Sharks' stretch run is ideal chance to evaluate young goalies

Sharks' Josef Korenar

Josef Korenar's Saturday escalated quickly.

The 23-year-old learned in the morning that he would back up Sharks starting goaltender Martin Jones after San Jose dealt Devan Dubnyk to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2021 fifth-round pick and depth defenseman Greg Pateryn. Later that night, the Sharks called on Korenar to fill in once more.

Korenar made his NHL debut in relief of Jones, who allowed four goals on 19 shots through two periods in San Jose's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center. The Czech rookie stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period, fulfilling a dream he'd held since the Sharks signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

"It happened so quick, everything," Korenar told reporters in his postgame video conference. "I found out today, this morning. It was that quick. I think I'm gonna realize it tomorrow morning, what happened today. But I'm happy. At least I got the third period so I got the debut, and I felt good.

"If some other opportunity is going to come, I can't wait for it."

Neither Korenar nor fellow rookie Alexei Melnichuk -- who debuted in relief of Jones against the Kings in February -- might have to wait long. With Dubnyk's departure, the Sharks' stretch-run schedule offers an ideal opportunity for San Jose to evaluate both young goaltenders.

The Sharks won't have more than a day off in between any of their remaining 16 games this season, and a quarter of those games are on the second night of a back-to-back. Although the Sharks will only play two games against teams below them in the standings, Saturday's loss showed that Jones needs rest in order to play his best.


Including Saturday, Jones had started 10 of the Sharks' previous 11 games. His .922 save percentage during that time was strong, but he posted only an .884 save percentage this week after being named the NHL's Second Star of the previous one. The Sharks lost ground in the standings, ending last Saturday a point back of the West Division's fourth and final playoff spot before concluding this one four points back.

"I don't think the trade [meant] giving Josef his first action was our plan going into the game tonight," coach Bob Boughner told reporters. "I thought that we wanted to be the better team tonight, and these two points were big for us. We're running out of time, and we can't keep splitting games here during the week. At that point in time, I thought it was appropriate to get him in there, get him some action. We are gonna be using him down the stretch here."

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Korenar was an AHL All-Star in his first season with the Barracuda in 2018-19, but he has only a .901 save percentage over parts of three AHL seasons. If he is Jones' primary backup down the stretch, he'll likely be tested unlike any point in his professional career, with 10 of the Sharks' 16 remaining games against the Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild. 

Yet the Sharks' daunting schedule is a win-win scenario for San Jose. The front office has a chance to evaluate Korenar against some of the NHL's best teams, while the nature of the schedule necessitates more rest for Jones. That, in turn, should enable him to remain fresh while the Sharks mount an unlikely playoff push.

Korenar said it's "tough to say" whether or not he's NHL-ready at this point in his career, but he's relishing the chance to find out.

"I didn't expect it, probably," Korenar said when a reporter asked if he thought he'd debut with the Sharks this season. "But, like when the season starts and then I played some games in Barracuda, I felt pretty good. [Like] I said, confident. Then, I start a little bit thinking about if I would get the chance, and it came today. ... Everything happened right away, and I think I'm not even believing it."