Sharks 2016-17 mid-season grades: Defense and goalies
Key to success
The Sharks’ defensive identity and structure has been the key to their solid first half, as they sit in third in the NHL in goals-against average (2.32) and allow the third-fewest shots per game (27.1). Here are our grades for the defensemen and goalies at the All-Star break, keeping in mind that these are partially based on a player’s preseason expectations.
Justin Braun – B-minus
Braun has taken a slight step backwards so far this season, with just seven points (2g, 5a) and a minus-five rating. Perhaps most surprisingly, he has the worst shot-attempt percentage in close games than anyone on the team that’s skated in at least 20 games (48.66 percent). Still, Braun is a key part of the Sharks’ top four, typically sees the opposition’s best players, and has good chemistry with partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Brent Burns – A-plus
Not only is Brent Burns the heavy Norris Trophy favorite at this point, he’s putting together one of the best seasons for a defenseman that the NHL has seen in quite some time with 21 goals and 51 points at the break. Not only that, Burns’ plus-14 rating and his shot attempt percentage (52.34, third on the team) indicate he’s been responsible in his own end, too. When it’s all said and done, Burns could find himself in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
Dylan DeMelo – B
Although he’s out for about another five-six weeks with a broken wrist, DeMelo has played well in limited action, with four points (1g, 3a) and an even rating in 14 games. It surely not an easy role, having to jump into the lineup on a moment’s notice after sitting out most of the season, but DeMelo has handled it admirably. He’s a good player to have around as a seventh defenseman when he gets healthy.
Brenden Dillon – B-plus
Dillon is one of those players that you have to watch on a nightly basis to see that he’s still improving his game at the age of 26. He put an emphasis in the offseason on becoming a more mobile, faster player, and it’s shown on the ice. He’s the most physical of the Sharks’ blueliners, with a team-leading 115 hits, and is about as reliable a third pair defenseman as there is in the Western Conference.
Paul Martin – B-minus
Martin, at age 35, got off to a rough start this season. There were even some suggestions that he might need to take a night or two off in favor of someone like Dylan DeMelo. He’s been much better in recent weeks, though, and with 16 points (3g, 13a), he’s well ahead of his scoring pace from last season. Martin is still also valuable as Brent Burns’ partner, letting the Wookiee roam free and do what he’s been doing. He’s trending in the right direction again.
David Schlemko – B
Schlemko has been an upgrade over Roman Polak as a third pair defenseman, as he’s much more mobile, is adept at getting pucks to the net, and can play power play and penalty kill. While he is perhaps the most mistake-prone of the Sharks’ defensemen, he’s been a nice addition since signing a four-year deal in the offseason.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – A-minus
While Vlasic isn’t quite the dominant possession player he’s been in the past, he’s still one of the more valuable players on the team, as evidenced by how much they missed him when he was out for four games about a month ago. While his 16 points puts him off of last season’s pace, Vlasic continues to be as smooth as silk in his own end and always seems to make that first pass tape-to-tape to transition the other way. The Sharks need him to stay healthy.
Aaron Dell – A-minus
In his first NHL season Dell has been outstanding, posting a 6-2-0 mark with a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Still, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t faced very tough competition, starting against just two teams currently in playoff position – Philadelphia and Calgary, both barely in the top eight. Does the Sharks coaching staff trust him enough to give him more games, and more meaningful action? We’ll see.
Martin Jones – A
Jones is showing that last year’s success was no fluke. He’s headed to his first All-Star Game, thanks to his 25-15-2 record and 2.25 goals-against average. He gives the Sharks a chance to win on just about a nightly basis, and his teammates’ confidence in him is high. The goalie may be the Sharks’ most valuable player at the midway point of the season, other than Brent Burns, and he’s also now playoff-tested. The new franchise goalie has officially arrived.