SAN JOSE -– Just 12 months ago, Martin Jones was the fresh goalie straight out of the Sharks biggest rival’s dressing room, with no real track record suggesting he’d be able to handle being a number one NHL starter.
Now, he’s viewed as perhaps the next franchise goalie –- a guy with a calm-as-a-cucumber persona and one magnificent season that nearly culminated in a Stanley Cup championship under his belt.
Naturally, it’s a bit of a different feeling in what is his second training camp in San Jose.
“Any time you get to play and you get those kind of big moments, you get a little more comfortable,” Jones said.
Last season couldn’t have started any better for Jones –- other than the very first shot he faced in Los Angeles in the opener on Oct. 7, when he allowed a goal to the Kings’ Nick Shore. After that, Jones didn’t allow another puck to get past him until Oct. 16, setting a new franchise shutout streak of 234:33.
That success didn’t last. After posting a 1.74 GAA and .938 SP in October, his numbers declined in November (2.45 GAA, .914 SP) and December (3.06 GAA, .889 SP). Neither the team nor its new goalie looked to be in sync.
The second half, of course, was a different story as the Sharks found their game. Jones went 21-10-2 with a 2.05 GAA and .924 SP in his last 33 starts.
In the playoffs, the Sharks had simply never the kind of goaltending performance that Jones gave them in the 25-year history of the franchise. Among his achievements were becoming the first Sharks goalie to post back-to-back playoff shutouts (games three and four of the Western Conference Final against St. Louis), and singlehandedly stealing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh with 44 saves, keeping the Sharks alive.
“We spun our tires for a couple months as a team, and I think he was learning what it took to play every night and get in a rhythm,” Pete DeBoer said. “He hadn’t done that in awhile. I would think like our team, it was probably the second half of the season when he kind of grabbed it and went.”
DeBoer has mentioned that the Sharks acquiring James Reimer also provided a benefit to Jones, allowing him to rest more over the second half. In the first half, Jones was seemingly overused out of necessity when it became apparent Alex Stalock didn’t have it anymore.
“I did feel good going into playoffs, whether it was Reims stepping in and playing more games or whatever, but I felt good,” Jones said. “It’s so hard to win, you need two good goalies to win you games. That was big for us, for sure.”
That’s part of what makes the Sharks’ decision to likely go with Aaron Dell a bit risky. The NHL schedule is more compact this season due to the World Cup and bye week, as San Jose has 16 sets of back-to-back games. If the Sharks want to keep Jones fresh again, the 27-year-old Dell will have to step up and give the team good minutes.
Neither Jones nor DeBoer would mention an ideal number of games they would like Jones to play, but it’s probably safe to assume they don’t want it to be any higher than the 65 he saw last season.
“We’ve got a lot more situations where I think we’ll have to use the other guy,” DeBoer said. “I don’t know what that number will be, though.”
Regardless, the expectation now for Jones and the team is that he’ll be able to give the Sharks steady netminding on a nightly basis, building off of his remarkable first season in teal.
“I think just taking away the experience and having gone through it is only going to help,” Jones said.
DeBoer said: “I think he’s comfortable. I think the group is very comfortable with him [and] has a ton of confidence in him. I think that goes a long way.”