ANAHEIM, Calif. – It’s a three-game winning streak!
Yesterday, I noted that the San Jose Sharks were the last team in the NHL to achieve a two-game winning streak. Good news? 25 Sharks games into the year, there are still five teams that haven’t enjoyed a trifecta: Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit, and Nashville.
Hey, it’s progress.
Sharks Still Need Jones?
It’s progress also for Martin Jones, who stopped 26 of 27 shots last night in the 3-1 victory.
“He played well. I’ve seen it before. Not surprised,” Evander Kane said. “I thought we had a good team game and he made some big saves.”
It’s fair to call Devan Dubnyk the starter right now; Dubnyk has started the previous three games. On the other hand, Jones’s last contest was Mar. 5, when he was pulled for the fifth time in 15 starts.
However, it’s not as easy as the San Jose Sharks just washing their hands of Jones. He’s still considered, internally, the team’s second-most NHL-capable goalie. Prospects Alexei Melnichuk and Josef Korenar are not considered ready. There isn’t, far as I can tell, a free agent goalie out there right now who is likely to provide better netminding.
So like it or not, Jones is going to play – and in the midst of seven Friday-Saturday back-to-back games in a row, the Sharks need both starter and back-up rolling to have a shot at the playoffs. I know, Jim Mora meme.
But like a Marc-Edouard Vlasic, even in a reduced role, there’s still a lot that Jones can do to help this team. Ignore the contract – you can’t buy him out until the off-season anyway. And nobody is trading for him; nobody is claiming him on waivers.
And I know Jones has just an .884 Save % right now – not confidence-inspiring, by any means.
But stranger things have happened between the pipes. Starters transition into back-ups all the time – Brian Elliott and Jake Allen and Jaroslav Halak come to mind. And even the most unexpected of starters can re-fashion themselves into key secondary keepers.
Case in point, Antti Niemi.
After an inconsistent stint in Dallas, Niemi was tabbed to be Matt Murray’s back-up in Pittsburgh for 2017-18. That didn’t go well: In October, Niemi lost all three of his starts in black and gold, sporting a .797 Save %, and got waived. Florida picked him up, and in a pair of mop-up games, Niemi offered just a .872 Save %…and got waived. When Montreal claimed Niemi in early November, he had a 0-4-0 record, a 6.22 GAA, and an .822 Save % — numbers that would make even Jones blush.
That was a line so embarrassing, the official Canadiens news story about claiming Niemi didn’t even bother to cite his most current stats.
Out of nowhere, Niemi posted a 7-5-4 record with a 2.46 GAA and .929 Save % for the Canadiens, earning himself another NHL contract from Montreal in the process.
Can Jones follow Niemi’s path? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Jones, of course, supplanted Niemi as the San Jose Sharks’ number-one goalie in the 2015 off-season.
A .929 Save % here on out from Jones is wishful thinking, but as we saw last night, he’s still capable of excellent goaltending.
As always, the question with Jones is can he keep it up? Maybe he can, in a lesser role. If he can’t, okay, ta-ta.
The Fighter Gabriel from Cuda Came
The pressbox in an empty arena during a live NHL game has become a cavalcade of never-usually-heard in-person sounds: It’s not just about being able to hear the players cuss either.
I can hear Gabriel beating his stick against the boards all the way up here in pressbox for that Jones save on Lundestrom
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 14, 2021
“Yeah, I can hear it. It’s nice,” Jones said after the game. “It’s nice hearing the crowd too. Just different, I think.”
Bob Boughner was surprised by how good Fredrik Handemark was on Friday.
“It was a game I didn’t really see coming from Handy,” Boughner confessed. “The only scope of work I have for him is training camp and his first game in St. Louis. In all honesty, it wasn’t very good. He had to go down and find his game.”
It sounds like Handemark found it: “A lot of that has to do with just a guy that’s never been over here before and hasn’t adjusted to the North American style of hockey. He had to go down there and work.
“Roy [Sommer] and the staff have said he’s been the best player down there for a while. We saw that last night. He was digging into the faceoff circle, he was responsible.”
Handemark wasn’t just responsible either – he scored his first NHL goal and was in the middle of a few other scoring chances.
“I thought offensively, we didn’t really see that in training camp. But he protected a lot of pucks. He made chances for himself with his reach and his body,” Boughner said. “It’s a very important role for us. We’ve had a lot of guys in and out in that role, and I would love to see him take the lead. He’s had some success over in Europe, and we knew that he was a good player, he just needed time to find his game over here.”
So how did Handemark perform on Saturday? Judging by usage, Boughner is trusting him more than the “lot of guys” that he’s tried out at 4C.
|Last 2 NHL Games||Shifts||TOI|
These usage numbers are from each pivot’s last two NHL games, and don’t take score effects in account. But it might be a thumbnail look at Boughner perhaps gaining trust in Handemark?
For what it’s worth, an NHL scout shared these thoughts about Handemark last night: “I thought he was OK. I like his game, but he seemed a little behind the pace.”
So San Jose’s 4C role may be open yet. But no doubt, the Sharks could use some stability here too — and Handemark might be the best solution yet.
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