a season from time to time. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne is an example. He’s been a Vezina finalist in 2011, 2012, 2015 and the winner in 2018. But in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2015-16, Rinne’s save percentage was .910 or worse, well below the league averages each time. In order, beginning with the 2010-11 season, Rinne was elite, elite, bad, bad, elite, bad, okay, elite. Voodoo is as good an explanation as any.

Martin Jones Play

Are there specific factors impacting Jones early this season? Perhaps. The new equipment rules for goalies may have thrown at least a few netminders for a loop. Jones’ save percentage, at .900, is even with Braden Holtby and a bit ahead of Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury. He is not the only well-regarded goalie off to a sluggish start.

Martin Jones
Martin Jones  (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Further, the Sharks defense, solid as they come over the past few seasons, seems particularly good at giving up quick-strike scoring opportunities to opponents. These are opportunities which turn into goals a high percentage of the time.

The video below is lengthy, but it shows all four goals Jones allowed to the Dallas Stars in the Sharks 4-3 loss last week. None of the goals were soft, three of the four came on quick strikes in transition where the Sharks defense failed. On the fourth goal, the Sharks defense is back, but not properly set up, with an unkind bounce leading directly to the goal. The video also shows Jones bailing out the Sharks poor defense on several occasions, including on breakaways by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, two of the league’s elite scorers. Indeed, Jones posted a meager .818 save percentage while playing a pretty good game.

Jones delivered perhaps his best game of the season in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Calgary. The lone goal he allowed came on a breakaway after Erik Karlsson fell down. The quicker Flames created plenty of high quality chances and Jones was up to the challenge. As important, he was up to the challenge in what was a tense, one goal game for over 30 minutes, until a late empty net score sealed the game for San Jose.

While it is tempting to place the blame for Jones woes on other factors, such as poor defense and new equipment, Jones has allowed too many soft goals this season. We’ve seen him locked in before; he was at this time a year ago. He was also locked in against Calgary – perhaps the start of a strong run for Jones. But for the most part, he hasn’t been locked in this season.

A Sharks Goalie Dilemma?

There is no guarantee history repeats itself. Jones could find his way out of his early season struggles and deliver another solid campaign by having good months when he usually doesn’t. Still, the Sharks shouldn’t ignore his history of declining play over the course of the regular season. The team needs plans in place if Jones has a down season.

If this is a down season for Jones, the Sharks are best off figuring this out early and should look to Aaron Dell to get the Sharks through. While the data is a bit preliminary on Dell, he is also off to a less than stellar start, with a goals against average just a shade under 3.00 in his five starts. Dell’s numbers, including a .905 save percentage are (similar to Jones) not the result of a single bad game; Dell has given up two goals in regulation twice, three twice and four once.

Plan C looks at the Sharks AHL franchise. It has featured excellent goaltending to start their season. Both Antoine Bibeau and Josef Korenar have posted superb numbers for a team which is 9-3-1 to start their season. Bibeau got the nod as the AHL goaltender of the month for October.

The Sharks are among the league’s most talented teams, featuring an array of star players. But the team is off to a modest start and goaltending is an issue. History tells an awkward story here: Martin Jones is normally at his regular season peak this time of year, he tends to decline over the course of the regular season. A decline from Jones’ slow start this season is unacceptable for a team with Stanley Cup ambitions.