San Jose Sharks won its third game in a row despite skating through mud for the better part of two periods and they have backup Aaron Dell to thank for keeping them afloat. The only goal Tampa Bay scored on Thursday night came on a power play and, as you can see below, it’s a goal of the season candidate.
That’s Jonathan Drouin skating around Marc-Edouard Vlasic before burying a beautiful shot. Luckily for the Sharks, Dell stopped all 21 even-strength shots he saw Thursday. That brings Dell’s even strength save percentage up to .966 on the season; the highest in the NHL if you call for a 300 minute minimum according to corsica.hockey.
Of course that’s a tiny sample size, and I’m not saying Dell is the best goalie in the NHL; however, I think it’s high time Dell started more games for the Sharks because he’s proven he can handle the load. Martin Jones is the starter in San Jose, and a string of great starts by Dell hasn’t called that into question. All it should do is give head coach Pete DeBoer the confidence to rest Jones more often.
Only Cam Talbot and Cam Ward had played more minutes than Martin Jones this season entering Thursday night’s game. Those are goaltenders on teams without quality backups fighting for their postseason lives. San Jose can survive with Dell in net; and based on the way the backup has played, the Sharks might be able to do more.
I’m not basing my opinion solely on his NHL play, either. I remember the clamor for Alex Stalock after his fast start in the NHL and what happened when fans got their wish. AHL stats matter when predicting a netminder’s future. Thankfully, Dell’s minor league statistics paint a prettier picture than Stalock’s stats ever did.
Dell posted a .922 with the Barracuda in 40 games last season and a .927 the season before that. Compare that to Stalock, who posted a .908 and a .907 in his biggest sample sizes with the Worcester Sharks back in 2010 and 2011. If Dell struggles in the future, San Jose can always turn to Troy Grosenick, who’s currently playing quite well with the ‘Cuda (.925 save percentage).
For now, Dell has played well enough to earn more than the seven starts he’s been given this season. DeBoer may turn to Dell more as San Jose begins to pull away from the rest of the division. If he does, Dell will have earned it. A 5-2 record, a shutout and an even-strength save percentage over .950? Yeah, not bad for a rookie. It’s time for more Dell, whether Jones likes it or not. Just tell him how good he looks in a baseball cap.