Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Aaron Dell lifts Sharks to big win vs. Canucks, earns another start

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USATSI

Aaron Dell lifts Sharks to big win vs. Canucks, earns another start

SAN JOSE - The Sharks named Aaron Dell the first star on the evening after they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 at SAP Center on Saturday. Really, it would have been silly to give that first star to anyone else.

But in San Jose's first win with Bob Boughner behind the bench, the 30-year-old backup netminder didn't just keep the team in front of him in the game. He also earned himself his first back-to-back opportunity of his 2019-20 campaign, with Boughner all but confirming after the win that Dell would get the start over Martin Jones when the Sharks host the Coyotes on Tuesday.

Earlier in the season, Jones might have gotten the nod to start Tuesday's game regardless of how Dell played on Saturday. But this is Boughner's team now. And the interim head coach is going to play whoever the hot hand is.

"This is a competition," Boughner told reporters after San Jose's victory over Vancouver. "Both guys are good goalies."

Despite an up-and-down first few months of the season, Dell came up big in his first start of Boughner's tenure. He had a shutout bid going against the Canucks up until 7:57 in the third period. Sure, he let two goals in late, but he also strung together some highlight reel-worthy stops to stymie Vancouver's mounting offensive push. Dell stopped 33 of 35 shots, improving to 18-6-3 in his career when recording 30 or more saves in a contest. Needless to say, the performance added to Dell's glowing resume against the Canucks, who he holds a 6-1-0 all-time record against.

"He was our best player," Boughner said of Dell. "He made some key saves at key times and kept us in it when we were starting to take on water. That's what a goalie does in a win like that" 

Teammate Timo Meier agreed with his new coach

"Definitely wouldn't have been able to win without him," Meier said. "He was really solid in net. He played great for us. He's definitely a huge part of this win. He kept us in the game."

Although Dell will start San Jose's next game, Jones won't be sitting around waiting around for his next start. No. 31 is expected to get some extra practice time in with newly-appointed goalie coach Evgeni Nabokov, which Boughner sees as a big positive for San Jose's goaltending tandem.

"Jones is going to get a chance to work with Nabby for a few days, which is an advantage for us," Boughner said.

As for Dell's next outing, it's anyone's guess how he will play in a second straight start. He's 2-2-0 lifetime in back-to-back starts and, again, hasn't played consecutive games yet this season. If his next start is anything like his start on Saturday night, however, the Sharks should be in a good position to get another win.

Of course, San Jose's success won't start and end with how Dell plays on Tuesday against Arizona. The Sharks might have gotten into the win column on Saturday, but they still have work to do to improve the game -- mainly when it comes to playing tight defense for a full 60 minutes.

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"It's just one game so we've got to string some (wins) together," Marc-Edouard Vlasic said after Saturday's win. "We played better. We stuck more to our system. Turned (the puck) over too many times, but other than that, we played the way we wanted to."

"It's a start," Meier said. "We know there are still a lot of things we need to clean up, but it's a step in the right direction."

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

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Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

How Sharks' Radim Simek made his presence felt in win vs. Blackhawks

When Radim Simek was sidelined last March with a torn ACL and MCL, the Sharks insisted that they would be able to maintain their status as a dominant team in the defenseman's absence.

But in his return to game action Tuesday night, nearly eight months later, it immediately became clear what a considerable impact the young blueliner has when he's in San Jose's lineup.

"He makes a big difference," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after Team Teal's 4-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. "When he was in our lineup last year we were a different team."

The Sharks' defense played a big role in Tuesday's win, keeping Chicago out of their zone and limiting their chances. San Jose played heavier and harder in Simek's return, as he tallied four blocks and tied for the team lead with five hits. His first-period hit on rookie center Kirby Dach not only epitomized the grit that San Jose's blue line has been missing, but showed that his physical play is already where it needs to be.

Simek clocked 20:37 minutes of ice time in his first game back, just 20 fewer seconds than Erik Karlsson. Karlsson and Brent Burns have been logging heavy minutes since the start of the season due to multiple injuries and replacements proving unable to pick up the slack. With a healthy Simek back in the mix, the two Norris Trophy winners now can play more manageable minutes.

"It allows us the luxury of not having to overplay guys," DeBoer said. "Their minutes are more where they need to be, which allows us to hop over the board with energy and defend harder. So it was nice to have [Simek] back."

That improved energy on the blue line was evident throughout the game, as the Sharks' retooled defensive pairs controlled a good portion of the contest. Simek looked right at home reunited with Burns, while Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic recreated some of the chemistry they established playing together last season. Even the Sharks' new all-lefty combo of Brenden Dillon and Mario Ferraro had a good night and set up a short-handed goal in the process.

Now, of course, the Sharks need to harness that energy and play with that same kind of heaviness on a nightly basis.

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While Tuesday's win helped snap a five-game losing streak, San Jose's journey isn't going to get any easier. The Sharks' homestand continues this week against a Minnesota Wild team coming off a win over the Ducks, and against a Nashville Predators squad that is sure to test San Jose's physicality. If the Sharks want to turn one win into the start of a streak, their defense is going to have to keep rolling.

With Radim Simek back in the mix, they have a better chance of doing that.