Sharks defense has improved since start of season

Dylan Demelo has been serviceable in the bottom pairing.

With the trade deadline approaching on Feb. 29, San Jose may look to upgrade its defense corps. Early in the season this appeared to be the Sharks most glaring weakness, particularly during stretches where Paul Martin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed time.

It's true that San Jose is not deep in any position on the ice, but it's unlikely the Sharks will make significant improvements in that area before the trade deadline. Still, what once appeared dire (the defense) now looks to be average, if unspectacular. Mirco Mueller is back down with the Barracuda and Dylan Demelo has (mostly) solidified his spot in the bottom pairing.

He's not going to score goals, or be much of a factor in the creation of offense, but Demelo has shown some nice work in shot suppression while getting admittedly sheltered minutes. Demelo is good enough as a sixth defender, and while the Sharks could certainly upgrade it won't (necessarily) be their undoing if they don't. If you're looking for some confirmation that the Sharks have gotten better in shot suppression since the beginning of the season...

Those are even-strength scoring chances against on a rolling 25-game average. Not bad! San Jose allowed 24 even strength scoring chances against per 60 minutes, good enough to put the Sharks sixth in the NHL. That doesn't strike me as a team that's desperate to upgrade its defense corps.

All but one of the Sharks regular defenders (sorry Matt Tennyson) have a positive scoring-chance-for percentage. This stat paints a flattering view of Brent Burns in particular, a guy who frustrates as often as he elicits excitement. While Burns is certainly liable for the high-profile oh-my-god-what-is-he-doing-fire-doug-wilson moment, he also generates scoring chances at an alarmingly high rate. He's more than holding his own out there. I promise.

Despite being an upper-echelon team in denying scoring chances, the Sharks give up the eleventh-most goals per 60 minutes (even strength, score-adjusted) in the NHL. I don't want to name names, but the two guys who have stood between the pipes for San Jose this season have been, ah, not good. The Sharks have the fourth-worst even-strength save percentage in the league, which might have something to do with mounting frustration with the defense.

Perhaps instead of looking for an upgrade on defense, the Sharks should start shopping for a new backup goaltender. That would likely be a cheaper addition than a new defender and just might provide a more tangible difference in the long run. Martin Jones may well turn into an above-average starter, but it would be nice to give him a night off now and again to avoid burning him out before the playoffs even begin.