EL SEGUNDO, CA — As he left the ice after earning his first National Hockey League shutout in a 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders on December 7 at Staples Center in what was just his second NHL game, goaltender Martin Jones entered the dressing room while his teammates chanted his name.
In two games, Jones has won both contests, the first coming at Anaheim, a 3-2, nine-round shootout win on December 3. In those games, Jones earned an 0.97 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
Those are magnificent numbers, to be sure. However, given the small sample size, they do not mean a whole lot. Even so, it represents a tremendous, near-fairy tale start to a young goaltender’s NHL career.
Just don’t try telling that to Jones.
“It’s been a good start, but I’m not here to win two games,” he said, after the game. “There’s a lot of work ahead. I don’t want to stop now. I want to keep on building off this, and continue to get better.”
The next day, Jones admitted that he took a little time to enjoy the fruits of his labor. But just a little.
“I enjoy it, for sure,” said Jones. “It’s pretty special, but you’ve got to have a short memory, win or lose, because it’s right back to work the next day. You enjoy it for a little bit that night, but it’s back to work.”
Jones’ teammates have taken notice of what the young netminder has done in such a short time.
“He’s a really good goaltender,” said defenseman Matt Greene, who has been watching closely while recovering from an upper body injury. “That’s what we heard coming in. It’s tough to see it in practice all the time, but we heard a lot of about his numbers with Manchester, playing in the AHL. For him to come up and play here, he looks pretty comfortable in there—real calm in net, and that’s all you can ask for from a young goaltender.”
The coaching staff has taken notice, as well, especially given the different circumstances heading into both games.
“It’s two different approaches,” head coach Darryl Sutter noted. “First, in back-to-back games, and you need your goalie to come in and do a good job for you, because you’re not sure how your team is going to respond for the whole game. He did a really good job in Anaheim.”
“[Against the Islanders], he was really solid,” Sutter added. “He didn’t have to be great, but he was solid, especially in the first period.”
In that game, Jones kept the Kings in the game, stoning the Islanders on a handful of high-quality scoring opportunities, most coming in the first period. But the Kings clamped down on the Islanders the rest of the way, limiting them to just 16 shots on goal.
“It’s easy to play with confidence when you’re behind these guys,” said Jones. “They take a lot of pride in their defensive zone [coverage]. The guys have been awesome since I’ve been up here. It’s a great group of guys, and I’m happy to be able to get a couple of wins for’em.”
Ranford On Jones’ Development
For those who may be wondering where Jones came from, he did not appear out of the blue in the Kings organization to suddenly come in and light the NHL on fire.
Jones went undrafted while playing for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, but the Kings signed him as an unrestricted free agent on October 2, 2008.
“I knew Martin from [him] playing with the North Shore Winter Club,” said Kings goaltender coach Bill Ranford. “My nephew played there. The reputation was there, and I think the issue we had was that we didn’t know a lot about [him]. We saw him a little bit with the Calgary Hitmen, but he wasn’t playing a lot at that point.”
“For me, sometimes, pedigree and resume sometimes comes into play, and all I knew about this kid was that he won at every level,” added Ranford. “I just felt that with his size, and such a strong technical package, that he already had in his game, that this is something I felt comfortable [with]. I thought [it] was a real good challenge to work with someone like that.”
“It was actually [former Kings head coach] Marc Crawford’s son—they grew up playing together. Martin was the number one [goalie], and Crow’s son was the number two, most of the time, so when Crow approached me about him, that’s where we knew the resume was already there, and through my nephew, I knew that he had been successful at every level.”
When Jones was signed by the Kings back in 2008, goaltending was not a strength of the organization, as it is now. Instead, it was a serious problem, as it had been throughout the vast majority of the franchise’s history. To illustrate, seven players manned the goal crease for the Kings, at one time or another, during the 2007-08 season, one season after five players guarded their net in 2006-07.
Ranford indicated that Jones had the look of a kid who was ahead of the game, in terms of having the necessary mindset to reach the professional level.
“We were at a point where we needed somebody,” Ranford noted. “I liked his professionalism, right off the bat. He was the kind of kid who was in the gym, stretching, getting prepared for practice, and didn’t really know anybody. But his professional approach, for a kid out of junior, who was still playing junior hockey at the time, on a [professional] tryout? That really impressed me.”
“That went a long way [to me thinking that] this guy has the [mindset] that he wants to be a pro, and can be a pro, and now, he’s proven it,” Ranford added.
Jones had his ups and downs while playing for the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, raising some concerns about his future. Nevertheless, Ranford was not overly concerned.
“I’ve always been comfortable with Martin’s game, and his composure,” said Ranford. “Throughout your career, you’re going to go through some ups and downs, as a young individual at the pro level. Being away from the structure of, whether you’re living at home, or [living with a billet family], and now you’re out on your own, there’s always going to be times when you’re going to have to deal with some adversity.”
“The one thing, good or bad, he’s always been a very composed goalie,” added Ranford. “He very rarely gets rattled about anything, even when he’s not playing necessarily well, and I think that’s just a strong component of what he’s about.”
Ranford also noted the areas in which Jones has made the most improvement since he was acquired by the Kings.
“Urgency in his game, flexibility has always been a big part, and being able to come out of the box and compete on pucks,” Ranford noted. “When he was in Calgary, he didn’t have to do that, so we didn’t know if he could. He had such a strong team in front of him. That was the biggest thing he had to learn.”
“There are times when you have to come outside of the technical box—throw a pad, throw a stick, whatever it takes to stop the puck,” Ranford added. “Those are three areas where he has just grown immensely, and can continue to get better at.”
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Gann what do you think the future of the Kings goaltending will be? Will they trade someone? You can only have one netminder.
Way too early to think about that. Both Scrivens and Jones will have to prove, over the course of more than one season, that they can perform well in a backup role. Also, Scrivens’ contract expires after this season, so unless the Kings sign him to an extension, his trade value isn’t what you probably think it is.