SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones learned one important lesson during his two previous trips to the Stanley Cup Final: keep your cool.
As a Black Ace for the 2012 champion Los Angeles Kings and then acting as Jonathan Quick’s back up during another title run two years later, Jones has used an even temperament all year long, which has resulted in a very strong first season as an NHL starter.
“The managing of the highs and lows. It’s an emotional time of year,” Jones said on Sunday. “Win a game or lose a game, it’s important to kind of stay even.”
Jones’ off-season got off to a wild start when he was dealt from the Kings to the Boston Bruins on the opening day of the 2015 NHL Draft. Despite Tuukka Rask’s presence, he was ready to go there and work for ice time.
After the trade, Jones said he spoke to the Bruins and wasn’t told he would be flipped, even though he felt there was a slight chance that might happen.
“It happened pretty quick. I was just shocked at the initial trade,” he said.
Days later, Jones was on the move again after the Sharks acquired him from the Bruins and quickly signed him to a three-year, $9 million deal. Prior to the trade, he had only made 29 career NHL starts, but GM Doug Wilson was confident the move would pay off.
A month before acquiring Jones, Wilson hired Peter DeBoer as the team’s new head coach, not long after he served as an assistant for Team Canada's gold medal-winning squad at the 2015 World Championships. One of the goaltenders on that team was Jones, who ended up playing in two games.
Even though they didn’t know they would soon be reunited on a regular basis, DeBoer liked what he saw in the goaltender.
“I got to be on the ice at practice with him, get to know him a little bit as a guy and as a teammate,” said DeBoer. “I loved his disposition, his composure, his work ethic in the practices we had; so I saw what Doug and the scouts saw when we acquired him, the tools and the disposition was there. But you never know how a guy’s going to handle the starting job playing every night until you throw him into it. That was the million-dollar question.
“Through the first half of the year we had some tough starts because we were on the road a lot, [Logan] Couture was out of the lineup, we were under some heavy pressure in a lot of those games. He just kept coming out and playing well, and even when he didn’t play well he bounced back quickly, it didn’t bother him. I think that's when we all started to see what he was capable of.”
Jones responded to that million-dollar question by helping the Sharks win six of his first nine starts, which included back-to-back- shutouts; then he ripped off a five-game winning streak in November. His teammates’ confidence in him quickly grew.
“Right from the start he had that sense to him, I think we felt that,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. “He got off to a really good start at the beginning of the season. We felt we had a good one there at that time, and all season long he’s proven us right.”
Being able to work alongside one of the league’s top playoff goalies in Quick rubbed off on Jones. He admired how he dealt with the distractions that pop up along the way and his focus.
In his first full year as a starter, Jones finished second in the NHL in shutouts with six and a .925 even strength save percentage. Part of that success can be attributed to goaltending coach Johan Hedberg, who played and coached in the New Jersey Devils organization while DeBoer was there.
“Johan is an exceptional guy. Probably played in the NHL two or three years longer than he might have because of what a good teammate he is, how hard he worked, his work ethic, his personality,” said DeBoer. “I just thought all those attributes would make him an excellent coach.”
Jones’ play really took a step up in the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues when he posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 and ended with a .936 ESSV over the six games.
In the Stanley Cup Final Jones’ play has been the reason why the Sharks were within a goal in the first two games and a big part in why they won Game 3. Stopping Phil Kessel on a breakaway and later Evgeni Malkin on the doorstop in overtime were two big moments that could have changed the complexion of that game.
Winning Game 3 was a big step toward getting back into the series. Jones has done his part for the Sharks against the Penguins; now he just needs his teammates to continue to follow suit.
“If we want to win everybody’s got to find another level. This is a tough team we’re playing and we’re still in a hole here,” said Jones. “We’ve gotten better as the series has gone on, but I still think we need to be better if we want to win here.”
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