Aaron Dell last started two games in two days on April 29, 2016. Dell, then the starter with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, manned the net in Game 4 of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Barracuda suffered a season-ending loss to the Ontario Reign that day, and Dell gave up three goals on 34 shots. That was the 20th time in three seasons in the AHL and ECHL that Dell started the first and second half of a back-to-back.
Dell will end up starting both nights of a back-to-back for the 21st time since 2013 on Sunday. A night after stopping 31 of 32 shots against the reigning champion Penguins, Dell is set to start a pivotal Pacific Division matchup against the Ducks, who are only three points behind the Sharks for the second divisional playoff spot.
His coach with the Sharks, Peter DeBoer, is no stranger to starting the same goalie on consecutive nights. He's done so seven times in his three seasons behind San Jose's bench, starting Martin Jones in all seven of those games.
Part of that is because of the team's confidence in Jones, who they view as a franchise goaltender. But on some level, these decisions have been driven by an initial hesitancy towards Jones' backups.
Whatever the reason, DeBoer's been rewarded for rolling the dice and relying on Jones. On the second half of a back-to-back after starting the previous night, Jones has gone 5-2-0 with a .919 save percentage.
With Jones out due to a lower-body injury, the Sharks once again appear hesitant about Dell's current backup, and rightfully so. Troy Grosenick has made two NHL starts and won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL's best goaltender last season, but only has a .908 save percentage on 4336 shots in his AHL career, which is enough of a sample to say Grosenick's unlikely to establish himself as a regular NHL goaltender.
DeBoer's decision to start Dell is thus understandable, but not without its downsides. Eric Tulsky, now the manager of analytics for the Carolina Hurricanes, and Broad Street Hockey associate editor Kurt R. found in 2013 that goalies perform worse on the second half of a back-to-back. That hasn't yet happened when DeBoer's rolled the dice, but it has happened to Dell.
In his 20 previous starts on the second night of a back-to-back after starting the first half, Dell went 8-9-3, with a .915 save percentage, down from his .921 career save percentage in the AHL and ECHL. That may not seem like a lot, but such a drop in San Jose's save percentage this season would translate to about eight more goals against, which would leave the Sharks in the red in terms of goal differential.
With only one established NHL goalie on his roster, DeBoer is then left with two bad options. Start Dell, knowing the risks of starting a goalie two nights in a row, or start Grosenick, a minor leaguer without a track record that warrants much confidence.
He opted for the former, and has caught lightning in a bottle before doing the same with Jones. That doesn't mean you can expect it again on Sunday against the Ducks.