What can Martin Jones give the Maple Leafs?


SAN JOSE, Calif. — It’s easy to forget now that Martin Jones wasn’t even on the Maple Leafs roster when the season started.

He was in the minors for the first time in almost a decade as a member of the Toronto Marlies.

Now? He’s the temporary No. 1 for the Leafs, holding the crease on his shoulders while Joseph Woll recovers from a high-ankle sprain and Ilya Samsonov tries to find his confidence again (in the minors).

Jones gave up two goals total in winning all three games on the Leafs’ swing through California. He’s up to seven wins on the season, two more than Samsonov and only one fewer than Woll. It’s a pretty remarkable turn of events, one few could have seen coming.

Jones has exceeded any expectations the Leafs had for him, including from coach Sheldon Keefe.

“Yeah, I would say so,” Keefe said after Jones stopped 23 of 24 shots to beat the Sharks 4-1 Saturday. “Coming (into the season), you’re so focused on Woll and Samsonov, and you’re really happy that you have the depth and you’re certainly thrilled that he got through waivers to remain with us. But you’re not overly focused (on him).

“As a coach, you’re hoping you don’t need him, quite frankly. But the fact that he has done the job that he has and stabilized our group through a very important and difficult time is terrific. And credit to him and credit to the players that have done a real nice job in front of him, too.”

Adding Jones on a one-year deal worth $875,000 back on Aug. 9 is looking like the most shrewd offseason signing for first-year Leafs general manager Brad Treliving.

Where would the Leafs be right now if Jones weren’t around?

The question now is how much more they can get out of the 33-year-old. Woll probably won’t be back until after the All-Star break — i.e., early February. Which means the Leafs will need to keep turning Jones’ way again and again and again for a few more weeks.

They play 10 more times before the break, including a pair of back-to-backs.

Jones figures to see at least eight of those starts, maybe more if Keefe decides to roll with him on both ends of another back-to-back.Do the Leafs play him again when they finish a home-and-home set with the Sharks on Tuesday night? Or do they give Dennis Hildeby his first NHL start opposite a team that’s now dropped 11 in a row? Jones is in such a groove that Keefe and goalie coach Curtis Sanford might want to keep him rolling, especially given Hildeby’s inexperience and the need to ensure points are indeed snared against the league’s bottom feeders.

The Leafs do have to weigh overtaxing Jones and thus risking injury or a dip in play.

Jones wasn’t tested all that much in a visit to his former home arena. He continued to make all the stops he’s supposed to make (unlike Samsonov) opposite his old team and even a few of the more difficult variety.

He’s quiet in the net. There isn’t a lot of wasted movement there. He looks very much like a goalie with loads of experience — the 11th-most starts, in fact, of any active NHL goaltender with 439.

“I’m just trying to play well, help the team win, try not to overthink it too much,” Jones said. “Just show up every day, work hard and do my best.”

The Leafs got Jones to be their No. 3.

His play so far, coupled with Samsonov’s implosion and the lack of viable upgrades, has to be making the team wonder if he’s got just enough left to be its No. 2 when Woll returns. Or even a viable stand-in if Woll falters.

Woll still has fewer than 30 NHL starts and will be coming off a serious injury. It’s very much TBD whether he can pick up where he left off and keep it going.

Jones’ performance, to this point, makes that possibility a little less frightening for the Leafs. There’s a world in which he and Woll split starts until one of the two emerges. Jones has the credibility of experience that Woll lacks at this point.

Jones will inevitably cool off. He’s got a .932 save percentage. He hovered around and even below .900 in previous seasons, which explains why he got only third-goalie status.

The Leafs, crucially, aren’t asking him to do all that much. They played some of their best defensive hockey of the season on the Cali trip, especially against the Kings. Keep that up and Jones doesn’t have to be a rock star in the interim without Woll.

Things are unfolding in a way that even Jones probably didn’t expect.

Packing up his gear after his 31-save shutout in Los Angeles earlier in the week, he came across an unfamiliar blue bag.

“That’s for the belt,” Tom Blatchford, the team’s assistant equipment manager, told him.

The belt, that is, for the team’s player of the game award, which went to Jones.

He made his way over to a table of pizzas from there. As he opened a box and grabbed a slice, someone came from behind to pat him on the back. It was team president Brendan Shanahan.

“Good job,” Shanahan said.

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