Sharks

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.

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

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Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.

 

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

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With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game.