SAN JOSE – It's perhaps the most talked-about and most controversial topic in the current first-round matchup between the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights: Who Team Teal decides to start between the pipes.
The topic has grown more polarizing, to the point that social media poll questions have been created and arguments on Twitter have become the norm. (Take it from a writer who's had fans fighting in her mentions this whole week.)
The Sharks' goaltending was a cause for concern throughout most of the regular season, and through those stretches, head coach Peter DeBoer and the bulk of San Jose's squad has maintained that they have every bit of faith in starter Martin Jones. Even when DeBoer was critical of the goaltending in his comments following a 5-0 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday night, he stopped short of putting all the blame on Jones, or backup goaltender Aaron Dell.
"He's got to be better," DeBoer said of Jones, but later added: "When you look at the game, you can't put this all on the goalies. You have to score, too."
Jones will get that chance to be better – better than letting Vegas score a goal less than a minute into a period, better than getting upended by a breakaway, better all-around – on Thursday night, because DeBoer has tapped him to start Game 5.
As crazy as it may sound to some, the decision to send Jones back out there despite his troubles is consistent with what the Sharks have said since the beginning of the regular season. Even when San Jose went through that long stretch of losses at the end of the regular season, the team never once heaped the blame onto the goaltending.
"They should have a stat that says ‘belief in your goaltender,'" DeBoer said back on April 9. "If they had that stat, Jonesy would be batting 1.000 with our group. There's not been one mumble or whisper within our group about him or our confidence in him to get the job done."
That's not to say that, even with the Sharks sticking to that same mentality, the decision to put Jones back in the crease to start Game 5 has come with its fair share of raised eyebrows. He has allowed the Golden Knights to score the first goal of the game within the first two minutes of every opening period in each of the last three games.
In Game 3, he was beaten by the puck less than a minute into each period. After the Sharks got down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes in Game 4, Dell replaced him in net. Through just four games in these playoffs, Jones has allowed 13 goals for a GAA of 5.33.
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This isn't to say Jones is the only member of the team that has struggled through the bulk of the current playoff series. After putting on a dominant performance over the Golden Knights in Game 1 and digging their way out of a three-goal hole in the first period of Game 2, the Sharks began breaking down defensively and letting their emotions get the best of them. Add to the fact that the goaltender on the other end of the ice has been playing out of his mind, and you have a recipe for disaster. In that case, DeBoer is right – you can't put all the blame on the goalie when the offense isn't scoring any goals to pick up the slack.
Now it's just a matter of seeing how much leeway Jones is given in Game 5. If the Golden Knights are able to get on the board early yet again, that faith in Jones to get the job done in a do-or-die game is going to be greatly tested.