Of all people, I’m not exempt from my receipt opinions regarding the Philadelphia Flyers before this season. When Brian Elliott settled with the Tampa Bay Lightning, I felt Carter Hart lost his companion in rotation. He signed for $700k to chase a Stanley Cup with the repeat champions.
Chuck Fletcher needed to think quickly. With Elliott out of the picture, it was slim pickings in free agency. Samuel Ersson signed an entry-level contract in the offseason, joining Felix Sandstrom on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Three targets were awaiting Fletcher’s attention: Braden Holtby, Antti Raanta, and Martin Jones. Those goaltenders all signed a deal for $2mil through 2021-2022 (Raanta’s contract expires in 2022-2023.)
Did you curb your enthusiasm when the Flyers agreed to terms with Jones? I did. In my mind, bringing Holtby, a former Hershey Bear, back to Pennsylvania would have been a welcome change of pace. Fletcher, with Kim Dillabaugh as his ace, knew Jones and Hart would bud chemistry.
Once again, more emphasis should sit squarely on Fletcher’s 2021-2022 offseason. He turned chicken scratch into chicken salad.
Last night’s victory, with Jones between the pipes, put Philadelphia among the eastern elite.
Giving Jones His Credit
One mention sticks out like a sore thumb regarding Martin Jones. Justin Braun, once again teammates with Jones in Philadelphia, remarked upon the goaltender’s struggles in San Jose. Braun said a lot of the goals Jones surrendered were “unstoppable.” Jones has a much-improved defense in front of him compared to his time with the San Jose Sharks (or even the 2020-2021 Philadelphia Flyers.)
During the preseason, Jones had his peaks and valleys. He played behind a ragtag defensive unit of prospects, AHLers, and a couple of NHLers. His preseason performance doesn’t correlate to the regular season. Behind the scheduled Flyers defense, he stopped 37/40 shots (92.5%). Against a budding goaltender like Jeremy Swayman, Jones dueled a quality win.
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure if Jones was an improvement over Brian Elliott, especially for the price in the flat cap era. Elliott assumed a starting goaltender load in 2020-2021, carving a winning record against a stubborn, repetitive schedule. In my eyes, Elliott deserved an extension with Philadelphia.
Then, before the puck dropped versus the Boston Bruins, I thought about how Jones battled in the final two minutes of the preseason finale. He made huge saves, showing that he can stand on his head in a backup role.
It wasn’t a mirage; Jones and the Flyers’ defense disrupted the Bruins’ attack to the tune of a 6-3 victory, remaining undefeated in regulation.
Kudos to Philadelphia for scheming a defensive gameplan, alleviating pressure off of Jones. Of the 40 shots on goal produced by Boston, 19 were from the perimeter. The three shots converted into scoring plays for the Bruins were either on a fast break, rebound, or a broken play at the crease. Jones never had a good look at anything that beat him into the back of the net.
It’s a rare commodity for a goaltender to bounce back purely on their talent. Jones is a former Stanley Cup champion, but that required a capable defense around him. If last night is any indication, he’s writing the latest chapter to the wild story of Chuck Fletcher’s 2021-2022 reconstruction.
His performance exceeded expectations. If we’re being honest and paying attention, it wasn’t a farce.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire