Sports

Kings goalie Martin Jones stays calm as he creates quite a buzz

SportsLos Angeles KingsJake MuzzinNHLJonathan QuickDean LombardiVancouver Canucks

Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin and left wing Dwight King were kicking back at team headquarters in El Segundo after a rare light day, talking about Christmas plans and trying to provide insight about a teammate and prodigy.

"Who is Martin Jones?" Muzzin said, repeating the question. "Oh, he's funny. He's got some good one-liners. He knows a lot of movie quotes. He can rattle them off."

Said King: "There's no story there."

Muzzin ignored that and kept talking about the 23-year-old Kings undrafted rookie goaltender who has become the surprise story of the NHL with a dazzling eight wins in eight starts, a goals-against average of 0.98 and save percentage of .966.

Jones tied Bob Froese, who won his first eight starts with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1982-83 season, and is one win from tying Ray Emery, who won his first nine decisions when he was with the Ottawa Senators, an accomplishment spread over several seasons.

Impressively, two wins have come in shootouts, including Jones' first start, against the Ducks. Three others were shutouts.

"I try and enjoy it a little bit," Jones said. "The thing with the schedule, it is game, day off, game, day off. It's busy. You can't spend too much time thinking about the last game and you've got to move on and have a short memory.

"In Calgary, at a young age [in juniors], you have to learn to do that."

To that end, trying to put together the story behind the story takes on the trappings of a scavenger hunt. Jones is genuinely polite but can steer postgame questions about in-game exploits away like a quick poke check.

Hockey culture often discourages individuality and rookies typically try not to stand out, off the ice, especially since Jones could find himself back in the minors, in Manchester, N.H., after starter Jonathan Quick comes back from his groin injury.

Additionally, Kings Coach Darryl Sutter isn't one for lavish goalie praise, even for his Stanley Cup-winning goalie, Quick. Sutter has plenty of kudos — only now — for his former goalie in Calgary, Miikka Kiprusoff.

"I didn't think he'd be raving about the kid," said former Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey, who played for Sutter in San Jose.

Hrudey is based in Calgary, which is where Jones played his major junior hockey, starring for the Calgary Hitmen. And Hrudey, who works for Hockey Night in Canada, is impressed with what he has seen so far from the 6-foot-4, 187-pound Jones at the NHL level.

"One of the things I look for early on is: Can he read a play?" Hrudey said in a telephone interview from Alberta. "That is a key component for any goalie and it looks like he can. You can have all the world-class skill in the world but if you can't read a play, you won't have much success.

"That's what really gets my attention. Although they're really good defensively, that can put a lot of pressure on a guy, especially a young guy, 'OK, I can't make a mistake.' He just goes out and plays and doesn't worry too much."

This natural composure seems almost contagious.

"He's so good because he doesn't panic at all," Muzzin said. "As a D-man, when you see your goalie not panicking, you don't panic. He's just always in position."

One explanation for a mature, professional approach is Jones' background growing up in Vancouver. His father, Harvey Jones, worked for the Canucks for 15 years as vice president and general manager of arena operations. He currently serves as vice president of construction at Rogers Arena.

Before joining the Canucks, he worked on construction projects in Argentina, Guam and Iran. Martin's mother, Sofia, is from Argentina. Martin said he does not speak Spanish.

Harvey Jones still plays in a hockey league every Wednesday morning and he said that the position of goalie was a natural fit for Martin's skill set and temperament.

"He likes to be in the center, likes the responsibility and likes to be important but not in a way where he's outgoing and aggressive and goes seeking it," Harvey Jones said in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

"Being a goalie was perfect for him. He likes to be relied on, a thoughtful, reflective kid. … He was around the dressing room a little bit. He saw what it was like and what was going on. It would be different than some kid that grew up in northern Saskatchewan and had never been to an NHL game."

One of Martin's childhood backups was Dylan Crawford, the son of Marc Crawford, the former coach of the Kings and the Canucks. Crawford is now coaching in Zurich, Switzerland.

"All this kid has ever done is win," said Crawford in a telephone interview from Zurich.

Remarkably, Jones went undrafted. Some of that had to do with Jones' playing behind a strong No. 1 goalie (Daniel Spence) in Calgary in his draft year. Still, there were plenty of advocates in the Kings' organization and Jones signed as a free agent in 2008.

"I know I went to an interview with [New York Islanders General Manager] Garth Snow and I spent half an hour on Martin Jones," Crawford said. "I told him, 'You've got to get this kid. Get this guy to your camp.' Lo and behold, Dean [Lombardi] must have been listening to me a little bit because he did bring him to Kings camp."

Fast forward to Jones going 8-0-0 in December.

The plan was to have Jones go back to Manchester after Quick returned. Now Lombardi and his management team and the coaches are confronted with some difficult questions because of the ascension of Jones. They might have to keep Jones in Los Angeles, rather than sending him back to the American Hockey League, and trade goalie Ben Scrivens for an asset.

"I've learned one thing," Crawford said. "It's great to have those decisions. It's when you don't have them that there's a problem."

Crawford would know that, painfully, first-hand. He praised Lombardi's efforts and the partnership of goalie coach Bill Ranford and goalie consultant Kim Dillabaugh in restocking the franchise at the position. In Crawford's final season with the Kings, in 2007-08, they used seven goalies, including Quick and Jonathan Bernier, who both made their NHL debuts.

"We had them too young," Crawford said, laughing.

TONIGHT

VS. DALLAS

When: 7:30.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 1150.

Etc.: Rookie Valeri Nichushkin is prospering on the Stars' top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The Russian forward has 18 points in 34 games and is a team-leading plus 12.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsLos Angeles KingsJake MuzzinNHLJonathan QuickDean LombardiVancouver Canucks
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