Aaron Dell brings rare luxury Sharks haven't seen in past decade

Aaron Dell brings rare luxury Sharks haven't seen in past decade

Sharks back-up goaltender Aaron Dell did not start his fourth game of the season last year until the middle of December. 

He accomplished the same feat a month earlier this season, and in 13 fewer games, picking up his second career shutout in Saturday night’s 5-0 win over the Canucks. His 41 saves were a career-high, and the Sharks needed every single one of them. Vancouver outshot San Jose 31-17 over the game’s final 40 minutes, including 28-9 during five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick

Dell was up to the challenge, as he has been since debuting last year. His save percentage (.931) is the highest among goalies that have started at least 20 games since the beginning of 2016-17.

Most teams would take that from their starter, let alone their backup. Dell’s been consistently reliable, and reliability’s been in short supply among Sharks backups over the last decade. 

In every full season from 2007-08, San Jose’s starting goaltender has started at least 60 games. Over the previous two regular seasons alone, no other goalie in the league has started more games than Martin Jones (130). 

Currently, Dell is on pace to start approximately 22 games, which would be the most by a Sharks backup since Antero Niitymaki in 2010-11. Niitymaki began that season as the starter, and the last backup to hit that milestone before him was Brian Boucher in 2008-09. He largely saw extended time because of an injury to then-starter Evgeni Nabokov.  

The Sharks have been able to rely on backups down the stretch, as they did with Aaron Dell last season and trade deadline acquisition the year prior. The extra rest kept Jones fresh before each of the last two postseasons, where he was able to improve upon his regular season save percentage by over 10 percentage points in both instances. 

It’s hard to imagine Jones being even better in the postseason, but trusting Dell from the start of the season allows head coach Peter DeBoer to give his starter more rest than he would have otherwise. That could go a long way for one of the league’s most-worked goalies, especially considering Jones never started more than 56 regular season games in the minor leagues or juniors before coming to San Jose.

Most practically, DeBoer no longer has to start Jones on both nights of a back-to-backs. This ensures Jones starts the more difficult game, as he will Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings. 

Aaron Dell’s played well enough during his short time in the NHL to ensure there’s little-to-no drop-off between him and Jones. As the Sharks saw on Saturday, both goalies are capable of carrying the team on a given night. 

That hasn’t been true for much of last decade. Whether or not that makes a difference in the long run remains to be seen, but it’s a nice luxury to have in the meantime.

Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return


Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return

When Sharks defenseman Paul Martin confirmed reports in January that he was willing to go elsewhere for more playing time, his head coach was insistent that the team would need the veteran blueliner. 

"I really believe we need eight NHL defenseman here," DeBoer told reporters in January (via The Mercury News). "If it happens that he isn't here, then that'll be disappointing for us. I'm not hoping that's where this goes. I'm hoping this goes to a place where he can maybe go down, play some games and keep himself ready, because I know we're going to need eight defensemen."

That's pretty much exactly what's happened.

After clearing waivers in January and playing with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, Martin was called up ahead of the Sharks' four-game road trip at the end of February. He did not play until last Saturday in Vancouver, when an upper-body injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, whose play pushed Martin down the depth chart in the first place, created an opening alongside Brent Burns. 

Martin's now played three straight games with Burns, his defensive partner for the vast majority of the previous two seasons. It's the first time Martin's played in three consecutive NHL games all season, and although he hasn't played much (11:53 in average time-on-ice), he's acquitted himself nicely in a sheltered role.

His five-on-five possession numbers (52.78 percent corsi-for; 53.33 percent fenwick-for) are the second-best marks among Sharks defensemen over the last three games. Burns, too, has posted better possession numbers with Martin (47.62 percent corsi-for; 50 percent fenwick-for) during the last three contests than without his longtime partner (43.40 percent corsi-for; 41.67 percent fenwick-for). 

The Sharks have also outscored (3-0) and outchanced (17-16) opponents with Martin on the ice, neither of which was the case in Martin's first three appearances earlier this season. The former is owed to a decent amount of puck luck, as the Sharks have converted on 17.65 percent of their shots with him on the ice, but the latter is an extension of his solid underlying numbers. 

Martin's played the least amount of total minutes among Sharks defensemen since coming back, even as Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed time in two of the last three games, and has barely been used in special teams. His days of averaging 20-or-more minutes a night are likely behind him, but the 37-year-old has played well in a limited role. 

Considering Martin's NHL days appeared to be behind him as recently as last month, his play has been a pleasant surprise. With the exception of his head coach, that is. 

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.