Johnson: Martin Jones wins at Saddledome for first time since 2010 WHL title with Hitmen
Los Angeles Kings goalie Martin Jones, left, stops a shot from Calgary Flames' Mike Cammalleri on Monday night.
Photograph by: Jeff McIntosh, THE CANADIAN PRESS
The last time Martin Jones tended goal in the Scotiabank Saddledome, he was in the process of nailing down a championship.
May 7, 2010, exactly.
A 4-1 decisioning of the Tri-City Americans that night sent the Calgary Hitmen off to Brandon and the Memorial Cup as the Western Hockey League’s representative.
Monday night proved just as anxious, in an entirely different way.
“It’s a totally different animal, being here now, at this level, in this dressing room, on this side of ice,” said Jones, minutes after staving off a furious late Calgary Flames’ flurry to post the 10th win of his L.A. Kings/NHL career, 3-2. “But it’s always fun to come back to Calgary. I had four great years here.
“It was a good road win. It wasn’t pretty, but we were opportunistic on some of our chances and clamped down when we needed to.
“I found out (Sunday) night and was super-excited to play.
“But I had to stay focused.”At the end, particularly, as the young Flames, refusing to give in, turned a foregone conclusion into a nervy finale.
“He’s been stellar for us,” lauded centre Anze Kopitar of the 24-year-old Jones.
With the Kings doing their best reticulated-python routine, squeezing the very life out of their prey, Michael Cammalleri injected the home side with a shaft of life, ended Jones’ shutout bid by skipping a shot in off the bottom of the goalie’s blocker at 15:29 via power play. Then big Brian McGrattan spun in the slot and fired between the legs of L.A. defenceman Slava Voynov behind a screened Jones 69 seconds later.
Cue the tension.
“They put a lot of pressure on us,” praised Jones. “Give them credit. They’re a good-skating team and forechecked us hard. Give them credit. A good road win. But I thought we did a good job, especially in that last minute there, not giving up any chances.”
The Kings, so miserly after assuming a lead, had surged ahead 2-0 in the first on a pair of deflections and, as is their custom, set about trying to kill the game off in methodical fashion.
Why, Jones could’ve been left to pursue more intellectual endeavours, such as wrestling with the New York Times crossword puzzle, for all the meaningful action he faced through an eight-shot Flames first. Not until 19:53, to be exact, when forced to flip his right toe at a McGrattan backhander. The second period? More of the same. Only L.A. inattention (boredom?) and an uncharacteristic giveaway released Joe Colborne to wheel into the high slot and let fly with a wrist shot as the scoreclock reached 19:28.
Jones batted the puck away with his blocker and alertly bottled up any rebound.
In the third, he was busier. Much busier. His old Hitmen teammate T.J. Galiardi pounded a shot wide from an encouraging spot, only to have Voynov swoop in and carry the leftovers to safety. Jones did produce a big, challenge stop on Mikael Backlund short-handed, standing all of his 6-foot-3-inches tall as the Swedish centre cut to the cage, then smothered a dangerous try from Cammalleri, stationed at the lip of the crease.
“He’s been incredible,” raved centre Tyler Toffoli. “He came in and won eight in a row and really helped us when Quickie was out. Now Quickie’s obviously back so he’s not getting as much time in net, but when he is getting the chance, he’s doing well.”
The Martin Jones story is one of the season’s most memorable. He entered his Monday homecoming-of-sorts boasting incredible stats: A .934 save percentage and 1.88 GAA.
“He’s had, really when you look at it, six months experience with us, with the team every day,” said coach Darryl Sutter. “The biggest part of experience is being in those situations or seeing those situations. He’s been a really good American league goalie, a really good junior goalie, he was a World Junior goalie.
“He’s just taking small steps as he goes.”
Undrafted. Apparently buried forever beneath the brilliant, Cup-winning Jonathan Quick, the highly-touted Jonathan Bernier and then Ben Scrivens on the organizational depth chart. Three years compiling a 68-54-7 record with the AHL Manchester Monarchs.
No one’s definition of an overnight sensation, surely.
As everyone knows by now, with Quick out nursing a groin injury, Jones spun off eight wins in a row to open his NHL account this year, including consecutive shutouts over the Islanders and Canadiens in starts 2 and 3, the first Kings’ rookie to post back-to-back goose-eggs since Gerry Desjardins back in 1968—69. The Kings then off-loaded Scrivens to the Oilers, making Martin Jones an everyday, if not an every-night (not with Quick around) NHLer.
“I think the pedigree,” said L.A. goaltending coach Ranford, who’s watched as Jones’s ability and patience has at last paid off, “was always there. He was just a little bit unfortunate that he didn’t get a chance earlier just due to the health of Bernier and Quick, when he was in Manchester. We saw the talent was there and he’s proven himself at the American Hockey League level. Now he’s onto the big stage having to prove himself here.
“I think the biggest thing with him is his demeanour. He has a nice calming affect for your team. Things can be chaotic in front and he’s just composed. He’s worked at the things we’ve asked him to — flexibility, urgency in his game.
“He’s a guy that watches and learns. The fortunate thing that we have with Martin is that he had a really good technical package in place already. Now it’s just the maturity aspect of it. Learning the game at a high level. Learning the shooters — you need to get around the league a couple years to know guys’ tendencies so it’s a constant learning curve for these guys.”
Monday, for obvious reasons, was another special evening for a young goaltender.
“He should be used to this building,” said Ranford. “He’s played here more than anyone in our organization so he’s got a leg up on the rest of us. We’re excited for him. This is an opportunity to play in front of his old fans. I think they were really appreciate of what he did here in his time.
“It’s going to be a special night for him. But the bottom line for us, and I’m sure for him, his the two points.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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