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Sharks’ belief in goalie remains high despite down season

April 8, 2019
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San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones defends on a Colorado Avalanche shot during the third period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones defends on a Colorado Avalanche shot during the third period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — With nine players with at least 50 points, four 30-goal scorers and three world-class defensemen, the San Jose Sharks have almost all the ingredients necessary to make a long playoff run.

The one major question facing the Sharks is in goal, where Martin Jones struggled all season and enters the postseason with the lowest save percentage for any starter on a playoff team.

Despite that apparent weakness, the Sharks never wavered in their confidence in their goaltender. The team declined to make a move before the trade deadline to add a more consistent netminder in the hopes that Jones can regain the form that made him such a valuable part of the franchise in his first three playoffs with the Sharks.

“They should have a stat that says belief in your goaltender,” coach Peter DeBoer said Monday as his team began preparing for a first-round series against Vegas. “If they had that stat, Jonesy would be batting a thousand with our group. There’s not one mumble or whisper in our group about him or our confidence in him to get the job done. That’s the one analytic stat I can give you guys that maybe you don’t have access to.”

That confidence has been earned the past three postseasons. Jones has a .926 career save percentage in the playoffs, the sixth best in NHL history among goalies with at least 40 starts. He has allowed two or fewer goals in nearly two-thirds of his appearances. He has allowed more than three goals in regulation just twice in his past 32 playoff starts.

That kind of performance is why the Sharks signed him to a six-year, $34.5 million extension two summers ago.

“He seems to really dial in for big games,” defenseman Justin Braun said. “You’re not worried about him this time of year to make the saves he needs to make.”

But that level of play has been missing this season. Jones finished the season with a 2.94 goals against average and an .896 save percentage that ranked 52nd in the league among the 56 goalies with at least 20 starts. He allowed four or more goals in 19 of his 62 games and at least three 36 times — tied for the second most in the league in both categories.

But Jones allowed more than three goals just twice in his last 14 starts.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I think that last stretch of games I haven’t gotten results every time but I feel like I’ve been playing really well down the stretch in a few of these games. I feel good. Ready to rock.”

The struggles in goal this season have placed heavy pressure on San Jose’s offense, which needs to generate lots of scoring to remain in games. The Sharks lost all 20 games they played when scoring two or fewer goals, becoming the first team since Montreal 18 years ago to fail to record a single win when failing to score three goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Luckily for the Sharks, they do have plenty of firepower that they don’t need Jones to be brilliant to succeed. They tied for second in the NHL this season with 289 goals and became the first team in 10 years with four 30-goal scorers (Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Evander Kane).

The one major question has been on the number of goals allowed, which has been fueled in part by turnovers on offense that lead to too many odd-man rushes.

“Goals are breakdowns usually by multiple players on the ice,” forward Logan Couture said. “That’s defensemen and forwards as well. We didn’t have the year we wanted to with the amount of goals we gave up, but it’s a clean slate right now.”

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