NHL players will be put through a grind this season, with 56 games compacted into about four months of play.
The league has done its best to limit travel by creating four new divisions and scheduling back-to-back games between opponents in the same city. But the Sharks will start the season with eight road contests in 16 days, beginning with the Jan. 14 opener against the Arizona Coyotes.
The team currently is holding training camp at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Ariz., where coach Bob Boughner recently laid out his plans to platoon Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk at goalie. Eventually, Boughner said he’d like to play the hot hand, but it initially makes sense to split time between the two vets due to the schedule.
“Eventually we’ll get to that kind of rotation, I guess you could call it,” Boughner said last week. “But right now as we’re getting into training camp here, we believe we’ve got two good goalies. Two No. 1 goalies. We’re going to have to treat it that way, for the first little part I think.
“For both of these guys, it’s been so long since they both played that they both got to see games. I think there’s going to be a lot of flip-flopping and sharing the net early. Hopefully, one of those guys takes the net over.”
Once the season begins, Jones and Dubnyk will each be more than 10 months removed from their last respective NHL starts on March 8, 2020. Conditioning and game speed will come with a steep curve considering the abbreviated training camp that includes no exhibition games.
“It was tough to take that much time off,” Jones said. “But it could be a good thing. My whole career I’ve been going deep into playoffs or World Championships. You’re using the summer to get healthy or prepare for the next season. With this time off, I felt like I was able to take advantage and put in some good work off the ice.”
Top goalie tandems are likely going to be a big storyline throughout the league in the season. The Boston Bruins probably feature the league’s top duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, while the Vegas Golden Knights have a pair of highly-paid goalies in Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury in the newly-formed West Division.
But the Sharks are left with two of the league’s worst performers from the 2019-20 campaign. In terms of goals saved against average, Jones (minus-15.01) and Dubnyk (minus-16.23) only fared better than Washington’s Braden Holtby (minus-16.76) and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (minus-22.12). Dubnyk had the NHL’s second-worst goals-against average (3.35) while Jones struggled and posted a 3.00 GAA last season.
Granted, Dubnyk dealt with nagging injuries last year while playing for the Minnesota Wild and a health scare with his wife that affected his season.
“It’s a blip on the radar,” Dubnyk said. “You don’t want to look too much into it. I think it’s been well-documented, it was a tumultuous year. There was a lot of different things going on and couldn’t seem to get any traction going.”
Despite what the numbers say, Jones said he’s confident the Sharks’ tandem can produce this season.
“Obviously, with the schedule this year, it’s a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Jones said. “It’s good to have two goalies who can win you games. We’re going to be pushing each other and that can only help us.”