Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jones’ hot streaks in Seattle offer some hope for the Maple Leafs
By Jon Steitzer1 month ago
When it comes to the point the Leafs are using their third string goaltender as a starter usually it is to justify Michael Hutchinson. The good news around the Leafs current situation is that at the very least, Martin Jones is not Michael Hutchinson and that dropping him into an NHL starter’s role by-passing the spot duty backup assignment is the role he is most likely to thrive in.
Last season with the Kraken in some ways is a similar situation to what Jones finds himself in now. Where the Leafs are certainly a more capable offensive team than the Kraken last year, Seattle’s forwards seemed to all be blessed with career years simultaneously and were able to score their way out of trouble. The Kraken deployed a mobile blueline, which can be argued as a stronger defensive group than the Leafs and they allowed 27 shots against per game last season (2nd best in the NHL) and the Leafs this season are averaging over 32 shots against per game. Given Jones’ recent save percentages shot volume alone is burning the Leafs for an extra goal against every couple of games and that’s the first reminder that some of what needs to be resolved from a goaltending perspective is actually team defence.
When looking at Jones’ time in Seattle there might be some comfort for Leafs fans that the best hockey in January. A dash of reality is that historically January has been one of the toughest months of the year for Jones, so splits don’t mean much of anything. What may mean something are the games played splits. The months with the most games played are the months that Jones had his best save percentage numbers in. So it comes down to whether you believe that Jones was playing better because he was getting more starts or if Jones was getting more starts because he was playing better. Like most things, the truth likely lies somewhere in between the two, and it’s worth looking at Jones’ hot streaks in some detail.
His first hot streak started on October 29th, 2022 and he had an eight game run of .900 or better save percentage games. He had one shutout during that time and only one of those games had a save percentage below .930. That is an absolutely encouraging thing to see and points to Jones being capable of going on a run. During that run there were only two games that exceeded 30 shots against though and remember that the Leafs are presently averaging 32 shots against. Jones isn’t someone who gets better the more shots he faces, keeping him busy is not a good idea. Interestingly enough, as hot as that hot streak was, Jones finished the month of November with a .901 save percentage and four sub .900 games (including two sub .800 games) dropped his save percentage. The Kraken still managed to go 3-1-0 during the sub .900 games from Jones as well.
Jones’ next best hot streak came in January, 2023 when he posted a .912 save percentage. Jones had a six game stretch with 5 games over .900 including back-to-back shutouts to end the streak. The nice takeaway here is that this hot streak came against Eastern conference opponents and on the road. There is certainly some hope that things haven’t changed so much around the league in the past year that Jones’ .908 save percentage against the Eastern Conference last year might still mean something. Jones would have a couple of tougher nights after his hot streak but would toss up another couple of solid outings to close out January and make it his best month.
What is noticeably more discouraging is that after Jones’ .950 save percentage night on January 25th, he only had 2 nights over .900 the rest of the season, over 14 games. The Kraken understandably used Jones less down the stretch and he’d finish the year with a 47.6% quality start percentage, which was actually his highest total in five seasons. Jones presently sits at 60% with the Leafs.
With Martin Jones in net last season the Kraken went 27-13-3, so it is possible to win with him despite not getting great goaltending. The Leafs just need to find the balance that works best for them. Do they continue to try to outscore their opponents to the point where they need to plan on five goals to feel safe or do they play a slightly tighter defensive game that gets Jones’ workload to something he can manage.
Whatever the answer is, the Leafs probably need to commit to it if their intention is to limit Samsonov’s starts for the foreseeable future. There are likely a couple of splits this weekend and next week for the goaltenders but then the net can be largely Jones’ for January, which at least on paper seems like something he is more capable of handling than Samsonov at this point.
Data from Hockey Reference
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