Aaron Dell

How Aaron Dell's win could boost fellow goalie Martin Jones, Sharks’ defense

How Aaron Dell's win could boost fellow goalie Martin Jones, Sharks’ defense

SAN JOSE -- After Aaron Dell tended twine in the Sharks' first regular-season win Thursday in Chicago, many believe he might start a second consecutive game.

From the looks of things at Saturday's morning skate, however, de facto starter Martin Jones will get the call instead Sunday night when the Sharks host the Calgary Flames.

But the decision to start Dell against the Blackhawks wasn't about sending a message to Jones after four straight losses, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Saturday. That decision was about giving his backup goalie more starts.

In the long run, this is something that could greatly benefit the Sharks' goaltending situation.

"It isn't any kind of indictment on Martin Jones," DeBoer insisted when asked about choosing to start Dell in Chicago. "I kind of decided over the summer that I wanted to play Deller more."

While Jones and Dell both faced downturns in performance through their 2018-19 campaigns and ended the regular season with goals-against averages under .900, Dell was the goalie who spent most of the time sitting on the bench. So DeBoer gave his backup some offseason homework ahead of this season so that, hopefully, wouldn't happen again.

Dell then showed off that hard work in his start, making huge saves that kept the Blackhawks from running up the scoreboard early in the contest. In the final minute of play, Dell's insane saves allowed San Jose to hang on for their first win.

"I wanted to play him more last year, but he didn't allow me that opportunity to," DeBoer admitted. "So I told him over the summer that, 'I want to get you in more games than I did last year. I'm going to give you the opportunity early to play some more, but you have to help me and play well when you get in there.' And I think he did that."

Getting better performances out of Dell ultimately can help Jones, too. Jones plays some of his best hockey when the stakes are higher, and he easily could get a boost from his backup having a more reputable season. And since the two netminders have built a solid working relationship, the whole team can benefit.

"We've had a good relationship over the last few years, so it's been good for our team, " Jones said. "We're on the same team here. We all want the same thing. We all want to win."

Now, if the defense in front of both Jones and Dell can tighten up, the Sharks really will be in good shape.

[RELATED: Marleau talks pregame jitters ahead of SAP Center return]

"We've started to help our goaltenders, but our game in front of those guys isn't where it needs to be yet either," DeBoer said. "I think slowly we've gotten a little bit better every game."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 5-4 win vs. Blackhawks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 5-4 win vs. Blackhawks

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It was about darn time the Sharks played an exciting game.

After four straight games where they never seemed to have much of a chance, San Jose engaged in an entertaining give-and-go with the Blackhawks in Patrick Marleau's heavily-anticipated return to the Sharks. With multiple players elevating their game, San Jose finally got in the win column with a 5-4 victory.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday night's game in Chicago:

Marleau contributed right off the bat

The Sharks brought Marleau back to help out on offense, and the 40-year-old winger didn't disappoint. Marleau scored a power-play goal at the end of the first period and then scored a big goal late in the second -- both of which tied the score. Not bad for a player who missed the preseason and first four games of the regular season.

[RELATED: Watch Marleau score twice in first game back with Sharks]

While one player alone doesn't change the complexion of an entire team, Marleau's return has already added some much-needed depth to San Jose's forward attack. When the Sharks get Marcus Sorensen back healthy, the offense should look much more competitive.

On that subject …

The forecheck was a difference-maker

Through the first four games of the season,  San Jose’s offense wasn’t taking enough chances. As Thursday’s game went on, however, a more tenacious forecheck began to take over, resulting in better chances against goaltender Corey Crawford. Despite the Blackhawks taking four separate leads, the Sharks always found a way to stay in the game.

Additionally, several players did a better job of posting up in the crease in an attempt to make life tougher on Crawford. Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane were particularly good at this, as was their new linemate Barclay Goodrow -- who scored the game-winning goal for San Jose while skating right up to the front of the net.

If more Sharks’ skaters get in those dangerous areas, it will continue to give the offense a boost.

On a less positive note …

The defense still is making too many mistakes

You really have to give Sharks goalie Aaron Dell credit. If it hadn't been for him, Chicago might've scored eight goals on the evening. Dell had a few huge saves, especially on breakaways that San Jose's defense had trouble catching up to. But speedy breaks weren't the only thing helping the Blackhawks' offense along. On Chicago's first goal, the Sharks had numerous bodies in front of their own net and the Blackhawks' Dominik Kubalik still found room to bury his first NHL goal.

While San Jose's game improved considerably as the game wore on, the defense still isn't communicating properly and, consequently, the puck is winding up in the back of the Sharks' net too often. The players have been talking about needing to tighten up the defense since the preseason. So far, that's still a work in progress.

Why Sharks must tighten up defense to replicate last season's success

Why Sharks must tighten up defense to replicate last season's success

Programming Note: Watch Wednesday's season-opener between the Sharks and Golden Knights on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. by clicking here!

Erik Karlsson has said it more than once since the start of training camp. And he's right.

Every season has a new set of challenges. And that means this Sharks team is going to have to find new ways to win.

"I think this year is going to pose different struggles than it did last year," Karlsson said. "Things we did last year probably won't be as good. That's how it is every year. Things change and you're going to have to adapt."

He isn't wrong. Bench boss Peter DeBoer said something very similar on the first day of camp. San Jose is coming off a season in which it scored the second-most goals in the NHL.

However, they also gave up their fair share of goals, and are closing the door on an offseason where they lost some of their established offensive firepower. Long story short: The Sharks will have to find other ways to win games this season.

How exactly will they do that? It's actually a question that isn't too difficult to answer. The Sharks have to tighten up defensively.

"The foundation of our game since I got here has always been about defending well," DeBoer said. "We did score last year, we did give up too much in that area. And I thought we started to find a little bit of a happy medium down the stretch and through the playoffs. But, you know, for us to always start with defending hard and getting the puck back so that we can create on offense."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into last season was defensive breakdowns. Issues with giving the middle of the ice away to opposing offenses led to too many breakaway opportunities. Add in that both of the Sharks' goaltenders had down seasons, and the team had a recipe for helping their opponents find the back of the net.

It wasn't just the blue line that was giving up scoring chances either -- San Jose's entire defensive effort was melting down too often. Even if the Sharks jumped out to an early lead at the start of a game, there would occasionally be instances when the defense would slip in the second frame, giving the opposing team an opportunity to make a comeback. 

Hopefully, with a healthy blue line and Bob Boughner back on San Jose's coaching staff, those breakdowns can be minimized.

Needless to say, if San Jose is going to stop pucks from getting to the back of the net, both of its goaltenders need to have better seasons. The team never stopped showing their support for Martin Jones last season despite his struggles, and largely shouldered the blame when their defense broke down. Nevertheless, neither Jones or Aaron Dell had strong 2018-19 seasons and will have to be better for San Jose to be successful this season. 

[RELATED: Five bold Sharks pre-opening night predictions for 2019-20 NHL season]

A big key for the Sharks will be to not let opponents get on the scoreboard so early in games. Whether it was the fault of the defense or a hiccup on Jones' part, San Jose developed a bad habit of giving up early goals and putting themselves on their heels.

If the Sharks can regularly put up a strong defensive front from the drop of the puck and generate offense that way, they should be in even better shape for the season.