Josef Korenar was busier Saturday than any point in his young NHL career.
He was more confident, too.
The Sharks rookie goaltender stopped a career-high 40 of the 44 shots he faced in San Jose's 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, keeping his team within striking distance of one of the best in the NHL.
"It was unfortunate that we couldn't get at least a point there," coach Bob Boughner said in a video conference with reporters after the game. "I thought he made some big saves, especially [in] the last 10 minutes of the second period. ... For a young guy with not a lot of experience in the league, I think he's battling hard and fighting hard."
Korenar made his sixth start of the season Saturday, facing off against the man whose trade made his bigger role possible. Devan Dubnyk, whom the Sharks traded to the Avalanche in April, was in the other crease, and the rookie outplayed the veteran.
Despite getting out-shot 15-10 in the opening 20 minutes, the Sharks entered the first intermission tied 0-0. The Avalanche pelted Korenar in the second period, but the 23-year-old stopped all but two of the 21 shots he faced in the middle frame to keep the Sharks within a goal.
Logan Couture's short-handed goal and Tomas Hertl's 6-on-5 tally erased a pair of two-goal deficits in the third period, giving San Jose a chance to shock Colorado. The Avalanche enjoyed a 55-24 edge in 5-on-5 shot attempts and the Sharks failed to score a 5-on-5 goal for the second straight night, yet San Jose had multiple opportunities to tie the game with Korenar pulled in the final minutes.
Had Korenar not played as well, the Sharks simply wouldn't have had those chances.
"He was probably our best player for the majority of the night," Sharks captain Logan Couture said. "Without him, it could've been a lot more than the four that they got. He battled for us. We made it a game at the end there, but I wish we helped him a little bit more throughout the game."
Korenar's start Saturday was the eighth appearance of his NHL career, and his .896 save percentage during that time isn't lighting the world on fire. The Czech goaltender has only played 75 games over parts of three AHL seasons, so he still faces a fairly steep professional learning curve.
But Korenar said he's gaining confidence with each passing game in the NHL, and Sharks goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov told the rookie that's clear while watching him. If Saturday's start was any indication, Korenar just might be getting the hang of being an NHL netminder.
"I've always said I like these games if you have a lot of shots because then you don't have the time to think of anything else and you are just in the game," Korenar told reporters. "I think I did what I had [to]."