As a new resident of Kirkland and nearby its picturesque waterfront, Martin Jones has sought to navigate the NHL waters for a return to consistency.
Perhaps this stop in the Puget Sound is what he needs in his tenth NHL season. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer remains sidelined with what the team is terming a lower body injury, last playing on Oct. 21 in a win at Colorado when he visibly winced in pain, crouching after allowing a shorthanded goal to Bowen Byram.
In came the towering 6-foot-4 netminder, a necessary offseason free agent signee with Chris Driedger out due to knee surgery, who only had to make one save to secure the victory. Funny enough, it was the 200th in his NHL career. For now, it appears to be Jones’ net, backed up by AHL call-up Joey Daccord, as Grubauer remains on the shelf at least until the weekend on injured reserve.
Jones, following up a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday by running faster theoretically with the baton on Tuesday, only had to make 15 saves – but it was good enough to check the box of "make the basic saves" to help the Kraken cruise, 5-1 past the Buffalo Sabres.
“He’s continued to play well,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I don’t think last night was anything different from his performances throughout the year.”
“He’s been solid, he’s been steady, he’s a calming presence and did a nice job for us last night.”
The 32-year-old, growing up across the border in North Vancouver and whose father is a well-documented former venue executive of the Canucks home ice at Rogers Arena, introduced himself as a new part of the southern region of the Pacific Northwest with a 26 save effort against (wouldn’t you know it?) his former stall mate, Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings.
Known for a very technically sound approach with stops in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Jose where he’s either won the Stanley Cup or taken two trips to the Cup Final, he’s looking for a rebound year after a 12-18-3 season with the Flyers last year while backing up Carter Hart.
Originally stated in his introductory virtual news conference, he reiterated one key objective: to be a sparkplug for Grubauer, based on the concept of respectful competition.
“I think it’s important on any team to push each other,” Jones told 93.3 KJR-FM. “If both of us are playing at our best, if we’re playing at our best, pushing each other, we’re going to get more out of each other.”
“If I can help by winning hockey games, or pushing ‘Grubie,’ then both are good.”
That relationship comes in connection to working with new goaltending coach Steve Briere, considered to potentially play an influential role in the next step for Kraken goaltenders this year. To make up for any lost game action, Jones said Briere has created simulated situations in games for him to navigate through practice, another tool to remain sharp.
“They’re working hard together, it’s a daily process,” said Hakstol. “The biggest thing is the relationship between those guys as a goaltending tandem, and Steve as goaltending coach.”
“We’re still early in the process and we’re now getting into month two of budling a strong relationship and continuing to do the daily work. That’s what needs to happen.”
Thursday’s starter against the Canucks is not yet confirmed, but Jones’ career numbers are eye-popping against his hometown team: 10-3-1 with a .937 save percentage in 14 games. Last time out: 27 saves in a win at Vancouver nearly one year ago, on Oct. 29.
Let’s at least understand he’s pretty comfortable now playing not too far away, in a season he hopes that holds water.
“It’s a dream playing so close to home, a new franchise like this,” said Jones.
NOTES: The Kraken and Canucks will meet on Thursday for the first of four meetings, with the Kraken seeking their first head-to-head win in franchise history …. Wednesday’s practice, revised to optional status late in the morning, comes in the middle of three games in five days … Shane Wright joined Ryan Donato, Daniel Sprong, and Cale Fleury along with goaltender Joey Daccord to run through on-ice drills.