Matt Murray may be leading the series, but Martin Jones has become the Sharks’ lifeline in the Stanley Cup Final.
Although the Pittsburgh Penguins have a 3-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, each game has been closely contested. The first three games were decided by just one goal, and the Penguins took a two goal lead late in Game 4. Both the San Jose Sharks and the Penguins have relied heavily on their goaltenders throughout this series.
Matt Murray of the Penguins and Martin Jones of the Sharks have both played phenomenally in the Stanley Cup Final. Their save percentages are above the NHL goalie quality start benchmark (.917), and they have displayed their immense talent in each game. Murray’s performance has even instigated discussion of Conn Smythe consideration. Jones, on the other hand, is the main reason why the Sharks still have a chance — albeit a minimal one — of getting back into this series and winning the Stanley Cup.
So far, Murray has stopped 91-of-98 shots for a .928 save percentage. While Murray has allowed only seven goals in this series, he has also given up a few ugly ones, such as Joel Ward’s shot that somehow snuck between his arm and leg. That goal tied the game at two and sent it to overtime, enabling the Sharks to win their first game of the series. In addition, Murray occasionally gives up big rebounds that have often led to further opportunities for the Sharks to score.
While Murray has some flaws, which is to be expected from a 22-year-old playing in his first NHL playoffs, he has been one of the best players on the Penguins this postseason. Murray demonstrates a mental resiliency that allows him to recover from bad goals and tough losses. He also has the ability to stop shots at important times. For instance, in the third period of Game 4, Murray stopped 11-of -12 shots. According to WAR-On-Ice, the Sharks had several great opportunities to score, with eight high-danger scoring chances.
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Murray has played like a veteran goalie, despite his rookie status. One more playoff win would give him 15 victories this postseason, tying a playoff record for rookie goaltenders. Much of his success has come from a deep and talented team playing in front of him. Although he has often been the best Penguin on the ice, Murray has yet to need to steal a game or bail the Pens out because of dependable players like Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino, and Sidney Crosby. Thus, Murray’s extraordinary and even unprecedented play should not be overlooked or devalued, but he still has not been the best goaltender in this series.
That honor goes to Martin Jones of the Sharks. Jones has faced an exorbitant amount of shots in this series: in four games, he has stopped 123-of-133 shots for a .924 save percentage. Although his save percentage is slightly lower than that of Murray’s, Jones has faced 35 more shots. In addition, when comparing these two quality goalies, it’s imperative to consider more than just rudimentary stats.
Martin Jones keeping it a one goal game. 💪— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) June 7, 2016
Even with the incredible shot advantage, the Pens still only hold a 10-7 edge in goals. The reason these games have remained so close is because of Jones. Jones has been asked to take on a huge workload, facing at least 40 shots in two of the four games. He managed to stop 40-of-42 shots for an insane .952 save percentage in their Game 3 victory, giving the Sharks a much needed morale boost.
Martin Jones has been outstanding - and kept San Jose in these games where shots and grade-a chances have been somewhat lopsided.— Brodie Brazil (@brodiebrazilCSN) June 2, 2016
Although there is something to be said for quality vs. quantity of shots, Jones has still been the better goaltender in this series. Like Murray, Jones has stopped shots when it’s mattered most, such as during overtime of Game 3.
Even if the Sharks have taken better quality shots, the Pens have relentlessly put the puck on net. And as we’ve seen in this series, goals are not always scored on high quality shots or the best offensive chances. Shot quantity matters, as every shot has the potential to turn into an important goal.
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Perhaps the most convincing reason why Jones is the better goaltender is the fact that he does not have the better team in front of him. The offensive players who guided the Sharks to the Finals — Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns — have yet to score a goal in this series. Jones has faced more shots from the Penguins’ powerhouses, without receiving that same support from his team’s offense. It makes you wonder how much better Jones would be playing if the Sharks’ offensive leaders found their scoring touch at the beginning of the series. If he can play this well without the help of those players, the sky is the limit for him.
Both Murray and Jones have gone above and beyond in the Stanley Cup Final. From an individual standpoint, however, Jones has managed to keep the Sharks afloat despite the fact that the Pens have outplayed them in almost all other facets of the game. Even though Murray deserves all of the credit he has been receiving, and might get serious consideration for the Conn Smythe (Kessel will likely still win the award due to his entire postseason performance), Jones has been the lifeline of the Sharks and has been the best goaltender on the ice. Jones might win the goaltending battle, but Murray — because of his own play and his supporting cast — will likely be the one hoisting the Stanley Cup soon.
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