Don’t look now, but Aaron Dell has put together a very nice start to his NHL career. Three starts in, Dell’s even strength save percentage is a very tidy .955, albeit in a very small sample. Overall the San Jose backup netminder, because assuredly that’s a job he owns now, boasts a .931 save percentage.
Real or imagined, it certainly seemed the Sharks were concerned about Dell’s ability as Martin Jones’ backup. We’re 21 games into the season and Dell has only started three times, which I imagine isn’t the ration the team wants to see for the rest of the season.
It’s still too early to know what kind of an NHL goaltender Dell will be long term, but the rookie has certainly earned himself the Sharks’ backup gig given his strong play through three games. San Jose played well enough to win on Friday, sure, but Dell made a handful of big saves to keep the Sharks in front late in the contest. The only goals the Islanders scored came with a man advantage.
His second start, against the Carolina Hurricanes, Dell only allowed one goal. He played a magnificent game and made 32 saves despite being saddled with his first career loss. Dell’s weakest game was the one he didn’t start. In relief duty against the Penguins he allowed two goals on 18 shots, though it’d be tough to pin it on the backup as nobody in teal showed up to play for that game.
The Sharks have another back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday; the first game is against Arizona and the second is against Los Angeles. I’m willing to bet a fair amount of money that Dell gets his fourth start of the season against the Coyotes while Jones gets to start against his old team on Wednesday.
Much of the Sharks’ struggles early in the season directly related to their goaltending. Yes, San Jose didn’t find the back of the net much in those early games (okay, they still aren’t scoring much) but Jones played poorly and the Sharks didn’t give Dell much of an opportunity. Now as Jones recovers from that early slump and Dell comes into his own, the Sharks could turn out to be a very scary hockey team.
At 27, Dell isn’t exactly a kid. He’s older than Jones and took the long road through the AHL to get to San Jose. Dell played college hockey with the University of North Dakota and played his first AHL game with the Abbotsford Heat during the 2013-14 campaign. He proved himself with the Barracuda last year and now he’s made the most of his NHL opportunities.
Compared to last season’s backup goalie crisis, this feels pretty nice.