Editor's note: The Sharks are currently enjoying their bye week before the kicking off the last 30 games of the season against the Coyotes on Saturday evening. There are a few questions facing all three position groups as San Jose heads down the stretch run. This week, we'll pose key questions facing the goaltenders, the defense, and the offense. Today's edition covers the goalies.
Goaltending has been one of the unofficial topics-du-jour for the better part of the Sharks’ 2018-19 campaign. From inconsistent play to winning streaks and back again, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell were talked about plenty ahead of the All-Star break.
So we ask: Is the Sharks’ goaltending corps ready to play at the high level that can carry through the end of the regular season, and support a deep playoff run?
There are a couple things to keep in mind as we search for the answer.
If you looked at San Jose’s last couple of games before the break, you’re probably worried. Jones and Dell gave up a combined 24 goals in a four-game span ahead of the break – six goals in four straight contests.
That includes a rough 6-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, in which both goalies played and gave up goals. That week-long stretch did a number on their save percentages, with Jones’ dropping to .895 and Dell’s hovering around .891 after losing two of his last five starts. Those numbers don’t reflect goaltending that can lock down the end of the regular season, and carry a team to a long playoff stint.
But before you go pulling your hair out and posting a massive social-media rant, a couple of things are worth remembering.
For starters – like we’ve discussed many times throughout the season – the defense has to be tight in front of the goalie to stop the other team from scoring six times a night. The Sharks' blue line has been beat up since the beginning of January, San Jose’s netminders haven’t always had the strongest support system in front of them. A healthy defense can go a long way to help Jones and Dell out down the stretch.
As far as end-of-the-season and playoff hockey goes, Jones has shown in the past he can be a brick wall in high-stress situations, something Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has noted a few times throughout the season. Jones’ playoff resume speaks for itself, with a 2.07 goals-against average and .926 save percentage throughout his postseason career.
As Jones’ season turned around in December, DeBoer told reporters multiple times he felt Jones was improving as the year rolled along. Take away that losing streak right before the All-Star break, and it’s difficult to disagree with him.
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That being said, the number of goals both Jones and Dell are letting by them on a nightly basis is still worrisome. While scoring across the league is the highest it’s been in over a decade, no team can give up six goals on a nightly basis and win games. There are exceptions to the rule -- like San Jose's wild win in Washington before the break -- but a stronger defensive front and a solid playoff history won’t mean a whole lot if both goalies are letting in six goals per game.
The Sharks’ schedule has a healthy mix of division standoffs and non-conference meetups through the last couple months of the regular season, and the travel schedule is nowhere near as crazy as it was previously. It will likely become clear very quickly how ready San Jose’s netminders are to raise their game as the push for the playoffs goes into full swing.