(Eds: With AP Photos.)By GREG BEACHAMAP Sports Writer
Martin Jones seems a bit worried that this isn’t really happening to him.
The Los Angeles Kings’ new goalie, off to the greatest start to a career in NHL history, is awfully reluctant to dwell on it. Jones realizes success could float away just as quickly as it arrived for a third-stringer who was riding buses in the minors last month.
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So the slim, 6-foot-4 netminder, who replaced injured Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, mostly keeps quiet in his corner of the Kings’ dressing room near the showers, acknowledging his 8-0 record and eye-popping statistics only when pressed.
”Everything is more magnified up here, so it’s good to keep level,” Jones said. ”It’s been fun, but I want to make sure I stay focused and prepared for the next game, and you can’t do that by thinking about the last game.”
Jones has allowed a mere eight goals in eight games during this increasingly incomprehensible span of puck-stopping success. With the Kings’ 3-2 shootout victory over Colorado on Saturday, Jones matched Bob Froese’s record of eight straight victories to start his career with Philadelphia in 1982-83.
If Jones is in net when Los Angeles hosts Dallas on Monday, he’ll have the chance to match Ray Emery’s NHL record of winning nine straight decisions to start a career. Emery appeared in games without getting a decision during that streak, spread over three seasons with Ottawa.
In less than three weeks, Jones has gone from his fourth season as a solid AHL starter to the NHL’s leader in goals-against average (0.98), save percentage (.966) and shutouts (3, a mark shared with seven other goalies). He has stopped 226 of the 234 shots he has faced, and he hasn’t allowed any opponent to score in 12 shootout attempts over two games – not even the mighty Anaheim Ducks, who went 0 for 9 to end Jones’ first career victory Dec. 3.
Quick has been out since Nov. 12, recovering from a serious groin strain that seemed to imperil the Kings’ playoff hopes until the emergence of a fundamentally sound 23-year-old from North Vancouver who has matched Quick’s lofty standards in every start.
”No disrespect to him, but I don’t think anybody was thinking that he was going to step in and pretty much fill Quickie’s shoes like he is right now,” Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar said.
Jones even supplanted Ben Scrivens, who started the season as Quick’s backup and went 6-1-3 in 10 consecutive starts after Quick’s injury. Jones made his NHL debut in Anaheim just to give Scrivens a breather, but he has left the crease only once since.
”He really looks efficient in the net,” said defenseman Willie Mitchell, who skates with Jones in the offseason back home at the University of British Columbia. ”He’s been very good at making timely saves. There’s just a calmness about him back there, which for a young guy is huge.”
Jones’ success on the heels of Scrivens’ dominance strongly suggests Los Angeles’ goalies might not be as important as the five Kings skating in front of them, a notion Jones zealously supports.
”These guys are just unbelievable, the way they clear the net and lift sticks and move the puck out,” Jones said. ”They make it easy on any goalie. I just don’t want to let them down.”
The Kings are a dominant defensive team under coach Darryl Sutter, allowing a league-low 1.86 goals per game and posting the NHL’s best 5-on-5 statistics. Top defenseman Rob Scuderi’s defection to Pittsburgh hasn’t blunted their acumen, with Drew Doughty, Robyn Regehr, Mitchell and Matt Greene supported by a crew of responsible two-way forwards.
Los Angeles (25-8-4) has won nine of its last 10 games during a 16-2-4 stretch on the way to the best 37-game record in club history.
Jones had no reason to suspect he would ever even get the opportunity to work these wonders – at least not with this organization.
Quick is one of the world’s best goalies and the prime reason the Kings won their first Stanley Cup title in 2012. Los Angeles rewarded him with a franchise-record 10-year, $58 million contract extension that began this season.
Jones had been stuck in Manchester behind rising star Jonathan Bernier and Scrivens, who joined the Kings in the trade that sent Bernier to Toronto last summer. Jones got all of his experience against NHL shooters during training camp and the past few postseasons as a practice player – a so-called Black Ace.
Jones has been an ace, all right. And the Kings must figure out how to play this hand soon. Quick is back on skates in practice, and he could return to uniform early next month.
No matter what happens to Jones after his charmed start, his new teammates believe he has proved he’s an NHL stopper – not just a stopgap.
”We didn’t learn much about the guy when we met him before,” Kopitar said. ”I’m paying more attention this time around.”