Sharks

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

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"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.

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

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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."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in skid-busting 4-2 win over Canucks

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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in skid-busting 4-2 win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE - It wasn't the cleanest game, nor was it the most dominant. And boy, did it get dicey there at the end. But heck, it was a victory all the same for the San Jose Sharks.

For the first time in the month of December, Team Teal (16-17-2) put a notch in the win column, holding on late to defeat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game at SAP Center.

Still in search of that full 60

Perhaps San Jose's biggest issue in their last game was that they didn't put a full effort on the ice for all three periods, thus not being able to hold onto a one-goal lead with 15 minutes left in the game. While they played significantly better on Saturday against the Canucks (16-13-4), there was still some sag in their defense at points during the second and third periods -- especially late in the third period with the game on the line.

San Jose looked its best during Saturday's game when their defense played extra stingy -- pushing Vancouver's offense to the edges and not giving them enough time to get good shots off. Lucky enough for the Sharks' defense, the guy between the pipes was having a heck of a game.

On that note ...

Dell-ightful.

Maybe it was the slick black goalie pads. Or maybe he was just in the zone. Whatever the reason, Aaron Dell put on quite a solid performance in his first start of the Bob Boughner era. Dell was especially good in the second period when Vancouver made a push and pinned San Jose in their own end. His sprawling split save on a Tanner Pearson wrister toward the end of the second stanza was probably his most notable of the night.

The question now is whether Saturday's game earned Dell a second consecutive start in a row. Boughner appears open to the idea of letting both Dell and Martin Jones duke it out for starts. While Dell's shutout bid was snapped in the third period against the Canucks, he certainly made a case for himself starting another game.

The PK prevailed

Yes, the Sharks still need to tighten up for a full 60 minutes. But one area of their game that came up big was the penalty kill. And against the fourth-best power play in the league, that meant a lot for San Jose.

The kill came up huge in the second half of the third period when Kevin Labanc went to the sin bin and the Sharks were clinging to a 2-1 lead. While it is definitely preferable that the Sharks don't take penalties that late in the game when they've had trouble holding onto leads, at least they were able to get the job done.