Sharks

Sharks organizational review: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future

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AP

Sharks organizational review: Inconsistent defense faces uncertain future

Since Peter DeBoer took over at the helm, the Sharks have marketed themselves as a "defense first" kind of team. But even with high-profile players and a couple of dominant winning streaks, Team Teal ended the regular season with the eleventh-most goals-against in the league.

The good news is San Jose's blue line is already looking to get a boost in the future -- even if the future of some of its personnel is still unknown.

The Sharks will almost certainly have two key members of their d-corps back in Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Burns is coming off another Norris Trophy-worthy campaign and fought off the flu to keep his ironman streak alive. Vlasic may have gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, but after being sidelined midseason with an injury returned to be one of San Jose's key defensemen down the stretch.

The blue line can get a boost from there if Radim Simek returns to the lineup healthy next season. After his impressive rookie campaign was cut short by a knee injury, the Czech d-man has been relentlessly rehabbing in an effort to get back to game action. San Jose's defense no doubt looked its best at the halfway point of the regular season when Simek was healthy and paired up with Burns. (And when Erik Karlsson was healthy, but we'll get to him in a second.) Getting the Simek-Burns combo back together already speaks well for the Sharks' future.

As will getting the Burns-Boughner duo back together. There's already a ton of excitement over Bob Boughner rejoining the Sharks' coaching staff next season given the good relationships he has with the veterans in the locker room. Having him back in the fold could be just what San Jose's defense needs to be more consistent.

That consistency is still a bit tough to determine, however, because it isn't certain what the rest of the d-corps will look like next season. At its best, San Jose's defense had Burns paired with Simek, Vlasic reunited with Justin Braun, and a healthy Erik Karlsson paired with Brenden Dillon.

Now, Karlsson is the most talked-about player about to hit free agency and  Braun's name has popped up as potential trade bait if the Sharks really want to push to keep Karlsson on the team. Even if Karlsson is the only member of this season's starting d-corps who doesn't return, that leaves Dillon in need of a defense partner for next season and making up for No. 65's skill set will be no easy feat.

Things get even more interesting in regards to the blue line's depth. Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed are set to hit free agency on July 1 and aren't locks to return -- both of whom had to step into the lineup multiple times this season when one of the starting six d-men were injured. There's no word on whether either skater will be in San Jose next season, although Heed's numbers were better in both the regular season.

[RELATED: Sharks can improve on wingers situation]

Not everything is so up-in-the-air, however, as San Jose has some promising defensemen coming up through the pipeline. Jacob Middleton, who got a couple of games in at the NHL level last season, will likely get a few more looks with the big club this upcoming season. Nick DeSimone is set to become an RFA but could get a look with the big club if he stays in San Jose after a 46-point season (14 goals, 32 assists) with the Barracuda. There is a similar case for Kyle Wood, who is coming off a 35-point campaign (6 goals, 39 assists) in his first season with San Jose's AHL club. 

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.

[RELATED: How Thornton, Marleay feel about ex-teammates as coaches]

"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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USATSI

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.