March 24, 2023

After consecutive disappointing seasons in San Jose and a bounce-back year with the Philadelphia Flyers, Martin Jones was signed by the Seattle Kraken in the offseason to fill the backup goaltender spot. Once Philipp Grubauer went down early with an injury, Jones has been thrust into the starter’s role and so far, he’s running with it.

Many are skeptical of the performance, as Jones has not posted a save percentage (SV%) higher than .900 in his past four seasons. That being said, certain things indicate that his successful start might not be as unusual as it seems.

Kraken Defense Seems to Ease Burden on Jones

At both even strength and on the penalty kill, the Kraken are doing a good job to limit chances that get through to their goaltenders. The team has also done a fantastic job of limiting the chances coming from the slot at 5v5, which will obviously improve Jones’s chances of making a save.

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The penalty kill is an interesting study, as the Kraken began the year with one of the worst units in the league. As of late, they’ve slowly started to figure things out, climbing their way up to 25th in the league with a 74.1 PK%. While nearing a league-average penalty kill might not seem like a big development, it is for the Kraken considering how bad it was only a few weeks ago.

The biggest change for the Kraken is where they’re allowing shots from. The penalty kill units in 2021-22 ranked 31st and allowed an obscene amount of chances from directly in front of the crease.

Seattle Kraken 2021-2022 PK Comparison
Kraken Penalty Kill heat map comparison between 21-22 and 22-23 (Courtesy of Hockey Viz)

The left heat map is from 2021-22 and shows a disturbing amount of orange around the entire slot area (orange is a higher shot volume, and purple is lower). While 2022-23 (right chart) still has the chances in tight, their overall kill has done better to limit the shot totals in the slot area. It also appears that they’re limiting the cross-ice pass to the right circle, which helps to alleviate the extra movement for Jones.

Jones Appears Confident in the Crease

One of the biggest flaws in Jones’ game has been his ability to make those really difficult saves consistently. Following his run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 with the Sharks, his play has been wildly inconsistent and a lot of that stems from his presence in the crease.

Martin Jones Seattle Kraken
Martin Jones, Seattle Kraken (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When at his best, Jones moves fairly well laterally and can usually make a play on cross-ice passes. The recent issues for him have begun when he was slow moving post to post, which inevitably leads to him over-correcting and losing his net. This season, he appears to be playing a little deeper, allowing him to move side-to-side with less effort. This allows him to make those saves he had been struggling with, leading to his improved numbers.

Through his 13 starts, Jones has posted a .912 SV% and according to MoneyPuck, also ranks second in 5v5 goals saved above expected (GSAX) with 8.2. That mark sits behind only Carter Hart (12.1) and Connor Hellebuyck (11.7).

If Jones can continue to refine the details of his game, his success might not be a fluke, and can legitimately help the Kraken make a playoff push. It’s refreshing to see, given the original questions that surrounded his deal. They needed to stabilize their crease issues, and he stepped up and looked confident while doing so.

Stepping Up in Grubauer’s Absence

With Grubauer going down early this season, the Kraken needed someone to take the crease and run with it. This was increasingly important for them with how shaky their goaltending was last season and early in 2022-23.

Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken
Philipp Grubauer Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Grubauer has yet to fulfill the expectations that came with his six-year, $35.4 million deal, and his start this season didn’t help his case. Posting a .860 SV% in his four starts, last season’s struggles immediately made themselves known once again.

Related: Kraken Should Be Concerned With Grubauer’s Early Struggles

Jones wasn’t brought in to be the starter over the expensive Grubauer, but he has certainly made his case with his performance this season so far. It’s hard to say what will happen when Grubauer returns, but given his rough start, Jones will most certainly have a claim on the crease for the foreseeable future. I can’t imagine anyone had that in mind when the Kraken signed Jones to his deal, but it’s a move that is paying off and has injected them into the playoff picture.

As we reach the ever-popular measuring stick of US Thanksgiving, the Kraken find themself firmly in the playoff hunt. They are in that position for a few reasons, but perhaps none of those are as big as the emergence of Jones.

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