Editor’s Note: Over the next three days, we will be previewing the Sharks’ positional groups in the lead-up to the regular season. We start with the masked men in the crease.
A year ago, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Sharks’ goalies. Martin Jones was entering his first season as a regular NHL starter, while Alex Stalock was looking to bounce back from a particularly poor 2014-15 campaign.
Jones had an up-and-down start mirroring the rest of the team, while Stalock was among the league’s worst goaltenders, which prompted Doug Wilson to acquire James Reimer at the trade deadline to solidify the goaltending position down the stretch.
But Jones’ finish, including the postseason, was much stronger than his start. Wilson let Reimer walk in free agency, leaving the backup role to be filled by an internal competition between Aaron Dell, Troy Grosenick, and Mantas “Teal Steel” Armalis.
With Dell emerging as Jones’ backup, and Jones entering his second season as the Sharks’ full-time starter, San Jose’s goaltending appears to be much better off than it was last season.
2015-16 Stats: 37-23-4, .918 SV% (.925 even-strength), 2.27 GAA, 6 shutouts
Jones started hot last season in his first year as an NHL starter. After allowing a goal on the first shot of the campaign, Jones would not allow a goal for a franchise-record 234:33. But after a hot October, Jones’ save percentage decreased in each of the next two months, including a subpar .889 in December.
The calendar change brought more consistency from Jones, who posted save percentages of .923, .922, and .927 in January, February, and March. In the playoffs, Jones posted one of the best goaltending performances in Sharks’ postseason history.
Jones may not reach those June heights this season, and that’s okay. Over the last three seasons, he ranks 20th in even strength save percentage among goalies that have played 1000 minutes according to Corsica. At worst, Jones is a league average goaltender that is capable of catching fire in the postseason. As we saw in the Stanley Cup Final, he is good enough to carry a team when needed.
There is some concern about a “sophomore slump” for Jones, and may be a possibility if Aaron Dell is unable to be a capable backup. But, given what we know about Jones based on his last three NHL seasons, the Sharks are just fine with him as their starter.
2015-16 Stats (AHL): 17-16-6, .922 SV%, 2.42 GAA, 4 shutouts
Dell is actually older than starter Martin Jones, and has had a journeyman career up to this point. He’s played in the now-defunct CHL, the ECHL, and the AHL. But, at each level, Dell has performed well and climbed the ladder.
Based on his AHL performance, Dell should be a fine backup to Jones. Dell’s posted a .924 SV% on 2042 AHL shots. By contrast, Alex Stalock, whose struggles last season necessitated the trade for James Reimer, has posted a .910 SV% on 4187 AHL shots. It’s no guarantee for NHL success, but Dell’s AHL performance is promising enough to believe that he can stick in the NHL.
The Sharks do not need Dell to surpass or even match Reimer’s performance in teal, but they will need him to spell Jones during critical junctures. San Jose plays 16 back-to-backs this season, and Jones posted below a .915 SV% each of the four times he played in the second game of a back-to-back last year.
Reimer’s performance after his trade deadline acquisition allowed the Sharks to rest Jones down the stretch last year, which head coach Pete DeBoer credited partially to Jones’ strong postseason. Based on his performance with the Sharks’ top minor league affiliate, Dell is the best bet within the organization to back up Jones. If he can’t, then Doug Wilson will likely have to once again look outside the organization for help in the crease.