How Martin Jones saved his postseason (and the Sharks')

Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Martin Jones isn't really big on the whole self-reflection thing.

That reluctance is understandable when the San Jose Sharks goalie is still being asked, with frequency, about one of the most putrid three-game stretches of his six years in the NHL: Games 2 through 4 of their series against the Vegas Golden Knights in the opening round, during which he gave up 11 goals on 54 shots and was pulled twice in favor of backup Aaron Dell.

That reluctance is also understandable when Jones has done all he can to erase that memory as if he's holding a neuralyzer from "Men in Black" up to the hockey world. The 58-save classic in Game 6 to lead the Sharks to a double-overtime win. The 34 saves and stellar overtime play in their Game 7 victory. The three wins against the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, having given up two or fewer goals in four of five games to a team that averaged 4.25 goals in its four first-round wins.

"That's why he's No. 1 for us," San Jose forward Tomas Hertl said.

What, exactly, turned around the postseason for Martin Jones?

"I don't know. We're playing well. I'm not doing anything drastically different," he said.

When asked after his Game 1 win against the Avalanche: "Nothing in particular. I'm just trying to play my game. Not overthink it. We've got a great team in front of me, and we defend hard, and they make my night easier on some nights as well."

When asked after practice on April 29: "Nothing in particular. I just stuck with it. I just wanted to relax and play my game. It sounds silly, but to just stop thinking about what I'm doing. Think about what's in front of me and read the play as best I can."

Some of this is humility, and much of it is deference to his teammates, as Jones is one to constantly share the credit. But the goalie who has backstopped the Sharks to within a victory of the conference final appeared close to losing his job three weeks ago.

So, again: What turned around the postseason for Martin Jones?

This was, by any measure, the worst season of Jones' NHL career.

He had problems from the start. When the Sharks stumbled out of the gate, Jones had a save percentage of .880. "I think this is a league where your guy has to be as spectacular or better than the other guy. Or you're going to have a hard time winning. We've been on the wrong side of that a few nights," DeBoer said of Jones and Dell in October. "We're not scoring enough, but we're also not getting enough saves."

The trend would continue for the entire regular season -- the saves part, not the scoring part. The Sharks ended up with the lowest team save percentage in the NHL in the regular season (.889) while scoring the second-most goals (289, tied with Calgary).

In 62 regular-season games, Jones posted an .896 save percentage and a 2.94 goals-against average, both career lows. His goals saved above average was a horrible minus-23.35. Only 43.5 percent of his starts qualified as "quality starts." On low-danger shots, his save percentage was .956, the worst in the NHL for goalies with more than 2,000 minutes at even strength.

Jones entered the postseason with many anticipating he could be the weak link on a talented veteran team poised to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Those three losses to Vegas seemed to validate those fears.

DeBoer had to make a decision with his team down three games to one.

"You just have to work through it. He knows that he needs to be better," he said of Jones after Game 4. "Are you part of the solution, or are you part of the problem? You have to be on the right side of that. And the only way to get your game where you're helping instead of hurting us is to work through it."

The coach decided that Jones was part of the solution.

Perhaps he had more confidence in Jones than in Dell, who has yet to start a playoff game in his career. Jones, in contrast, had appeared in 46 postseason games, including 24 of them during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. His playoff numbers had, traditionally, been strong. (Jones is also the guy signed at $5.75 million annually through 2024.)

Since that point, he's won six of eight games and given up two or fewer goals in six of eight games.

"I'm just sticking with it. Trying to read what's in front of me. Trust in my game, trust in my teammates," Jones said.

But there have been some changes for him, too:

The Sharks slowed the rush: One of the struggles for Jones in regular seasons and postseasons has been scoring chances off the rush. Of his past 100 regular-season goals allowed, 54 of them were off the rush. In the Vegas series, you could see why: Jones would frequently have a significant amount of ice between himself and the top of the crease when challenging the shooters -- sometimes as much as four feet. When facing rush opportunities later in that series and against Colorado, his skates have been much closer to the top of the crease.

But then again, the key to not surrendering goals off the rush is to not face them at all. The Sharks allowed way too many of them in the regular season. They have played remarkably better in the neutral zone as the playoffs have gone on, and especially in the Colorado series: In the final period of Game 5, for example, the Avalanche didn't get a single scoring chance off the rush, per The Point.

Pickle's back: Marc-Edouard Vlasic was injured in the Knights series, missing two games, and returned for Game 5 ... just in time for the great Martin Jones turnaround and four straight playoff victories, which may or may not be coincidental. "Picks has had an incredible playoffs," said Sharks forward Logan Couture. "He's taken his game to a whole other level. He's one of the best, if not the best, shutdown defensemen in the league." Vlasic has a plus-5.28 relative expected goals percentage, best among the Sharks' regular defensemen. His return speaks to the way the Sharks are defending now vs. how they weren't at times against Vegas.

Keeping it simple: Perhaps it was goalie coach Johan Hedberg or Jones himself, but he's a lot less aggressive now than he was at the start of the playoffs. He's smarter about his depth in the crease. His positioning allows him to not have to move too much to make saves, which is a key for Jones: From a technical perspective, there are still flaws in his game, and minimizing his movement helps to lessen the exposure of those flaws.

"Even the big 58-save double-OT win, on the lone goal, he actually gets up with the wrong leg out of the butterfly, which leaves him delayed and sprawling on what should be an easy push to his right. That's a peewee-level mistake. If he's atop the crease there, it's harder to keep things in front of you that way, which exacerbates his movement deficiencies, including a lack of rotation in his recovery pushes that leaves him chasing even more outside the crease," one goaltending expert told ESPN. "He is moving better, staying on pucks more rather than always opening up, and maybe that's a conscious adjustment."

This combination of factors has led to stability for Jones and the Sharks, which seemed inconceivable in mid-April. Is this the most confident he'd been this season?

"I don't really know how to gauge that. The team is playing really well in front of me," Jones said.

And the Sharks were always confident that Jones would return the favor.

"Our group has never lost faith in him," DeBoer said.