DENVER — Martin Jones’ post-injury struggles continued in Denver Thursday night, raising questions about whether he’s fully healthy and still the Sharks best option in goal.
Jones surrendered goals on three-consecutive shots in the first period of the Sharks 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche (25-16-3), putting his team into an early hole that it couldn’t climb out of despite a late charge.
The Sharks goalie could be seen walking out of his team’s locker room after the loss with a noticeable limp. Jones was walking out of the arena with his weight predominantly on his left leg, suggesting that he’s nursing a lower-body ailment on his right side.
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It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Jones is still fighting through an injury he suffered in the third period of a game on Nov. 25 that caused him to miss one start.
Jones appeared to have a suffered lower-body injury that night. At one point, head athletic trainer Ray Tufts came onto the ice and helped Jones stretch out his legs, but head coach Pete DeBoer said later in the week that his goalie had suffered an injury to his back.
Jones recorded a .930 save percentage in 17 appearances before he suffered the injury. His save percentage is just .886 in 13 appearances since he returned from the injury on Dec. 2.
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The 28-year-old netminder dismissed the suggestion that he’s battling an injury Thursday, suggesting the discrepancy between his save percentage before and after Dec. 2 is merely a coincidence.
DeBoer offered a stronger rebuke of the connection between Jones’ numbers over the last six weeks and his injury. He pointed out that Jones stopped 35 of 36 shots in a win over the Los Angeles Kings Monday.
“He was our best player a night ago in L.A., so I wouldn’t call it a funk,” the Sharks coach said.
“You guys like to grab little pictures of things that work for the story you’re writing. It’s (13) games. You can go back six games and write whatever you want. He’s having a great year for us.”
At least one thing is clear, Jones didn’t have a great night in Denver Thursday as the Sharks (24-14-6) three-game winning streak came to an end.
The Sharks goalie allowed Avs’ sniper Nathan McKinnon to extend his scoring streak to eight games at 7:03 of the first, letting the puck slip through his five hole as he was being screened on the shot by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Less than a minute later, Jones let McKinnon score his second of the game, getting beat on a one-timer from the left circle to the far post on an Avalanche power play.
Carl Soderberg scored on the Avalanche’s next shot, finding daylight between Jones and the near post from the doorstep after he received a below-the-goalline pass from former-Shark Matt Nieto.
Jones also surrendered a goal on the first shot he faced in the second, a redirection from Mikko Rantanen.
Jones finished the game with 17 saves on 22 shots.
In addition to Thursday’s nightmarish start, Jones gave up four or more goals in six-consecutive starts during the month of December. He got pulled from a game against the Dallas Stars on New Year’s Eve after surrendering four goals on 22 shots in 40 minutes of work and he got the hook after just 13:48 Saturday night, coughing up three goals on six shots.
As Jones struggles to regain his pre-injury form, Aaron Dell continues to rise up to every challenge he faces. He saved a point for his team Tuesday, making 15 saves on 16 shots in the third period after the Arizona Coyotes grabbed the momentum and stormed the Sharks in waves. He earned the Sharks an extra point in the shootout by stopping all three of the shooters he faced.
In 18 appearances this year, the Sharks backup goalie has recorded a 2.12 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. He made 61 saves on 63 shots when he received back-to-back starts for the first time in his career while Jones was injured.
At this point, Dell is clearly the more reliable option in goal, but DeBoer sidestepped a question about whether he’ll increase his backup’s workload if Jones continues to struggle.
“Dell’s going to play more anyway just because of our schedule. He has to,” the Sharks coach said.
The Sharks are in the midst of playing six games in nine nights. They have 14 games scheduled for the month of February and 15 games in March.
Despite Jones’ early struggles Thursday, the Sharks battled back to make it a game in the third period.
Timo Meier got the Sharks on the board at 9:44 of the second, Vlasic cut the lead in half just 29 seconds into the third and Joe Thornton made it 4-3 at 4:53 of the final frame, extending his goal streak to four games.
Despite the loss, alternate captain Logan Couture is pleased that his squad showed so much fight after trailing 4-0 in their third game in four nights against a scorching-hot team that extended its winning streak to eight games.
“Pete came in and said after the second, get one early, get a second one in the next 10 minutes and we’ll be right back in it. That’s what we did,” he said. “When he says it, and we go out and do it, the belief starts to grow.”
Ironically, Nieto iced the game against his former squad by scoring his ninth at 16:46, giving the Avalanche a 5-3 lead.